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Unlock Your Brain's Superpower: How Unlearning and Relearning Transformed My Approach to Challenges

The thought of learning something new was never a problem for me. I had always embraced it with ease, until a few months back. Here’s what happened: 

💡One day while working on a new product idea, I found myself stuck. I noticed myself applying the same principles I had learnt over the past 10 years of my career. This idea required me to have a deeper understanding of the new underlying technology. Everytime I tried to move a step forward, I found myself staring at the blank screen. 

My ego (i.e. I know everything) got bigger than the fact I am not able to solve this problem creatively. 

A few days passed by, but nothing. And I was extremely irritated by this fact, like how hard can it be? I stumbled upon a quote by Alvin toffer:

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who can not read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”

This was such a powerful statement by Alvin. I was operating with the mental models that have grown outdated or are no longer relevant to the current context. To embrace the new logic of value creation, I may have to unlearn the old one. 

👨‍🏫 Let’s dig deeper

What does it mean to unlearn?

Unlearning is not about forgetting what you have learnt. Unlearning is the process through which we break down the origins of our thoughts, attitudes, behaviors, feelings, and biases.

It's asking ourselves:

  • Where do these beliefs come from?

  • Is the old model relevant in your current situation?

Once you have assessed the situation well, the technique of unlearning & relearning allows you to shift your current mental model to a new one. This new model is something that either you have to learn or you have already learnt but need to apply. 

I perceived the ability to quickly assess, unlearn and apply a new model as a superpower. Here’s the 3-step framework that worked for me in such a situation (how to unlearn):

  1. Assessment & acceptance: The first step towards unlearning is to access the situation well and accept. As human beings, we are usually not aware of the mental models we operate in. It comes naturally to us. In addition, accepting the fact that our current model no longer works really takes some courage. But once you are past this stage, what unfolds is truly a super power.

  2. Finding the new mental model: Finding the new model will require you to approach things with utter curiosity. It’s convenient to unlock your new model through the lens of the old one. Though, if we approach it like the mind of a curious child, you will be able to get past and adopt the new model well.

  3. Adopting the new mental model: The last step of unlearning is adopting the new model. Just like habits, it’s natural and convenient for anyone to fall back to the existing models. You need to have the right triggers, which help us place the new models along with the older ones. This will trigger us to look from a wide lens and adopt the model as per your situation. 

Once we have learnt how to unlearn it’s important for us to re-learn. Before jumping into the framework on how to relearn, let’s first understand what does it mean to re-learn, shall we?

What is relearning? 

Relearning means accepting that your knowledge for old models may decay and that there will be a period of work before they’re usable at their previous level.

🧐 Why relearning?

  • Relearning is always faster than learning. 

  • Relearning prioritizes useful information. It makes our mind sharper.

  • It’s fun. 

Here’s a fun relearning exercise that I did:

  1. Locked myself into a room – 8 hours a day, for 5 days. 

  2. Objective was simple: Learn about this new technology. Thanks to youtube, it was so much fun. 

The outcome of this 5 day exercise was pretty impressive. I felt confident. I had a new approach in tackling the same problem. It was like I had a superpower.  

Here’s a simple 3 step framework to re-learn anything:

  1. Leverage what you know:   The question you are constantly battling yourself with is “What is different from my current process?”. Relearning should leverage what we know and build foundations on top of it.

  2. Know what to give up: The hack to relearn is to know what to give up as a part of your old knowledge. Which also brings me to the next point, of having a growth mindset.

  3. Choose a growth mindset over a fixed mindset: We always have an option to choose between a fixed mindset, or a growth mindset. If we choose the later, we embrace the opportunity for creating new and more productive habits and behaviours

Unlearn - Relearn as a superpower 

Today, when I think about this whole process, it’s so liberating and powerful. 

You can get past almost any challenge. All you need to do is go back, unlearn and relearn. 

The bottom line is, certainly this was a big mindset shift. I felt more in control of the situation. I was able to make some progress (that’s all we need). I was more confident. The thought that “I can easily learn this in a few hours or days” was liberating and powerful. 

Until next time :)


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