unlearn verb gerund or present participle: unlearning
discard (something learned, especially a bad habit or false or outdated information) from one's memory.
"teachers are being asked to unlearn rigid rules for labelling and placing children"
Earlier this week a friend and ex-colleague of mine Dan Hardaker, wrote about how he is unlearning things about himself and has started to enjoy running, something that the opinions of others had stopped him from doing for years.
My good friend Laura Mazullo and I speak almost weekly about the things that we have been unlearning since the start of the pandemic. Unlearning the need to hustle. Unlearning many views and opinions that have both helped and hindered the progression of our businesses, our relationships, and the views of ourselves.
And when I saw the post from Dan, I was immediately reminded of one of my very first coaching clients, an FD for a Global Charity, who had been labelled a worrier their entire life. And this label, along with the constant reassurance of family and friends, that they were in fact a worrier, had reinforced to them, that they were a worrier.
They learned to be a worrier, to be risk-averse, to always be the one who panicked and weighed up situations, and even when they were looking forward to something, they worried about it before, during, and afterward. And we repositioned this state of worrying to one of being carefree. Carefree was something they remembered being before they learned to be a worrier.
And immediately as we talked about being carefree, their entire body changed. The frown smoothed, the shoulders relaxed, and their breathing became easier. And so they started to unlearn being worried about everything. A short while after we concluded our coaching relationship, I got an email from them to say that they had resigned from their role and were going to be living and working abroad for a year or two volunteering for a charity. The worrier wouldn’t have resigned from a secure position. The worrier wouldn’t be going abroad and not knowing how long they would be going for. The worrier wouldn’t be travelling without knowing who would be there, the exact details of where they would be staying, and the tasks they would be expected to do on a daily basis. The carefree person just wanted to do what felt right.
As Dan’s feed continued to fill with comments, some hadn’t heard of unlearning, those that had agreed that it wasn’t always easy, and yet, it’s something that we can all do.
I coach on and talk about, leading from our core. When we live and lead from our core, everything just becomes easier, everything becomes aligned, and everything starts to feel right. It’s not always easy, but it’s right. And the more we start to live and lead from our core, the more unlearning there is taking place.
We don’t always have to learn new skills or complete new qualifications or constantly add to the letters after our name in order to be our best self. We already are our best selves, it may just be hidden under layers and layers of other people’s expectations, other people’s opinions, and other people’s learning. And we can unlearn all of this to be who we are, who we truly are at our core. And the more we unlearn, the more we encourage others to do the same.
The beauty of unlearning is that we uncover and discover who we really are. And in doing so we are introduced to our true self. We learn who we really are at the core, but not through a course or a qualification, or adding more things on top of what we already have. Instead, we start to strip back the layers of who we are and what we think we know, and underneath it all, we find ourselves, our true, extraordinary, core-led self.
I say all of this as a life-long learner, I love to learn and I do so for myself and to help my clients further, and yet I know that if I stopped learning now, I’m already more than enough and already skilled enough to do the work I do and more. So, I’m not saying never attend a workshop, or never do a course, or never develop yourself, we can all keep growing, growth is great. It’s the reasoning behind the learning though that makes the difference.
If you’re learning because you don’t feel you are enough, focus your energy and attention on working with a coach that can help you unpick that so that you do feel you are enough, because you are! And then if you want to learn something new, go for it! But perhaps start with some unlearning.
What could you unlearn today that would enable you to be more of who you really are? Who’s words, beliefs, or perceptions could you unlearn to discover more of you know you are?
What could you start to unlearn today?