The Importance of Unlearning


“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got” My Granny*

Take in

The premise of so much Change is about taking in new stuff.
Learn new ways.
Absorb new things.

My question is where do we put it all?

If I rammed as much into a wardrobe as I do into my brain or my days, at some point the door would burst open….

But I don’t…I clear out the wardrobe whenever I reach the point of opening the door, looking in at the carnage or chaos therein and thinking “enough!”
Then it is Tunes On as I bag up old crap and or unfashionable items; the ill-chosen worn-once item, the jumper that didn’t wash well. I force myself to face up to the fact that the shoes which look good are simply agony to wear…. And that I am, perhaps, too old to now be wearing that item – even ironically.

Then the disposal – the landfill (I feel guilty); the “I’m pretending to be a boutique” charity shop (I feel a little better); The friends (Huh? You want this? Really?) A box on the street (I am not responsible for whom-so-ever has the same awful taste as me but hasn’t yet learned it, so they re-home)

Do we do this with learning? Bag up the old narratives, the unfashionable opinions? The ill-chosen leadership models? The Certificate in Blah that didn’t wash well? What have I been wearing that is painful? What am I, frankly, old enough and wise enough to let go?

Because it strikes me that unlearning is as vital, if not sometimes more so, than learning.

To cull, distill, to cut away the guff….the old thinking, the comfortingly awful is a profound part of creating an environment where new thinking and new ideas are possible.

And as I look at some of the habits and ideas that have been lurking at the back of my mental wardrobe, I invite myself to bag ‘em up and dispose of them responsibly….make room for something else, perhaps.
Some of disposing is painful. Some of it can be a joy. Some is just achingly sad. Some of it is straightforward – a moment of “oh. That simply doesn’t fit me anymore”.

I’m beginning to understand the importance of unlearning.


* Google tells me the quote is actually from Henry Ford. Or Anthony Robbins. My Granny predates Robbins. Just saying.

3 thoughts on “The Importance of Unlearning

  1. Another great piece, Julie!
    I’ve probably forgotten more of the important stuff than I should have. And by the same token, my mind still contains too much of the old, stale, outdated stuff that isn’t as relevant as it once was (if it really ever WAS relevant, that is!).
    I love your ‘wardrobe’ comparison; I can totally relate to it. I also have a sock drawer which has too many that don’t match, some that are past their best and even more with small holes and occasional signs of fraying. Of course, that’s a potential metaphor for my life right there! But like your wardrobe scenario, it will now remind me of the need to have a mental clear out and freshen things up. And of course, buy some new socks!

  2. Great post Julie. It reminds me of the famous Sherlock Holmes quote about what to store in your brain:
    “You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

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