The Rule of Unleraning

The Rule of Unlearning

The Rule of Unlearning.

If you want to know the fastest way to become the best version of yourself, the answer lies in unlearning.

My rule of unlearning says that in order to drastically improve your life you need to identify what your destructive patterns are and make a plan to replace them with a positive habit.

You may be feeling flat because your life is at a standstill or you’ve drifted off course or you’re displaying some habits that are not what you consider, beneficial to yourself or others. If that sounds like you, the rule of unlearning can help.

Unlearning is the process of discarding something from our memory. It’s destroying thoughts, preconceptions, beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, feelings, and biases.

Definition of Unlearn.

1to put out of one’s knowledge or memory

2to undo the effect of: discard the habit of

When you unlearn, you first have to let go of something you thought you understood, (in most cases false) to make way for a new understanding. This is called  Confirmation Bias. This is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or value.

That is to say that whatever beliefs, behaviours or actions that you display, will be difficult to unlearn, unless you acknowledge and understand that these biases may not be right. It requires a shift in thinking. Openness to the reality that you may not be practicing the most true, right or beneficial actions. It starts with awareness.

This can certainly be challenging and sometimes unpleasant.

As Russell Ackoff says, “the only thing that’s harder than starting something new, is stopping something old”.

It’s not just a matter of developing new habits, it’s identifying what habits are detrimental to you living the best life you can, and focussing on unlearning these.

In many cases, there are habits that are required to be unlearnt in order to develop new and better ones.

The need to unlearn is a strategy that is almost never taught. We often hear about getting ride of bad habits or changing the way we do things, but we almost never focus on the things that we need to unlearn.

The rule of unlearning is extremely powerful. It enables you to develop a process wherby you slowly and methodically change the way you do things. by its very nature, it’s a progressive change.

This is where consistency comes in.

“The illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” — Alvin Toffler

Because we’ve focussed so heavily on the importance of learning, we’ve failed to master the power of unlearning.

The Rule of Unlearning

Become A Better Version of Yourself

I’ve always found it interesting that so much focus is on learning new things, developing better habits, and setting higher goals, while very little focus is on how you ‘un-develop’ or ‘unlearn’ old, destructive habits.

After spending 50 years displaying both good habits and bad, I’ve got a fairly good handle on what some of the destructive patterns of my life have been.

I know how easy it is to drift towards the place where things become overwhelming and confusing. I see it far too regularly. It seems to happen by stealth. One minute you seem to have it all going right and the next, you wake up thinking ‘how the hell did I get here’. It happens to all of us to some degree or another.

It is a pattern of behavior that takes us from one phase of life to another, and it generally happens slowly and methodically.

If this seems like this is a reflection of where you’re currently at, there’s hope. Unlearning is the best and fastest way to becoming a better version of yourself.

How To Identify a Bad Habit

1. Ask someone.

Although this is somewhat of a cop-out in my opinion, because if we want to look hard enough, we’ll pretty quickly see what these destructive habits are. However, this approach is a great one if we value others’ opinions.

2. Find some solitude and get honest with yourself.

Get in a quiet space and take a good hard look at how you respond when you’re stressed or tired, what actions or behaviours you a drawn to when you’re bored or when you are stressed, and what effect these are having on yourself and those around you. Also, consider and review any comments made by people close to you about actions, thought patterns, or responses that you’ve displayed that they consider, less than satisfactory

let’s assume for a moment that your life isn’t heading in the direction you want it to. You are off course and don’t know how you got there. Maybe you’re stuck in a rut and hate yourself for it. Potentially you’re displaying habits that are disturbing you.

For the most part, it’s those destructive habits that we’ve formed over years and years that are the real cause. It’s a slow repetitive pattern that causes us to get to the place that we dispise. I would know. I’ve been acutely aware of the bad habits I’ve formed over the years and have a good understanding of how they’ve outworked in my daily life. I know this because they’ve been a fairly destructive force and have taken my life off track in many and varied ways.

Here’s a simple made-up example of a random person.

Let’s say this person is trying to become less cranky both at work and with their beautiful wife and incredible children. They continually feel stressed at work and tired at home, which consequently leads to a short fuse. Every day this random citizen loses it in one way or another. Their wife often tells them that the stress and tiredness are causing this behavior, in which the loving and quite good looking husband agrees with. But, he continues to tell himself, every day, to relax, don’t take things too seriously.

It’s only a messy house, the children’s rooms aren’t clean but at least he hasn’t started seeing rats running around in there, talking back to Dad at 13 is just a standard right of passage, etc. etc.

He convinces himself that he’ll be better tomorrow. He’ll be more self-controlled and non-reactive. He thought he could overcome this by effort, self-control, or focus. Sadly, he came to realize, It doesn’t work that way.

Why is this so? Is he lacking self-control? Is his resolve not strong enough? Maybe he doesn’t try hard enough. I’ll tell you why nothing changes. He’s tired. He’s worn down. His capacity to deal with even the simple things is weaning.

The cause. I stay up late watching TV. I mean He does. He’s a night owl. It comes to 10 pm and he thinks he’ll just watch Netflix for an hr. But an hr. can lead to two. And after an extended period of this, his mind and body are weak. His emotional state is weak. He doesn’t have the capability to deal with even the most minor frustrations and so, trying to find a resolution is pointless unless the habit that is causing the issue is unlearnt or replaced.

A strategy to resolve this would see:

1. The issue is identified

Staying up late is causing tiredness and fatigue.

2. The outcome has been agreed on.

One late night during the week and one on Saturday night.

3. Strategies are developed in order to change the problem or habit.

In this example, one strategy might be to set a reminder at 9.45 pm on your phone (an annoying loud screeching reminder) to jump into bed and go to sleep. If you have a significant other, ask them to firmly suggest that it’s 9.45 pm and that you made a commitment to turn off the TV and go to bed.

It’s all about changing your routine. Changing your routine forces you out of a particular way of behaviour. Unlearning that behaviour allows you to replace it with a new behaviour or habit.

These strategies (in the form of smaller steps) are undertaken to roll back or unlearn the habit. It’s the rule of unlearning. Slowly replacing the bad habit with a new and better habit. Remember, the rule of unlearning is not as simple as just replacing a habit, it’s identifying what your destructive patterns are and and making a plan to replace them with a positive habit, ergo ‘discarding’ or ‘putting out of your memory’.

What Is a Habit?

Before we discuss how to break a bad habit, we need to understand exactly what a habit is.

A habit is a way of acting, thinking, or feeling in a repetitive way. It’s an automatic response to a specific situation.

Habits are generally formed by boredom and stress.

A habit is a routine or behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur unconsciously.

In other words, a habit is a behaviour pattern that you do repeatedly and regularly without even thinking about it.

How Do Habits Work

A habit is formed like this:

There’s usually a trigger, which tells your brain to go into auto mode and which habit to go to. Then, by repetition, it becomes routine. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain remember that this habit loop is worth remembering. After this, your habit becomes automatic behaviour.

Rule of Unlearning

Is his article about understanding What a Habit Is, Lifehack founder and CEO, Leon Ho says ‘there are two types of habits: conscious habits and hidden habits. An example of a Conscious habit is waking up to an alarm every morning. Hidden habits on the other hand are habits that our brains have already turned into auto-pilot”.

Once the behavior becomes a habit, the decision-making part of the brain stops processing new data and the basal ganglia, (which are a set of subcortical nuclei in the cerebrum that are responsible for the selection of voluntary behaviour), takes over.

How To Break a Bad Habit

The process of changing a habit into a new behavior is called habit formation.

It’s very hard to break old habits and form new habits since our behavior is so ingrained into our neural pathways. As we’ve seen, Confirmation Bias is being biased towards existing beliefs.

We need to be concious of our biases as well as our need to unlearn.

Like developing a new habit, it takes time to unlearn an old one. In a Time article about the science of breaking bad habits, it refers to a 2010 study published in The European Journal of Social Psychology which found that it took an average of 66 days for a behavior to change (although the time varied from 18 to 254 days depending on the habit).

Whilst there’s been no studies that I can find showing how long it takes to break a habit, you oculd conclude the same timeframe would be applicable.


Charles Duhigg in his book ‘The Power Of Habit’ stated that “Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped”.

His framework for reshaping habits is:

1. Identify the routine

2. Experiment with rewards

3. Isolate the cue, and

4. have a plan.

Identify the habits that you prefer weren’t a part of your life, and start implementing this framework in order to become a better you.

Remember, underlying bad habits will continue to undermine your goal of improving and hinder you from becoming the best version of yourself.

The problem with only focussing your effort on developing new and better habits is that underlying bad habits, actions, and behaviours can continue to undermine your goal of improving.

For the most part, unlearning an unwanted habit, whether it be a destructive behaviour pattern or a negative way of thinking, is accomplished by replacing the pattern of behaviour with a new pattern of behaviour. After time, the old pattern has been replaced with a new pattern and therefore, ‘unlearnt’.

As we’ve identified, unlearning is ‘to put out of one’s knowledge or memory’ or to undo the effect of’. Once you adopt the rule of unlearning, a new habit will replace the old and you will move from a conscious habit to a hidden habit, therefore effectively ‘forgetting’ or ‘replacing’ the old pattern with a new pattern.

Whilst unlearning is essentially replacing a previous way of behaviour with a new behaviour, there’s a bit more to it.

Firstly you need to be open to change. A paradigm shift needs to occur. A  paradigm shift is defined as “an important change that happens when the usual way of thinking about or doing something is replaced by a new and different way.”

Secondly, you need to identify what the change needs to be. Introspection needs to occur to review what change is needing to be ‘swapped out’ for something different.

And finally, there needs to be a framework around reshaping the habit or behaviour i.e adopting a plan to replace the old with the new.

In his article about Breaking Bad Habits, James Clear provides the below additional ideas for breaking bad habits.

Choose a substitute for your bad habit.

Cut out as many triggers as possible. Right now, your environment makes your bad habit easier and good habits harder. Change your environment and you can change the outcome.

Join forces with somebody.

Surround yourself with people who live the way you want to live.

Visualize yourself succeeding.

You don’t need to be someone else, you just need to return to the old you. So often we think that to break bad habits, we need to become an entirely new person.

Use the word “but” to overcome negative self–talk.

“I’m fat and out of shape, but I could be in shape a few months from now.”

“I’m stupid and nobody respects me, but I’m working to develop a valuable skill.”

“I’m a failure, but everybody fails sometimes.”

Plan for failure. We all slip up every now and then.

Developing New Habits

To really live an extraordinary life, these questions will help you decide if you’re living life on purpose.

Next, you need to decide what areas of your life you need improvement and determine what habits are ingrained that you need to remove.

If you systematically review what’s working and not working in your life, you’ll very easily find that you identify the habits that have been formed that need to be unlearnt in order for you to move forward in a more meaningful, positive, and purposeful way.

One way that can help you develop new habits is by setting better goals.

Let’s say, for example, you are putting on weight because your eating habits are less than ideal. Rather than just wanting to stop eating crap and lose weight, your new goal might be that by X date you want to be X weight for the simple reason that you want to live an extra 10 years for your grandkids.

Adopting a new habit to replace an old one, will only work when your goals are specific, measurable, achievable, and realistic.

There’s no doubt that habits can seem quick to form yet hard to break. As we’ve seen, habits are formed by repetition over many years, and unlearning these habits can certainly be challenging, however, adopting the rule of unlearning in your life will definitely fast-track any improvement you’re looking to make.

This is not difficult, it just takes consistency and a bit of focus. As soon as you start getting some momentum, you’ll notice change occurs quite quickly.

The Benefits of Adopting The Rule of Unlearning

The benefits of adopting the concept of unlearning are quite obvious however, the results can be quite varied, dependent on how ingrained and destructive the habit is.

Benefits could include:

  • Starting to heal your wounds.
  • You can be more able to connect with others in a more authentic way.
  • You will have increased focus and productivity
  • You will be able to accelerate your growth as a person
  • You will move towards your goals quicker.
  • Become more focussed on others and less self-absorbed.

The rule of unlearning allows you to unlearn old patterns in order that you can start to re-develop new patterns.

Adopting the rule of unlearning into your life is the fastest way to remove those bad habits that have been holding you back from becoming the person you want to become.

There are many resources out there that you can consume around breaking bad habits, but the best thing you can do is actually put the above into practice.

You can do this!

If you feel like you have someone you can discuss this with and who will hold you to account, talk to them.

Comment below, If you feel comfortable, otherwise jump over to the Facebook page and tell me how you’re going to unlearn a bad habit and what you’re going to replace it with. Let me hold you to account.

Remember, you’re awesome and you’re loved.


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