How Unlearning Gets Change Stuck


Unlearning is often part of difficult change. It is a process with specific stages and there are obstacles you need to overcome to move from one stage to the next. Ignoring Unlearning may mean running into invisible walls. Knowing how to guide people through Unlearning allows you to see those invisible walls so you can help people bypass or overcome them.

To intuitively understand Unlearning, we should probably start with what Unlearning is not.

Try to think of a time you learned a brand new skill. It can be anything from deliberately learning how to swim to more subconsciously learning how to respond to conflict. Which steps did you take in order to learn something brand new? For skills like swimming, most people say they learn by observing, collecting information, and through trial and error. For less deliberately acquired skills like how we respond to conflict, most people say they learn from observing others around them and from the meaning they assigned to specific experiences in the past. Either way, when we learn, we only add something new. With than in mind, try to imagine a skill or response you've been reinforcing for a long time. If at some point, you decide to significantly change the way you apply a skill, how do you think the Unlearning involved will be different from learning?

In what way is learning to change the way you swim different than learning to swim for the first time? How is unlearning your previous responses to conflict and adopting new responses to replace them any different from learning how to respond to conflict in the first place? Most people recognize Unlearning is more difficult than learning, that with Unlearning we are working against preexisting patterns, and that because of those patterns, Unlearn