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The Meeting Point of Difficult Change and Neuroscience: About Unlearning

Imagine heavy chains pulling you down and keeping you in place.

It's a bit dramatic perhaps, but not that far off when you consider the impact that not managing Unlearning has on our ability (or inability) to adopt new ways of doing things.

A few years back, a friend shared with me a great clip that illustrates the power of preexisting patterns and why the need to manage Unlearning is so important:

Not all change is created equal. When change requires unlearning, the presence of preexistent patterns will make change difficult.

How Does Understanding Unlearning Help Us Overcome Difficult Change?

  • Not all change is created equal. When change requires unlearning, the presence of preexistent patterns will make change difficult.

  • Most people are very good at learning new things but have very little clarity around what it takes to unlearn.

  • When we facilitate change we need to recognize which previously reinforced ways of thinking and doing things are already in place.

  • Unless provided with the right support to overcome the power of preexisting patterns, previously reinforced ways of thinking, responding, and doing things may quietly and often invisibly block people from being able to adopt new ways of doing things.

  • How we act and interact is often tied to deep emotional response patterns. These are typically powerful blocking forces (the heaviest chains holding us back or pulling us down) and where people need the greatest support and guidance on how to unlearn.

Ask yourself: What do people need to unlearn or let go of to improve, adopt a new process, or achieve new desired outcomes?

What is The Contribution of Neuroscience in This Context?

  • Traditionally, we were taught to think of change and growth as a process equivalent to putting on a new layer of paint. Understanding the importance of Unlearning allows us to see the power of the underneath layer and the importance of preparing the previous layer in a way that will allow the new one to stick.

  • Unlearning is not a random process. It has stages and a variety of predictable obstacles between stages. Although every individual, team, and organization is different, if you know which stage comes next, recognize the specific way a given individual or team is "deviating from the path", and how to bring them back on track, you can guide people through change with greater clarity and less frustrations for everyone involved.

  • It is critical to incorporate Unlearning considerations into the different stages of change: think about Unlearning goals, understand resistance in the context of "attachment" to previous patterns, create new experiences that are powerful enough to "compete" with the reinforcement of previous experiences, and provide enough practice with sufficient spacing over time.

  • While communication, understanding, and acceptance are very important when it comes to moving forward, when Unlearning is involved, practice and repetition over time (in small chunks) is critical. Educate your client about the difference between creating awareness and adopting new ways of doing things into practice.

  • Knowing the Unlearning stages and quickly recognizing obstacles related to Unlearning allows us to successfully guide people through difficult change, remove the chains, and free the way to adopting new ways of responding and doing things.

Ask yourself: What is the difference between learning and Unlearning and how can I incorporate Unleaning principles to make difficult change simple?

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