Unlearning: How to learn new things by forgetting the old

I wanted to learn a lot of things. I still do. But I don’t have the time. Isn’t that the greatest tragedy of our lives? Not having time?

It’s hard to find time when you have a full-time job. It was easier as a student. But like most college students, my college years were wasted in pursuit of booze, hash, and sex.

I wouldn’t say much as changed. Except now, I have learned to prioritise.

I have learnt to let go. I have come to terms with my life — I know I cannot learn everything I want to. There are few things I can learn. But only a few. I know there is no way I can learn “this too” without stretching myself to the absolute limit. And then some.

It was hard for me because I am a control freak who suffers from OCD. It’s really hard for me to tolerate things that are not absolutely, 100% perfect. I was never happy with someone else’s work. I had to do everything myself. Consequently, I had to learn everything myself.

It’s a good thing when you’re starting out. But there comes a time when those control issues are just going to pull you down and impede your progress.

So I have made a list of top 5 things that are absolutely essential for my growth. 5 things that will cover over 80% of what I do, and what I want to do. And I spend my time and energy doing these 5 things; learning about them, improving my skillset —

  1. Design
  2. Content Marketing
  3. Building a Personal Brand
  4. Niche Markets and Law of Averages
  5. Bikes

Everything else I wanted to learn, I have put on hold — either temporarily or permanently. That includes learning about:

  • History (World Wars, USSR, Cold War, War of Independence)
  • Literature (classics, modern classics)
  • Filmmaking (especially screenplay and non-linear narrative techniques)
  • Politics (I am still aware of everyday happenings, but I am neither as involved, nor as vocal, as I was just a couple of years ago)

There are a few other things that complete my life other than those 5 mentioned above, and they include things like travelling and writing. But I am not considering them “work”; nor should they be!

There’s one final aspect of this practice, and arguably the most important one:

UNLEARNING

Unlearning is the art of forgetting the rubbish that you’ve accumulated over the years. It stops your brain from operating at capacity. It distracts you. More importantly, it hinders your process of learning new stuff.

I have a huge pile of useless Cricket statistics in my head. Correction — I had a huge pile of useless Cricket statistics in my head. Now I have started forgetting most of it, and I couldn’t have been happier to let go!

Unlearning is easy. 

You just push the knowledge you want to forget to the back of your head. You pretend that you don’t know it. Eventually, you’ll end up not knowing it.

You don’t use that knowledge while writing, while debating, while making mental connections, nothing. More importantly, you resist the urge to learn more of it.

That’s the hard part. When you already have n bits of information about a certain thing, it’s easier to learn n+1th piece of information about it. And that’s what you resist.

You resist learning more of the same stuff!

***

So, to summarise:

  1. You accept that you cannot possibly learn everything.
  2. You prioritise what you want to learn.
  3. You unlearn useless things.
  4. Repeat at regular intervals for maximum success.

~ fin ~

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