UnLearning

“If your mind is empty, it is ready for anything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Shunryu Suzuki

Half the battle with learning is not getting in your own way. It’s often not what we don’t know, but what we think we know that’s holding us back.

A part of becoming skillful at something is to be continuously working on your knowledge base and re-approaching the fundamentals.

Mastery in your craft is as much about relearning (reinforcing) the fundamentals and unlearning bad (or outdated) habits than learning new things.

“It ain’t what you know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Mark Twain

In the beginning, learning the fundamentals can be boring (especially when it’s not paired with fun). Take learning the piano, for example. Practicing scales. Learning music notation. Chords. Working the muscle memory in your hands. Practicing playing notes with the left and right hand simultaneously. All of this is great and will enhance your abilities to play anything, but it is also tedious hard work. When you are just starting out, it’s better to take a stab at learning a few songs you love, or mess around and make your own songs first. Once you have a couple of wins, go back to and learn the fundamentals. I love scales now. I don’t find them boring at all, because I know that getting better at them will increase my ability to play across the board.

When we re-approach the fundamentals, we are coming from a more experienced mind. Things we couldn’t see at first becomes more clear each time we look at things from a fresh perspective. We couldn’t see, not because we were bad or dumb, but because we are inexperienced and didn’t know what to look at.

Things can become outdated quickly. Every year (more like every time we turn around) some new piece of knowledge, technology, or idea comes out and changes how the world works.

The problem is we can easily dismiss new knowledge for things we already know. This can work, for a little while anyway. But if we hold on to outdated or false information we eventually become stale. Alternatively, we can adopt a “strong convictions loosely held” mindset. I learned this idea from one of my favorite podcasts, The Drive, with Petter Attia. Strong “Convictions Loosely Held” roughly means holding on to your knowledge, values, and what you believe to be true, but being open to change and always testing your assumptions about what you think you know to be true and accurate.

Needing to relearn or unlearn things doesn’t mean we’ve wasted our time, or that what we know is irrelevant. Everything we learn builds on something that came before. We do need to stay up to date as much as we can (especially if your skills are in a fast-growing environment, like technology or medicine). This can be overwhelming (because of the firehose of information) but trying to learn everything at once is not an effective way to be skilled. One small thing at a time. One small actionable lesson adding to the next.

As long as we are willing to be life-long learners and continuously try to improve ourselves, then we are in the right mind space.

The only ones who become irrelevant are the ones who refuse to let go of bad habits and stop learning.

STAY BOLD, Keep Pursuing,
— Josh Waggoner | Daily Blog #1047

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