The importance of unlearning and conscious refraining

Unlearning and consciously leaving things out is important. In our training courses we pay more and more attention to contrasting learning. Read here why we have come to see it as an essential part of learning.

Continuous investment in learning and growth

Attention to continuous learning is valuable for individuals and organizations:
  • it brings satisfaction to individuals because we all have a basic psychological need for competence;
  • it ensures the development of knowledge and skills and therefore the employability of individuals;
  • it creates a workforce that can meet society's and the market's new demands and expectations;
  • it contributes to a healthier and more reciprocal psychological contract between organization and individuals. They don't just have to deliver performance to the organization; the organization also invests in their growth.

Misconception: It is enough to focus only on what works

A thought we regularly encounter is that for learning it would be enough to focus only on teaching what works and what is right. This idea is related to the philosophical assumption that whatever you give attention grows. This thought is reflected in the saying: Water the flowers, not the weeds.

This way of thinking could make you feel that paying attention to what doesn't work and what isn't right could backfire. But this turns out not to be true.

Two essential components of learning

Two things are essential for lifelong learning and lifelong progression:
  1. continuing to learn and apply new knowledge and skills (supporting this are: a) targeted investment in the development of expertise , b) dividing your work into a learning zone and a performance zone );
  2. continuing to unlearn and refrain from doing what is outdated and what does not work. This may concern assumptions, beliefs, knowledge, ingrained habits and conscious behaviour.

The importance of unlearning and deliberate refraining

Why unlearning and deliberate refraining is so important:
  • Each of us, due to intuitions, upbringing, education or cultural habits, has various ideas and habits that were never effective or correct. Development of scientific knowledge has shown that the ideas and habits were never effective.
  • We also have ideas and habits that were once effective (or at least relatively unproblematic) but are no longer due to the changing reality and the associated changed demands on us.
  • Focusing solely on learning new knowledge and skills does not automatically eliminate ineffective ideas and habits. Many people adopt new things that work while at the same time continuing to do things that don't work.

Contrasting learning

A way of learning that does justice to both learning new things and unlearning old things is contrastive learning. Contrasting learning comes down to:
  • learn about ideas and methods that turn out to be incorrect and do not work;
  • understand why we are still inclined to do these approaches (for example, because of intuitions, upbringing, education or cultural habits);
  • understand why these methods do not work and understand the adverse consequences they have;
  • learn about an alternative approach that is correct and works;
  • understand why this alternative approach works;
  • clearly seeing the difference between the ineffective and the effective way of thinking and acting leads to deeper learning and easier remembering.

Two-track approach

  • To be effective, it is often necessary to follow a two-track approach: both doing the do's and leaving out the don'ts is important.
  • Example 1: In order to support the motivation of students or employees, it is also important to support their basic psychological needs and prevent a controlling style of working.
  • Example 2: in order to support the growth mindset of students or employees, it is necessary to simultaneously support the growth mindset and consciously  avoid things that evoke a fixed mindset.
► What do you want to unlearn?