Learn to Unlearn

Learning to unlearn is at the zenith of cognitive development, effective learning, and building better habits.

To illustrate this important concept, I am going to use computer shortcuts as our example.

Becoming proficient with shortcuts can take time. Like anything else, it requires practice. And not just time practicing, but more importantly, energy spent avoiding the the old way of doing something (using the mouse).

If you want to become an effective learner, you have to invest in unlearning something so convenient and known. It is difficult work! Our brains have already built the neural-network to perform the task. When you present your brain with a new way of doing something, it doesn’t want to do it. It takes more energy and more time. So…why do it?!

For your future self

Not just so your future self is more proficient at accomplishing tasks, but so your future self is:

  • Accomplishing tasks the most efficient way.
  • More adaptable and aware of new ways.
  • Healthier; with a brain that avoids rigidity and atrophy.

There is a fact about our brains that is both beautiful and woeful. It is understood through a term called…


Einstellung is the phenomenon of the path. Einstellung is when the mind has devised a solution to a problem, and returns to the method when presented with similar problems.

When we learn to do something, we are coding our brains to do that thing in that specific way. It becomes easier and easier as the brain makes those neural-paths stronger, until the paths are so strong, that they require little to no conscious effort to perform.

This is obviously necessary for automatic performance so our cortex can calculate other information and actions. But it can also be unhelpful if we’ve learned something the wrong way; or in many cases, in a less proficient way.

There are few things less worse than proficiently performing an ineffective technique/method/action. It is much easier to learn something new, than to have to unlearn something so you can relearn it a better way. But everyone has learned something poorly.

And this is why it is so important to become a good unlearner. The more you practice unlearning, the easier unlearning becomes. The more you practice unlearning, the easier learning becomes. The more you seek unlearning, the more conscious you become of alternative ways of seeing and doing. The more you seek unlearning, the greater your capacity of coming up with solutions will be.

Simple… kinda

  1. Learn a new technique,
  2. Use the new technique,
  3. Be mindful of when you want to use old technique; and finally,
  4. Refrain from using older technique—always!

Simple right? And I feel like you already knew this. But, the trick is intention.

Refraining from the old technique can be very difficult, because your brain is primed to revert to the path of least resistance. But it’s not always better! Just know that every action you make, you’re strengthening those neural pathways. In order to remove antiquated, less proficient pathways, you have to stop using them.

And I believe a great and tangible way to start practicing the art of unlearning is by unlearning the mouse.

Just learn one new shortcut a week, and never use the mouse for that action again.

Start with Command+Tab, or one of the other useful computer shortcuts that I’ve shared.

If you have any questions, suggestions, or rebuttals; comment below.


Brain image