We spend our lives adding to our stock of knowledge. The more you know, the better, right? And yet, what if some of what you know is holding you back? The process of ‘unlearning’ invites us to critically examine our deeply held beliefs and assumptions, to let go of outdated or incorrect knowledge, and to make room for new, more nourishing insights. So, the question is: What might I unlearn today?

Let me give you an example. When I was young, I learnt the value of getting things done. This led me to value efficiency and timeliness to the point that I have only missed a tiny number of deadlines over my life. I even described myself as a “precrastinator” – someone who does something well before it needs to be done. In fact, this identity only tended to amplify the characteristic.

The truth is that it is a really positive trait in many realms and has helped me accomplish much of what I wanted over my life. And yet, as I got older, I began to realise that it has serious downsides. I particularly began to notice this when I started working with a number volunteer organisations. Some action would be agreed and I would start driving ahead with it, only to realise that the others hadn’t done their parts.

It became obvious that the more I precrastinated, the more work I got given. I was happy to give of my time but for the whole to work everyone had to contribute. The procrastinators had clearly tapped into some wisdom that I had not. I therefore began to question whether there might not be times when I too might unlearn my precrastinating and start procrastinating. I have found it a powerful lesson, with the key insight for me being that when one procrastinates on certain issues they sometimes tend to dissolve. No doing is required. The ones that remain are then the ones that truly warrant our time and attention.

The invitation is to remember that our beliefs and assumptions relate to a place that no longer exists – the past. Ask yourself, are they still relevant? Do they still serve me?

Questions in the Image:

  • What might I unlearn today?
  • What belief is holding me back?
  • What assumption is no longer valid?

Want to Read More Around This Topic?

Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich (link to Amazon.co.uk). This book is about unlearning on many levels. Although the book specifically focuses on education, its insights can be broadly applied to any established knowledge system. Illich argues for the decoupling of school and education, advocating instead for self-directed learning, skill exchange and the use of modern technology to disseminate knowledge. What sets Illich apart, though, is his ability to usher readers into a world with very different beliefs and assumptions, prompting us to question and examine our own. Whether or not one agrees with all his views, Illich’s work is undeniably thought-provoking and challenging.

Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day – a wasp floating around my desk got me thinking – Where are we, as humans, unwanted? Indeed, where might I be unwanted?

What Thoughts Would You Like to Share? My name is Tom O’Leary, and I envision a world in which curiosity shapes leadership. In this world, leaders aren’t boxed in by traditional thinking or established playbooks. They are open to fresh ideas and diverse perspectives, fostering a culture of exploration and learning. My mission is to shift leadership focus from authority, over-measurement and control to curiosity, learning and innovation, empowering leaders to prioritise the essential. My journey, lived in a number of countries and through various languages, has always been driven by a profound sense of curiosity. In fact, life has taught me that possibility lies not so much in seeking answers but in learning to ask better questions – the ones that help prioritise what is truly essential. I welcome your thoughts, feedback, or personal experiences related to these questions or any insights they may have sparked.