What You Must “Unlearn” to Really Succeed at Work

A colleague recently told me, “Unlearning is the new learning.” I laughed and rolled my eyes because it sounded… well… a little silly. But then we moved on to a more specific conversation about how many of us approach improving or advancing our careers. We put on a layer. We strive to expand and increase our income, our title and our area of ​​responsibility. We strive to do more to get more. However, we rarely think about what we need to remove in order to create the space, energy, and time needed to achieve our new goals.

This is where learning begins, that is, the rejection of knowledge, ideas, or behaviors. It means noticing what you are doing that is preventing you from being your best, and then spinning it out to free yourself from it. This allows you to behave differently and in a new way that will benefit you more.

Learning is an obvious switch of language and point of view. You could say that unlearning is just learning to do something different. Of course. But sometimes changing the way we think about our work or behavior makes us more tempting to try something new and thus succeed.

The steps to unlearn, suggested by the experts, are simple. Here is an example of how to unlearn:

  • Recognize and accept that what you are doing now is ineffective or inappropriate.
  • Look for new information, behaviors, and thoughts to replace these inappropriate actions.
  • Immerse yourself in new behaviors to reinforce the new and let go of the old.

Seems intuitive, right?

What is more effective is determining what needs to be unlearned. This is the first step and often the hardest. Here are some examples to help you think about what you need to learn to improve your performance (and your well-being) at work.

Give up that you have to suffer in order to succeed

It’s built into our work culture. This is the “no pain, no gain” performance mantra. This is the belief that it is better to work longer and harder, and that rest and breaks are a sign of weakness. Moreover, being busy is a status symbol , and if we are not busy, we are not adding value and therefore not doing our best to be successful.

It is this belief that has led us straight down the path of burnout , skyrocketing healthcare costs, and general misery in the workplace. Many also find it very difficult to unlearn.

If you have fallen victim to this belief and would benefit from giving it up, start small by introducing more rest into your day. It might look like a couple of quick walks or cutting back on the number of hours you spend on your weekends.

Stop gossiping about your colleagues

If there’s one big thing that almost anyone can get caught up in, it’s gossip. It means spending time talking about others, often tinged with joy at their misfortune. However, all it takes is putting yourself in the place of the person being talked about and presenting yourself as the subject of someone else’s chatter, and you will see how this not only wastes time, but also damages relationships and undermines trust.

What makes learning difficult is that it can serve a purpose. Peggy Drexler writes in Forbes that “throughout human history, gossip has been a way to get close to others – even a tool to isolate those who don’t support the group.” This can create a bond that makes it so tempting to participate.

To unlearn this, you need to have a few standard phrases ready to deflect it when it appears. You can discreetly change the subject or say, more frankly, “Hi. I don’t want to gossip about others.” In any case, unlearning gossip will benefit everyone.

Stop focusing on flaws

After a busy day, it’s natural to look back and notice everything that wasn’t done. Or, when considering a career change, focus on all the experience you don’t have. It’s to see what’s missing before seeing what’s possible, and that’s the trap of scarcity thinking. This mindset can not only keep us from taking risks, but also keeps us from recognizing and repeating our achievements.

To unlearn this kind of thinking, you need to spend time reflecting on success and knowledge. It’s worth the investment. Research shows that “Employees who spent 15 minutes at the end of the day reflecting on lessons learned performed 23% better after 10 days than those who did not reflect.”

The next time you catch yourself complaining about what’s missing or not working, switch to noticing what you’re learning. Even in the most difficult jobs, there are moments of making the right decisions, solving problems and building relationships. These moments should grab your attention.

Is learning new learning? May be. This is definitely a subtle shift in mindset that can help anyone acquire new skills, behaviors, and beliefs. Once we figure out what we need to stop doing, we can replace it with something more productive and then practice to make it stick.


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