The Hows and Whys of Unlearning

Not a lot of time is spent on unlearning. Most of us are focused on what we want to learn, not what we need to unlearn.

The problem is, if we want to grow and change, we usually need to unlearn old habits first.  The good news is there is a science to that. No really, it’s called behavioral psychology and it’s the study of how we learn and unlearn behaviors. Researchers have been studying this topic of about 70 years now.

The good news is that we do know how to create unlearning, or to put it in simpler language, we know what it takes to break a bad habit.  The bad news is that it isn’t easy to do. Which is why so many people who try to change, fail.  The good news is that if you have failed before, it’s not really your fault. It really has very little to do with willpower and strength. It has to do with how you are conditioned and rewarded (both for the old unwanted behavior and the new behavior).

I teach several courses that integrate the science of how and why unlearning happens into the course content. It’s relevant to how to stop bullying, harassment and retaliation. It’s relevant to change management processes. It’s relevant to helping teams adopt new behaviors despite all their fussing and whining about it (which is predicted to occur).

The simplest way to describe this process is this: if you want to stop a behavior, you have to stop rewarding it. And yes, I realize that that statement is incredibly unhelpful. How exactly you do that is the challenge. And unfortunately, each behavior is different because how it is being rewarded is different.

What you really need to learn is the science. There are 3 types of responses, positive (reward), negative (punishment) and neutral (which is when nothing happens).  Most people think if you want to stop a behavior you need to punish it. But actually that just reinforces it. Negative reinforcement is still – reinforcement. Not rewarding it at all is what actually works AND you have to do that consistently to get the behavior to stop.

If this is knowledge you think would be helpful get my book, take one of my online courses and learn it.

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