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The most remarkable trait. We can un-learn.

Written by Staff Writer

January 29, 2021

The most remarkable trait shared by humans is our adaptability. The variety in which humans can live their lives is unparalleled in nature; while two lions might have slightly different hunting preferences or grooming techniques, every big cat will sleep for most of the day. Compare this to the plethora of people, cultures and devotions whose followers number in the hundreds of millions, in a world of billions. We can attribute this beautiful tapestry of humanity to our innate ability to not only construct paradigms or thought landscapes, through which we experience the world, but also our ability and appetite to shift these paradigms when we need to.

The best example of how different paradigms inform different modes of thinking lies in how our language influences how we think. Being exposed to a more complex lexicon from an early age will definitely set apart two speakers of the same language. This is all rather basic – knowing more words enables greater self-expression. Paradigms can also present themselves in much more subtle ways. Fans of different genres of music will have different opinions on the best albums of the century. Likewise, both visible as well as imperceptible life experiences eventually culminate in two people having radically opposing outlooks on politics. To the individual living out their own unique experience, all of the examples mentioned thus far – language, taste and politics – may feel like paradigms that we are born into, that our membership and subscription of these ways of thinking is purely coincidental.

The truth is that conscious exposure to instructive external experiences helps us both construct new paradigms and grow out of obsolete ones. Neuroplasticity describes how even the brain changes shape, to reflect our experiences. Scientists, medical professionals, and philosophers alike have long observed the effects of this phenomenon. Our brains can be moulded by our thoughts in the same vein that traditional exercise strengthens other muscles. What this means is that habits impact and determine how our brain works. Repeated behaviour forges neural pathways which fire more quickly with every repetition. An integral part of learning therefore involves the delightful process of unlearning outdated paradigms.

Luckily for us, given the right learning experiences, human beings can be champions of the world when it comes to constructing helpful paradigms and breaking down those that fail to serve us. The process of unlearning is often neglected in a day and age seemingly centred around accumulation and commodification. We often feel that we have worked so hard to obtain something – skills, money, reputation- that the act of possessing these things starts to permeate how we define ourselves. This can begin a self-defeating set of behaviours which could prevent us from unlearning habits of self that we would be better off without. Being able to change your paradigm puts everything into perspective because it provides us with a new vantage point.

The concept of cognitive bias was first introduced by researchers Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972. Since then, researchers have described a number of different types of biases that affect decision-making in a wide range of areas including social behaviour, cognition, behavioural economics, education, management, healthcare, business, and finance. These biases reflect inaccuracies in our paradigms that are far from reliable and prove that we sometimes have ways of viewing the world that are outdated and over simplified.

We also need to be aware that strong, self-constructed paradigms can sometimes cage us and prejudice us from shifting our named reality to embrace new facts. Ultimately, the game of paradigms involves a constant process of rearrangement, self-reflection, and love. Love, because we need self-compassion in allowing ourselves to overcome paradigms constructed in hurt and shame and explore paradigms based on healthy experiences that will carry us into deeper authenticity.

Test out, upgrade and experience the value of unlearning, the expansiveness of new paradigms, and the neuroplasticity that opens the doors to a greater depth of knowledge and skills. Take advantage of your ability to unlearn!

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