What is the root of virtually every problem in your world?
It’s actually very simple.
“The trouble with people is not that they don’t know but that they know so much that ain’t so.” –Josh Billings, American humorist
Ironically this quote is usually attributed to Mark Twain or Will Rogers. What Billings points out so casually is the root of every problem in the world.
This is not an exaggeration.
Many people want to become better, smarter, more successful, etc. But few people are willing to unlearn what they have learned (despite the fact that Yoda taught us this in The Empire Strikes Back).
But a moment’s reflection reveals for any adult that the most important lessons of your life occur through unlearning–when you discover that a belief, a value, or a perspective you’ve held to be true…isn’t as true as you thought.
We avoid this like the plague: the pain, the confusion, the heartbreak.
- You find out how you’ve been pushing someone away that you want to be close with.
- You discover you’ve been mistreating the employees you care so much about.
- You realize your father isn’t dead and is actually Darth Vader.
Science shows that the grip we human beings have on our beliefs is so strong that when we’re presented with objective facts that go against them, it causes most people to double down on their flawed beliefs. It’s called the backfire effect, and it should scare the hell out of you.
Because you do it.
You’re doing it right now, and you don’t even know it.
Somewhere in your life, you’re holding onto a belief that isn’t true, and the more life tries to show how you’re misguided, the more you resist.
It’s simply not arguable that we do this. The question is only how much you’re resisting, and where.
So now you have two options:
- Negotiate with reality so that you only accept truths that are sufficiently comfortable and unconsciously reject the rest.
- Consciously make a practice out of proactively wondering where you’re clinging to unproductive beliefs because you’re more committed to truth than being comfortable.
It’s really only one or the other. You can’t be mostly committed to truth. It’s like being kind of pregnant. It doesn’t work that way. Because if you’re mostly committed to truth, then the most important lessons which cause the most discomfort likely will be hidden from your view.
The vast majority of people choose the first option and it’s a long story why, but here’s one important piece: School.
Most education systems utilize constructive learning, not deconstructive learning. Constructive learning happens when someone tells you the Magna Carta was signed in 1215. Probably you didn’t know that. Now you do. It added something to your knowledge. That’s mostly how we were educated.
Deconstructive learning happens when something you’ve thought is true is shown to be untrue. For example, there’s no such thing as a selfless act, because an adult human is always at choice. Even if someone does something extremely generous, they’re still choosing to do it and satisfying their own values. A generous person gets to express their generosity. They chose to be generous, and then they act that way. There’s a self there, doing that. It doesn’t make it any less noble, but the idea of selflessness doesn’t hold any logical water. Even a self that’s spiritually guided chose to allow themselves to be guided that way in the first place.
Notice you may be having a more difficult time with this than the Magna Carta. This is because 99% of the population was conditioned to believe in selflessness for decades, beginning long before the logical mind even began to develop.
In other words, you’ve been conditioned. You’re conditioned so deeply that beliefs like this became part of your identity. And this is precisely why you grip those beliefs.
Because without them, you don’t know who you are. And it doesn’t get much more uncomfortable than that. Letting go of beliefs that are part of your identity hurts.
Symptoms can include frustration, disorientation, terror, tears, confusion, anxiety, and significant changes in your life structures that have been based on whatever beliefs you’re losing.
Unlearning Ain’t Easy, But It Does Work
Unlearning doesn’t feel like learning. It’s a totally different experience and many people don’t do it…at all. Remember in The Matrix when Neo asks Morpheus why his eyes hurt. He answers, “Because you’ve never used them before.” Unless you have formal training otherwise, your unlearning muscles are likely atrophied.
So if it’s that difficult, why would anyone pursue unlearning?
Because it’s the path to fulfilling your dreams. I’ve been helping people move toward their dreams for over fifteen years and inevitably there are a set of flawed beliefs in their way. Dreams seem to be life’s way of dangling a carrot so that you’re hungry enough to let go of falsity. When you want something deeply, you have leverage on yourself to look hard at how you live your life.
Most people try only to construct their dreams, as they ought to. Eventually, though, to reach them you must embrace deconstructing your way there. Both are necessary to get where you want to go, and both have their own kinds of discomfort. We’re just more conditioned to accept the discomfort of learning than we are that of unlearning. But it gets easier. You get used to it.
When you’re ready to choose the discomfort of unlearning, and recondition yourself to embrace that, so you can be the highest version of yourself, I invite you to become a Clear and Open Member. That’s what we do as a community. Together.