Most of us are striving to better ourselves. We want to be better than we were yesterday, and a quantum leap better that we were the day before that. Whether that be in a professional sense, an academic sense, a physical sense, or otherwise. And we seem to think that we can achieve this if we simply learn more. We spend our time filling our brain with new, interesting information (both consciously and subconsciously), and dipping our toes into all these new experiences in the hope of attaining something we didn’t have already. The more we learn, the more knowledge we will have, which in turn will accelerate our personal growth, and lead us to being a better and happier version of ourselves. Blah blah blah. Well at least, from my observations, that's the way many of us like to think.
But recently, CEO of Marketing Agency, Social Chain, and my personal motivational king Steve Bartlett, talked about his desire to ‘unlearn’ things. He says, “I spent much of my early life believing that I would become successful in my relationships, career, and life generally, if I could just figure out what I needed to learn. I made all these mental lists of things I thought I needed to learn, but I’ve realised that there is another list I should have written first… that list being “Things I Have To Unlearn.” And instantly, this struck a chord with me. I think this really struck a chord with me because it’s a process that I’ve very much been going through, both consciously and subconsciously, in recent years. And I can’t think of a better, or more accurate way for how to describe it.
For example, one thing I’m actively unlearning is the definition of what it means to be an ‘adult’. My father does the typical London commute each day, working a nine to five, and my brother followed suit, and my mum is a (now retired) primary school teacher. Therefore, in a sense, I’ve been conditioned to perceive the ‘adult’ in a certain way. Everyday my parents travel to their place of work, dressed in smart clothes, working a measured number of hours in order to each earn a stable salary. And all you have to do is get on a London tube in the early hours of a weekday morning to see thousands of others doing the exact same thing. These are adults. These are professional, have-everything-in-their-lives-sorted adults. Or, at least in my mind, this is how I’ve long perceived things and thought that until I’m doing the same, I’m not an adult. But at the same time, like many creative entrepreneurs out there, I’ve always craved the less conformist, make-it-happen-for-yourself method of earning a living. I’ve always wanted to make a living from designing my own things and sharing these with others. However, often as I sit there crafting away, I’m stifled with these toxic thoughts that by doing so, I’m being naive and childish. That I ought to grow up and get a ‘real’ job like everybody else. That I need to drop these idle, head-in-the-cloud ideals and face reality.
"I’m learning that a nine-to-five job does not accelerate you to ‘adulthood’. And that it’s okay not to follow suit of my parents, and to actually take the path less trodden."
But I’m learning that how one earns a living is not what defines their maturity. I’m learning that a nine-to-five job does not accelerate you to ‘adulthood’. And that it’s okay not to follow suit of my parents, and to actually take the path less trodden. Especially, with all the new digital technologies that let us share things online and interact with almost anyone in the world, these less traditional and non-conformist methods of earning a living are possible. In the modern world, many of us are now able to ‘design' our lives. These technologies have unearthed a whole new realm of opportunities and possibilities for people who, like me, want to make a go of something for themselves. Not that it’s easy, of course, but it’s certainly a blessing, in my opinion. So, forget what you’ve been conditioned to see as the ‘correct’ way for providing for yourself and what it means to be an ‘adult’. Forget about what others may think of you. Whatever your vision is for your future, follow it. As far as I’m concerned, making decisions for yourself, pursuing your ambitions, and being appreciative of what you have in the process, is enough to class you as an adult.
Another thing that I’ve spent the last few years unlearning is socialisation. Now, by that I don’t mean completely disconnecting myself from society, dismantling my social skills, and going off the grid. But I’d definitely say I’ve been more conscious, over the last few years in particular, about how I choose to socialise… or not socialise for that matter. Naturally, I’m a very introverted person. But I think school and many of our former experiences favour extroversion. One of my earliest memories is screaming at my mum and tugging at her trouser leg at the door of playgroup (pre-school), begging her not to leave me in a large hall full of a dozen snotty children for whom I’d never met. And perhaps less screaming and less snotty children, but again at junior and secondary school it was a similar story. At school we’re all just thrown into a large classroom and expected to mix with other students and be friends. But that’s no easy task, especially for an introverted person. As a child I was always very shy and I remember I would always hide behind my mum whenever one of her friends or my teachers spoke to her. In turn, they would say things like, “ooh she’s very quiet, isn’t she?” And as best-selling author, Susan Cain, says, “It's all very well-meaning but it has the cumulative effect of telling a child that their natural preferences for how they spend their time are not valid.”
“Our early experiences, childhood, heartbreak, toxic thoughts, and other bad habits and behaviours that went unchecked, stand the greatest chance of ruining our adult life and preventing us from learning, growing, and evolving into who we want to be.”
The simple fact is, I enjoy spending time by myself. I’ve always liked doing things slightly differently to others and being lost in my own little world, rather than getting sucked into everyone else’s. But through social conditioning, I’ve always been led to believe that this wasn’t how I should behave or how I should enjoy spending my time. I'd say this mindset shifted slightly when I moved to a new city to start university. When my immediate network of people that I was used to having around me was no longer there, I found myself finally starting to think for myself and do things for myself more and more. At university, you're on your own. And, of course, at times that can feel quite isolating. But more than anything, it felt liberating. I could do with my time, what I wanted. I could go where I pleased, when I pleased. And if I wanted to spend all that time on my own, then I was free from anyone judging me for it.
Slowly, I feel like I’m ‘unlearning’ everything I was taught when I was younger. In fact, now I’d say I spend about ninety per cent of my time by myself. This being for no other reason than the fact that I enjoy my own company and feel I get more out of my time by being by myself, doing the things that I really like to do. I’ve tried the whole getting drunk and going to a nightclub and I simply don’t understand the pleasure in it. Training, taking long walks, doing yoga, and focusing on my design stuff. These are the times I feel most like myself. These are how I recharge my batteries. But it’s taken me a good few years to learn and understand that this is how I function. And to unlearn that spending the majority of time by myself makes me a ‘loner’ or ‘weird’. Because the truth is, these things are not true. These are simply constructs society has aligned us with and led us to believe. Sure, this may not be how the majority spend their time but that doesn’t mean it isn’t ‘valid’ or ‘normal’ if that’s how you do want to spend your time. What is normal, after all?
Finally, how you take care of yourself, physically, should be something that is completely up to you. I strongly believe that people should take some time to understand their body - what it likes, what it doesn't like, its rhythms, and what movements makes your body feel good, strong, and healthy. Unlearn any sports or activities that you don't enjoy and find put a negative stress on your body, and learn ones that make you feel good. Of course, for me that's swimming, yoga, basketball, and functional training in the gym. But I only have a sharp grasp and understanding about how good these things make me feel through years of putting my body through sports it didn't like. Unlearn those sports you're introduced to growing up but absolutely loathed like hockey, netball, and running cross-country at school, and find ones that excite you!
And on the note of physical health, my final example may be quite odd, but I’ve realised there is no ‘correct schedule’ as to when you should eat. Led by the exemplary routine of my family, for years I ate breakfast as soon as I woke up, lunch at midday, and dinner was on the table at six o’clock. And when I started training (swimming) early in the morning, I would come home and only drink a large black coffee instead of fuelling my body with the proper nutrients it needed after a physically demanding session, so that I wouldn’t ‘spoil’ the midday meal. I deprived my body of these nutrients because I believed, through years of living out this routine, that to eat on any schedule that was different to that I’d always known, was ‘incorrect’. When, in reality, this is just a schedule made by my family - in particular my mother - suited to fit their daily routine and their lives. Not mine. Newsflash! You can eat whenever you want. Hell, the Spanish eat lunch at three o’clock in the afternoon and dinner at ten! Quite simply, you should eat whenever your body is screaming at you to be fed! I can assure you that when I eat and what I eat look incredibly different to that of a few years ago.
"I’ve always liked doing things slightly differently to others and being lost in my own little world, rather than getting sucked into everyone else’s."
So, as Steve Bartlett wisely puts it, “Our early experiences, childhood, heartbreak, toxic thoughts, and other bad habits and behaviours that went unchecked, stand the greatest chance of ruining our adult life and preventing us from learning, growing, and evolving into who we want to be”. It’s a very hard task to realise what you have to unlearn, admit your faults, and disarm them by replacing them with new behaviours, habits, and thoughts. But it’s so important that you try, or you’re at least conscious of them and how they may be affecting your life, and potentially hindering your personal growth. The examples that I’ve gone into detail about in this post are just a few of the things that I've come to realise have been at the centre of my own personal frustration over the last few years. Yours are probably very different! But ‘unlearning’ them feels like a weight is gradually being lifted off my shoulders. So, what things do you feel are holding you back and causing that ‘mental blockage’. What are some things you want ‘unlearn’? As always, feel free to drop me message. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts!