Challenge Your Perception Box: The Joy of Unlearning
Unlocking New Perspectives by Rethinking What We Know
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” — Alvin Toffler
Every one of us lives within an invisible box made not of wood or metal but of perceptions, experiences, and beliefs. This “perception box,” as it were, shapes our view of the world, coloring everything from the mundane to the monumental. But here’s the kicker — what if this box, with all its familiar corners and edges, limits us more than it’s protecting us?
In an article by neuroscientist Heather Berlin, I read that our brains may not always be reliable narrators of reality. Our brains, wired by years of experiences, cultural norms, and individual upbringing, craft a unique lens through which we see the world. This lens — our perception box — while helping us navigate through life, can sometimes distort, omit, or even misinterpret the reality around us.
Thanks for reading Beyond Two Cents! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Now, let’s take this a step further. Imagine that these perception boxes, instead of being passive filters, actively shape our life’s trajectory. They can form invisible barriers, guiding us down familiar paths and away from uncharted territories. This is where the art of unlearning comes into play. Unlearning isn’t about forgetting; it’s about challenging these deep-seated beliefs and biases that confine us. It’s about asking ourselves tough questions: Are our perceptions our own, or are they a patchwork quilt of others’ opinions and societal norms? How often do we question the status quo or our ingrained thought patterns?
As we embark on this exploration, remember that it’s not about dismantling old beliefs but building a bridge to new perspectives. Let’s delve into the neuroscience of unlearning.
Understanding Our Box
Have you ever wondered why two people can experience the same event so differently? This question brings us to the heart of our perception box. Life fills this box with experiences, lessons, and interactions from our first breath. These are the building blocks of our worldview. Think of it as a jigsaw puzzle, where each piece represents an aspect of our culture, education, and personal experiences.
Here’s where it gets intriguing: This box doesn’t store these experiences; it shapes them into a narrative, a story we tell ourselves about who we are and how the world works. This narrative is like a script, directing our decisions, relationships, and career paths. It’s a powerful force but can be rewritten like any script. The key is understanding that this personal narrative can be limiting when it becomes too rigid.
Now, consider the difference between perception and reality. Our perception box is like a pair of tinted glasses. It colors everything we see, feel, and believe. Sometimes, it aligns with reality, but often, it’s more subjective, more about our interpretation than the facts. This misalignment can lead to conflicts, misunderstandings, and missed opportunities. It’s like two people watching the same movie but interpreting it differently.
The first step towards self-awareness is to recognize the existence of our perception box. It’s about turning inward and asking, “What’s in my box?” Awareness is the starting point. Through self-reflection and introspection, we can understand the contours of our box and the beliefs and biases that shape our narrative. By acknowledging these, we open the door to expanding and even stepping beyond the confines of our perception box.
Understanding our perception box is not an intellectual exercise; it’s a journey toward authenticity and personal knowledge. It’s about recognizing the invisible filters through which we view the world and questioning whether they serve or hinder us in our quest to live a fulfilled life.
“The foundation of the light of awareness is to be ready and willing to let go of what you know.” — Pema Chödrön
The Limitations of the Perception Box
Picture yourself walking through a familiar forest along the same path you’ve walked countless times. This path represents the habitual ways we think, act, and react — it’s comfortable and familiar. But what if I told you there are unexplored trails in this forest, hidden beyond your regular path? As comforting as it is, our perception box can be a walled garden, keeping us on the familiar way and away from new, enriching experiences.
Consider the business world, a realm I’m familiar with. Here, the perception box can manifest as cognitive biases — those sneaky shortcuts our brains take when making decisions. These biases can lead to flawed strategies and missed opportunities. It’s like having blinders on that keep us from seeing the whole picture.
In our personal lives, these limitations appear in our relationships and self-image. We have preconceived notions about people and what we can or cannot achieve, often based on outdated scripts from our past. It’s as if we’re wearing outdated prescription glasses, blurring our current vision.
The real challenge, then, is recognizing these limitations. We ask ourselves, “Is my perception box serving me, or is it holding me back?” It’s about understanding that while our box provides a sense of identity and security, it can also hinder growth and innovation.
In essence, the limitations of our perception box are invisible chains that we unknowingly wrap around ourselves. They are comfortable and familiar but ultimately restrictive.
The Joy of Unlearning
Unlearning is not just a psychological concept; it’s grounded in the very fabric of our brains. Neuroscience shows us that our brains are not hardwired, immutable structures but dynamic landscapes capable of remarkable change. This is where the concept of neuroplasticity comes into play. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. It means our brain’s structure and function can be altered in response to new experiences, learning, and even unlearning.
Unlearning old patterns and embracing new perspectives is akin to forging new pathways in a dense forest. Just as a path becomes more defined, the more it is traveled, the more our brain strengthens connections through repetition. When we challenge our long-held beliefs and biases, we’re hacking our brain’s wiring, creating new pathways, and weakening the old ones.
Unlearning starts with mindfulness — being present and aware of our thoughts and behaviors. It requires us to observe our thoughts without judgment, recognizing them as products of our perception box, not ultimate truths. This awareness creates a mental space where change can begin.
Critical thinking plays a crucial role in unlearning. It involves questioning the validity of our beliefs and the evidence supporting them. Are they based on facts or assumptions? Are they a product of our experiences or imposed by societal norms? This inquiry is crucial for dismantling outdated narratives.
Exposure to new experiences and viewpoints is vital. It requires stepping out of our comfort zone, engaging with diverse perspectives, and being open to change. This doesn’t mean abandoning our values but enriching and expanding them.
In essence, unlearning is a transformative process. It’s about breaking free from the mental molds we’ve created and allowing ourselves to grow and evolve. It’s a joyful journey of continuous self-improvement, where the goal is to get new knowledge and reshape our understanding of the world.
“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.” — Socrates
Strategies for Unlearning
When it comes to actually doing the work of unlearning, where do we start? I get it — challenging beliefs you’ve held for ages can feel overwhelming. The key is to begin with small, manageable steps.
For me, it was realizing I associated leadership with loud, extroverted behavior. As an introvert who considers my words, that bias affected who I saw as qualified for management roles. Practicing mindfulness helped reveal that bias. I started noticing those instinctive assumptions pop up. And once I was aware of them, I could pause and reconsider.
Another simple but vital tactic is to read and listen to reliable sources expressing diverse viewpoints. We have to shake ourselves out of our echo chambers! I began subscribing to publications I disagreed with. Even starting my day reading a brief essay presenting a different angle did wonders for getting me to question my positions.
Also, consider the power of keeping a journal. I use mine to ask myself tough questions about my beliefs and record fresh experiences that reinforce or contradict them. Reviewing these notes helps me reevaluate rather than stagnate.
Start small, but be determined. Identify one or two unquestioned assumptions that may be faulty or limiting. Note them in your journal. Then, establish a few manageable practices — like a short daily mindfulness or meditation session — that promote self-examination in the background. Keep it up; you’ll notice positive shifts before you know it.
Embracing Change and Growth
Embracing change and growth requires understanding that unlearning and relearning are not a destination but a continuous journey. This process is about staying adaptable and open-minded.
Change, often perceived as daunting, should be viewed as an opportunity for growth. It pushes us beyond our comfort zones, driving innovation and personal development. We allow ourselves to evolve and remain relevant and vibrant by embracing change.
Growth is about expanding our capabilities and understanding. It’s a proactive pursuit of knowledge, skills, and experiences that enrich our lives. Change is about acquiring new information and allowing it to transform us.
Unlearning and relearning are dynamic processes that need us to be perpetual students of life. They involve having the courage to let go of outdated beliefs and the curiosity to explore new ideas.
“It takes bravery to unlearn things as well as to learn them. I had to turn against some assumptions I took for granted about what’s natural. Being willing to do that is vital to growing wiser over time.” — Barry Schwartz
Challenging our ingrained beliefs and biases opens us to a richer, more diverse understanding of life. This is an ongoing process of growth and adaptation. Reflect on your perception box and consider what aspects need reevaluation and change.
Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below. What are some beliefs you want to question? Which tactics resonate with you for your unlearning journey?
Recommended Readings for Further Exploration
1. "Can You Trust Your Own Brain?" by Heather Berlin on Big Think: This article is a great starting point for understanding the concept of perception boxes and how our brains interpret reality.
2. "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman: Kahneman's book delves into the dual systems of our brain: the fast, intuitive, and emotional system and the slower, more deliberative, and logical system. It's a fascinating read on how our minds work and how we can be misled.
3. "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success" by Carol S. Dweck: Dweck's work on the fixed versus growth mindset aligns well with the concept of unlearning and relearning. It offers insights into how our beliefs about our abilities impact our behavior and success.
4. "The Art of Thinking Clearly" by Rolf Dobelli provides a compendium of cognitive biases and errors that affect our everyday thinking, decision-making, and judgment. It's a practical guide to avoiding common thinking mistakes.
5. "Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Taleb introduces the concept of 'antifragility' - things that benefit from shocks and volatility. This book encourages readers to embrace uncertainty and change, much like the process of unlearning.
6. "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business" by Charles Duhigg: Duhigg explores the science behind why habits exist and how they can be changed, which aligns with the concept of unlearning ingrained patterns.
Thanks for reading Beyond Two Cents! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.