149: The Importance of Unlearning

149: The Importance of Unlearning

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My new-to-me motorcycle finally arrived and now it is time to learn to ride it. My sons (17 and 18) got on and picked up how to ride almost immediately. I, however, was on the struggle bus (struggle…bike?). While there is something to be said for just being brave, getting on, and going for it, that’s not always the thing that works.

In my 42 years on this planet, I’ve never had anything with a twist grip throttle. For those of you who don’t have a motorcycle, a twist grip throttle is the right side handlebar grip that you have to twist with your wrist to get the bike to go. As a kid I would pretend I was riding a motorcycle or revving a bike, and to do that, I’d pretend I had my hands on the handles, and I twisted and I said vroom vroom!

But… as a little kid pretending, I twisted my wrist forward instead of backwards—which turns out is WRONG. In my head, it made sense. Twisting your wrist forward means the bike would go forward right? Forward means go?

Wrong. On a twist grip throttle, you actually twist your wrist backwards to make the bike go.

Okay. Not a big deal, right? I can do this. Right?


I’m learning to ride this motorcycle and not only are there several things to pay attention to and figure out all at the same time—especially when you’re just learning—but I’ve got this functional issue because of the simple fact that when I do put everything all together and I’m ready to make this bike go, I can’t make it go because I’m twisting the grip the wrong way.

Why am I doing that? Because twisting the grip forward is what I “learned” when I was pretending as a kid.

So I spent a few days frustrated. Frustrated that I’d release the clutch and the bike would die because I wasn’t giving it gas because, duh, I was actually twisting the throttle the wrong way. Frustrated that with everything else there was to figure out about riding a bike, I couldn’t remember my wrist needed to go backwards, not forward.

It felt like a puzzle that I was struggling to put together when a really basic piece that I needed had fallen off the table and been kicked under the couch.

Sometimes you can’t just keep plodding and pushing forward. You have to unlearn the thing that’s wrong.

So you know what I had to do? I seriously had to take several days just driving around the yard, stopping and going, stopping and going, stopping and going and shifting, stopping and going so I could unlearn the incorrect thing that had somehow been put in my head about which way the throttle goes.

It wasn’t just that I had to learn the new stuff of how to ride the bike, I had to unlearn the stuff that was wrong.

Me learning to ride my motorcycle through the farmyard in front of the barn

Unlearning is necessary in many things.

This doesn’t just happen with motorcycles. There are many times this can happen in our life. In fact, any time we face something new—whether by choice or not—we might have to unlearn something in order to proceed.

A new relationship with someone who treats you differently than your last partner

A new way of eating.

A new social media

A new job

A new baby.

The way things were aren’t necessarily how they’re going to be in the future. While it can sometimes be easy to just do an about face and continue in a different direction, that’s not always the case. Sometimes twisting the throttle the wrong way crops up to remind us we’ve got stuff we need to deal with, stuff we have to unlearn, in order to fully be on the new path.

It’s like bringing all new furniture into a house. You have to get rid of the old stuff to make room for the new stuff. If you don’t get rid of the old furniture, the new stuff doesn’t make much sense, and probably doesn’t fit.

Unlearning needs to happen, but don’t use it as a crutch.

If there is something that needs to be unlearned, that explains why it doesn’t help to tell someone to just get over it, just don’t worry about it, just change this, just jump in and do it, just try something new. 

But don’t let unlearning be a crutch or an excuse to sit idle. If something needs to be unlearned, it needs to be identified, worked through, and then you can proceed down the path without the baggage and hang ups and misinformation that’s holding you back. (If you need to spend a week driving around your yard stopping and starting and shifting until you are twisting the throttle correctly without even having to think about it, then that’s what you should be doing!)

What holds you back should never be an excuse. What holds you back shouldn’t continue to hold you back once you’ve identified it. Figure out what lies, misinformation, or wrong experiences are at the root of the issue, and get busy unlearning.

Unlearn the incorrect stuff and move forward.

We forget that sometimes it’s not just about learning something new. Sometimes, in order to actually learn the new thing, we have to unlearn the old stuff. 

There are lots of new things I’m learning when it comes to riding a motorcycle. Without unlearning the thing that somehow became habit in my brain, I won’t move forward with riding a motorcycle.

When you’re struggling with learning or doing something new, ask yourself: is there something I need to unlearn? 

— Amy Dingmann, 5-25-21

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Handlebars of a motorcycle with the words "the importance of unlearning" written across it

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