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Writing

Learning to Unlearn

In recent months I have been reflecting on the methods of learning and my own personal journey through our educational system. I have discovered that my understanding of ‘learning’ is deeply and disturbingly flawed. I’m writing of this experience in hopes that it might resonate with you on a human level.


I have always been a hard worker. At school it was often a tactic so as to avoid being told off. I would tell myself ‘no one can get angry at you for trying your best’. I overworked at school. Soon enough this became a compulsion. It’s hard to remember looking back if I liked working. I think the lack of a distinct hatred probably is evidence that - on some level - I must have enjoyed it. As I entered into the exam phase and sixth form I soon found myself with no time to do anything other than work. I didn’t mean to be antisocial, I just didn’t have people to be social with. At school there is a morsel of space to passionately learn things that you want to. You are there to learn and so often learn to hate learning, so the idea of learning anything else understandably does not appeal to a tired teenager. The thing is - I was never discouraged from overworking. Looking back now, I feel some remorse, noticing that this time encouraged a selfish inward focus of individualism. Something that still haunts me.


I don’t know about you but I have so many things I want to learn in my life. Ranging from getting a motorbike licence to renovating a house - I have a big list. It was in October, I had moved back to my parents place after Uni, when I realised how unfulfilled I was with my knowledge. I lacked knowledge of the things I wanted to know and knew too much about things I didn’t care for. This as likely triggered from the disillusionment that came from studying my university degree. As the autumn of 2019 approached and the leaves began to descend so did my mental health. I felt like I’d taken one huge step backwards, no direction of where I was going, and harbouring guilt from my parents due to having ‘no plan’. “You need to channel this energy into something more positive Abii” said a concerned friend. This echoed in my head for a few weeks. It then prompted me. I made the decision. I wanted to learn something new. Being familiar to the six stringed instrument I decided that getting better at the guitar would be a positive step. As soon as I admitted this task to myself I immediately felt overwhelmed. I knew enough to know that there was so much to learn. This paralysed me.

I realised I had a toxic method of productivity and a highly unrealistic way of learning. I had somehow tied my productivity to my self worth which is why, as a human being, I wasn’t functioning.

This paralysis had me wondering. After spending a while trying to poke at these emotions, digging into the reason of their existence, I unearthed something that had been deeply rooted in my educational path. I realised I had a toxic method of productivity and a highly unrealistic way of learning. I had somehow tied my productivity to my self worth which is why, as a human being, I wasn’t functioning.



After this revelation I knew I needed a change of perspective. My attitude had become bitter and tasteless with an unwanted ego. So approaching this I decided on a few things. This time I actually wanted to learn. Music made its appearance in my life at the age of 10. It brought to the surface a desire for melody and a natural rhythm I seemed to possess. And along with it a casual bravado…I can count on one hand the amount of times I have actively practised my instrument. In arrogance I thought I ‘knew enough already’ and yet at the same time felt so scared of not being good enough that the idea of practising felt like I would be confronting this deep insecurity of inadequacy. At 10 the fear of knowledge was my paralytic. I now realise that this barrier of learning has been a continual thing in my life. The fear came from my own prideful attitude. I had fallen victim to my own ego.


The fear came from my own prideful attitude. I had fallen victim to my own ego.

It’s hard to admit you’re not good at something. Especially when its success is tied to an illusion of your worth. You start believing you’re not good enough as a person and just stare at this mirror of self doubt. So, six months ago, when I started this journey of re-learning how to learn I had to discard everything I was taught prior. At a time when just getting out of bed was a mammoth task, I knew I would have to start small. Socratic’s paradox says “I know, that I know nothing” and with that the difficulty comes with knowing that you don’t know what you don’t know. The key of starting was to find some language in my area of interest that I didn’t know. At the beginning I jotted down some guitar related jargon I had come into contact with that I hoped would give me some sort of direction. This included things such as ‘reverb’, ‘the caged system’ and other bits of lingo. This is where I tripped up. In true Abii-style I made a list of 30+ things, took one look at the page I was writing on and flipped out. I was being completely unrealistic. Fortunately I had the sense to catch myself in this thought process and a comporting whisper of “infant steps” to myself calmed me down. Eventually I made a list of 10 realistic aims, put a time frame of a month on it and printed the page out. This gave me a simple aim of researching into each alien area one at a time. This way there was space to enjoy the process whilst still being accountable. [I have some thoughts about the enjoying the process which I will write about another time].Infant steps are your saving grace, they will remind you of your bravery.

Infant steps are your saving grace, they will remind you of your bravery.

The idea of ‘infant steps’ is a phrase that has been with me since I was 16, and reminds me daily to recalibrate and slow down. Only now do I realise that I had been subconsciously expecting myself to reach unrealistic targets, and it had failed me before I had even begun. Understanding this also came the importance of setting goals. At school setting goals was pointless to me, I never took notice of them and quite honestly they infuriated me. I stand by that as I believe this method when I was younger really didn’t work. It’s only now, at 22, that they really benefit me. I had to discover this for myself. It is at this age that I also I realise how much time I wasted on not learning I what I wanted to learn. At Uni I actually missed that wrestle of practising your craft and academic rigor. I felt like a sucker for being so fixated on exams and degrees that exhausted me too much to even think about learning something and enjoying it.


Start small and trust that it will propel you forward.

I used to feel somewhat threatened when I came across a gap in my knowledge. This is still a work in progress but I am now learning to feel excited about unfamiliar things as It gives me an opportunity to once again humble myself and tread on new territory. There’s some callous part of you that dies when you acknowledge that you don’t know enough. It’s quite liberating. Your ego takes a hit when you’re trying to learn something new because you have to look stupid. It’s brave. You will always suck at something new, we need to learn to embrace that.


Wisdom and victory comes from knowing your worth is in comune with mother earth and father sky, not by the productivity in your human skin. So I will continue to try learning how to unlearn what I’ve unknowingly learnt.



Start small and trust that it will propel you forward.

Taking infant steps; being realistic and enjoying It.




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