I thought I could drive. I thought I could even drive on the other side of the road – all those European holidays abroad notwithstanding. However, upon arrival in the Netherlands, and discovering their special ‘rule’ – to always give way to someone coming from the right, coupled with the need to watch out for cycle paths and cyclists – meant I was transported back to the feelings I had as a learner driver, filled with anxiety any time a car (or an moving object) approached from a side road. Driving anywhere in those early weeks became a BIG EFFORT.

It felt to me like I was learning to walk again, I had to ‘remove’ many of my auto-pilot reactions and considerations when driving and replace them with new reactions.

This does not happen instantly, nor without effort and application. I was continually asking for reassurance and clarification of the ‘new rules’. It was not enough for me just to know the rule, I needed to know exactly how it should play out in every situation. With that, and practice and time, things gradually became easier, but like any new habit, if I don’t drive for a few days, it feels strange the next time I’m behind the wheel, to remind myself of the new rules.

What I have had to do, is to ‘unlearn’ my driving habits, and to replace them with new habits. But not so completely that I can’t recall the old ones should I go back for a visit to the UK…

I’ve recently been talking about ‘unlearning’ in some of my workshops – making the point that in these days of rapid technological change – the ability to learn is critical. However, to make way for new skills, approaches and methods we may need to ‘unlearn’. This unlearning could apply to habits, self-beliefs, outdated knowledge or processes, or skills that are now redundant.

I’ll freely admit I’ve had a few grumbles about some of the unlearning and change I’ve experienced. When I thought about this I realized I was working through my own ‘change’ model – with the typical characteristics of frustration, disorientation, and of course a huge dropping off in terms of productivity.

So while unlearning sounds like a trendy new buzzword – what it in reality means is stopping, allowing discomfort in – with all the emotion that can entail, and then trying something new, again and again until it feels comfortable.

As a line manager it’s good to experience this uncomfortableness, so we can empathise when we expect others to do things differently. My own profession, Learning & Development, has seen huge change in the skills required in recent years – with the shift from classroom training to digital methods of delivery. Having a strategic approach and giving team members the opportunity to learn new skills and try them out in a safe environment does not necessarily remove the discomfort. Constant feedback whilst practicing new skills is crucial for individuals to safely build up their confidence levels.

Carol Dweck’s Fixed versus Growth Mindset model is a good place to start for attributes required to help us let go of old knowledge and skills to make room for the new ways. The model has at its heart a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval – allowing us to free ourselves up to make mistakes, experience reduced productivity, and be vulnerable, thereby allowing us to move forward.

I think for me, my experiences of the last few months, with all the different aspects of a new language, different shopping/cooking, transport, finding my way around – to contend with – there was a definite realization that I needed to manage my expectations as at times it was overwhelming. The word that came to mind for me was ‘discombobulating’. There was also the realization that to let in the ‘new’ – something had to give. I had to free up ‘space’ both mentally and physically. I deleted a load of apps off my phone (time-stealer ones of the social media variety!), cut down on trying to keep up with the British news and tv (recognizing that I had a whole new culture to take in instead) and began to focus on what was really important, finding my way around, getting out and meeting people.

– Translate this to a workplace going through immense change and:

What limiting self-beliefs and habits do you need to let go of?

What knowledge no longer serves you that needs to be replaced?

What new skills do you need to learn? How are you going to make space to learn them?


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