Inner Space
Hi, I’m Diana Demco and this is the Inner Space newsletter about my reflections on living an examined life. If you're new, you can find old editions here. You're getting this email because you signed up on my website. If you'd like to unsubscribe, click here.
From when we're in school, to the professional world and beyond, we're constantly learning. We're absorbing information, internalizing beliefs, acquiring skills, and figuring out how the world works. At birth, we're like an empty container (without taking into account our genetic predispositions), and as we grow older, we fill that container (or others fill it for us) with information - some more useful than other. From how to tie your shoes, to the height of Mount Everest, or what you're allowed to ask your teachers at school, our knowledge container fills rapidly.

Of course, most of that learning is necessary and useful. But the problem arises when we realize not everything we've internalized is true, or beneficial. The false beliefs can come from conditioning, trauma, or simply what we see as socially acceptable.

Unfortunately, absorbing information is easier than erasing it. But not impossible.

This is where unlearning comes in. Unlearning is simply the process of shedding our false and unhealthy beliefs about ourselves and the world. Some examples:

  • "I'm not creative"
  • "Everyone who disagrees with me is wrong"
  • "I could never work in that environment"
Because we're creatures of habit, common thought patterns can become ingrained in our psyche and taken for granted, unchallenged. The einstellung effect is a perfect example of this. It represents our tendency to solve a problem using a method we know and have tried before in other contexts, even if other more efficient ways exist. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Unlearning is the means by which we identify a common held belief and take steps to remedy it. The world changes, social norms evolve, our understanding of ourselves grows, and with them, the need to update our mental models. Old ways of operating simply do not work anymore.

We can being the process of unlearning by questioning our assumptions, practicing Beginner's mind, or observing what routines or habits are no longer serving us. It can be difficult to recognize when we're operating from unquestioned assumptions, so it's important to bring our conscious mind to the task, to stop the autopilot mode.

The examples of areas in our lives where unlearning can be beneficial are endless: from how we manage an argument with our partners, to how we react when someone criticizes us, to the way we prioritize our tasks.

Unlearning can be an invaluable path in our growth, showing us learning is never the end of the story.

Timeless Content

The Happiness Ruse
Cody Delistraty | 10 minute read
How do you relate to happiness? Is it something you strive for every moment or a state that you let come and go naturally?

The Western world seems to be especially obsessed with happiness. But the modern understanding of the term differs greatly to other periods of time. Writer and historian Cody Delistraty traces back the notion of happiness and puts it in a temporal frame, illuminating how the concept evolved over time. He starts with Epicurus' view of the emotion, to Hobbs', to the Romantics' and he touches also on how Eastern cultures relate to it.

It's a fascinating read that puts happiness under the microscope, showing how sadness is needlessly demonized (and can even be beneficial) and the ways in which our relentless chasing of happiness may make us more miserable in the end.

Picture of the Week

Painter Salvador Dalí, at work in one of his studios, 1940s, New York

Quote I'm reflecting on

Life advice from writer Joan Didion:

I'm not telling you to make the world better, because I don't think progress is necessarily part of the package. I'm just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment.

Questions for you to ponder

What do you need to unlearn?
Thank you for reading.

Until next time,
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