How to unlearn something you’re great at.

It’s hard being me, at times.  I expect it’s the same for you (being you, that is).  One of my biggest frustrations is that there are certain things I do again and again which I know from bitter experience are going to cause problems.  Despite analysing them and working out a better way of doing them,  in the heat of the moment I let myself down.  And have done so for years.

To give you an example (and it also happens to be what I think is my biggest Achilles Heel):

I simply do things too fast.

In my eagerness to get things off my mental “To Do” list, I rush in headlong, and it lets me down big time, again and again and again.  It happened last week.  The brief was to remove a large shrub from the garden.  My wife had disappeared for the day, so I resolved to get it done before I started work so I could say “dah dah!” when she got back.

Not me.  That spade isn't big enough.

Not me. That spade isn’t big enough.

Out came the spade and the pickaxe (large, heavy tools, which produce quick and gratifying results, are popular items in my shed):  about one minute into the job I feel a twinge, and that is my back gone.  I spent the next 4 days shuffling around the house, hardly able to sit, stand, lie down even (kneeling was just about workable), popping painkillers and trying not to join my wife’s regular fits of belly laughter (because they hurt physically as well as emotionally).

I don’t have to go back far to find the same problem in a different guise:  when the TV stopped working, I checked the signal booster light, saw it was off, and replaced it with a newer version immediately off Amazon, only to discover the replacement wouldn’t fit etc etc.  6 days later, after several Amazon deliveries and returns, we ascertain that in fact the fuse on the original item had blown and needed to be replaced.

bull-china-shopNow, I know I have suffered from this “bull in a china shop” syndrome for years.  Probably inherited it, who knows.  It’s all my mother’s fault.

My question is this (and I am speaking here as someone who coaches and trains others in changing the way they do things, so I am somewhat invested in the correct answer):

“Why are some things so inextricably linked with the way you are as to be almost impossible to modify?”

I can think of so many changes I have made over the years, it’s not as if I can’t learn.  I say less in meetings than I used to, I ask more questions when I negotiate, I ask for something in return when I make concessions, I pause more when I present, I always look over my shoulder when I change lanes on motorways, and I spend longer before overtaking on country roads (ever since I drove under a lorry turning right, driving at 60 mph).

So, I can do it (thankfully) – we all can.  How come I (and maybe you’re the same) seem not to be able to change the most obvious things that are not helpful?  The benefits are there, staring me in the face.  If I slowed down a bit, had a think before charging in, I would save time, money, my health even.  What on earth is stopping me?  Please don’t tell me it’s a man thing!  I know at least 3 men who read the instructions on their new chainsaw before using, or check that all the parts are there before they build the flatpack bedroom wardrobe.

I don’t have an answer (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this article, which by the way has taken me 20 minutes to write, and was started without any sort of plan, objective or structure in mind).  But I’d love to know your thoughts on this.  And also some reassurance that I’m not alone.  Please tell me you have the same frustrations.  Lie a bit if you need to.


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© Ivonne Wierink –

About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at
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8 Responses to How to unlearn something you’re great at.

  1. Mikey says:

    I do not consider this a weakness…I remember a bleak mid winter in Jan 1991 in Devon, and if you and a couple of others had not committed to prompt actions on a certain Leadership Course, there would still be huddles of so called future leaders shuffling around in the dark, wondering how to cross a stream, or shift some logs around, waiting for instructions…!
    I believe its a drive to constantly prove yourself ( and here I stop because I am not a shrink).
    I often find if I leave the gardening jobs, they get done by my wife anyway, because, as she so often reminds me, she can do it better!!!
    Regards Mikey
    (nb..if any of your blogging friends would like to hear how you almost dented every panel on a brand new Audi in a pub car park on that same Leadership Course, I am happy to oblige)


    • Mikey, you have taken me back on a journey there! I seem to remember the exercise you are talking about (amazing, 25 years later nearly): not sure I did drive prompt action, as I recall we all stood on that bridge for an hour finding reasons not to do anything! We got severely dressed down for it, quite rightly. But I had forgotten about the new Audi. Are you sure about that?

      I should take a leaf out of your book and leave things to others more competent than me!

      Thanks for the journey back in time.

      PS My back is almost better.


  2. Hi Michael, you’re not alone! I fully recognise my own actions in your blog. So many examples and all equally embarrassing. I don’t know how to change it either, although I discovered a pattern by now. All the things I learned to change over the years, are clearly linked (anchored?) to certain situations, just as you described. It’s just when I’m off guard, I do things too fast. My natural instinct is to solve things quickly, even though it would be wise to stop and think first. And that in itself is not a bad characteristic, right? Or is that just a way to console myself whenever I realise again I’ve been too quick…? Let’s just think of this as a pitfall on our core quality “getting things done”. Because that’s what we’re good at too! Thanks for this beautiful and honest blog!


    • Nicoline, you’re right: at least we do get things done! I know that people are surprised sometimes at my speed of response, and that it can be very welcome. When I am working away for a while my wife makes me a list of what needs doing. She doesn’t realise that I treat this as a game, a competition almost with myself. The game is: “How quickly can I get this done?” or sometimes “How quickly can I create the PERCEPTION that this is done?”

      So, it’s a pitfall, and we should learn to live with it. I guess that’s ok!


  3. davidparksn says:

    I think it is possible to be so risk averse that you become boring company, and no-one could ever say that about you, Michael! Sometimes that very impetuous approach can bring startling and unexpected results and galvanise/influence others to do their best too. So, I think – by all means take care where your health is concerned, but otherwise cherish the way you are – some of us appreciate it…


  4. Tracy Brown says:

    I think I suffer from the same affliction…..I just want things done quickly so I don’t want to spend a lot of analysis on what the actual problem is because, of course, I already know 🙂


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