Can we change the habits of a lifetime?

In Learn and Unlearn, author Surendra Verma challenges our thinking patterns, taking commonly held beliefs and placing them firmly on their ear. Each chapter begins with a sentence explaining what we have to unlearn in order to allow ourselves to learn a life lesson, continues with a quote, and goes on to a deeper explanation of the underlying reasons. Surendra uses scientific studies to back up his arguments but avoids bogging his readers in academic details.  This keeps the explanation running along smoothly to make the book very readable while including enough detail so that the reader could engage in more research if they felt compelled to do so.

Surendra tackles the pursuit of happiness in Chapter 3 thus: Learn to have a purpose bigger than yourself/unlearn the pursuit of happiness is the most important thing in life. In the following text, he outlines that Western culture values personal happiness, whereas the culture of the Japanese people is to consider the individual pursuit of happiness to be contrary to the good of society. He goes on to relate that there is scientific evidence to prove that those who care more about others than themselves are actually happier and, therefore, the pursuit of individual happiness in counterproductive to achieving our aim.

In Chapter 20, Surendra discusses our tendency to blame failure on our circumstances. Learn to find purpose and meaning in your adverse circumstances/ unlearn to blame your circumstances for who you are. In this chapter, he provides examples of people who persevered despite their circumstances, and went on to achieve great outcomes because they possessed sufficient self-motivation to do so. The story of Charles Goodyear is related here – his discovery of the method used in the vulcanisation of rubber and the lengths he went to in trying to perfect it.

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Goodyear did not have any scientific training and he was operating on trial and error alone, conducting his experiments in the family kitchen.  It took him five years to perfect the technique, and he died in debt, but he achieved his original aim of patenting the process through his ability to adapt to adverse circumstances. He has no direct connection to Goodyear tyre manufacturing, which actually commenced 38 years after his death, but the company chose to use his name in honour of the work he put into the process.

In Chapter 37, Surendra undertakes our obsession with vitamin supplements. Learn to rethink the need for vitamin supplements/unlearn that vitamins are always good for you. Surendra explains that the myth of more is better is to blame for our obsession with vitamin supplements, and explains the background of how this came to be. He exhorts the reader to check the need for supplements with a doctor, rather than self-prescribing additional vitamin intakes by browsing the labels of the vitamin bottles.

Surendra challenges our values and belief systems in a way designed to be thought provoking. If we can manage to dismiss some commonly held beliefs, we can leave ourselves open to making changes in our lives – and change is good!

Learn and unlearn: The novel way to rethink the things that matter in your life by Surendra Verma.
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