How to Learn “Anew”


When Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel who knew he was learning something new?

All I remember of seeing it in person for the first time was how awe-inspiring it was.

But Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor, first and foremost. So when Pope Julius requested his work as a painter, Michelangelo initially resisted.

This sets the stage perfectly in a new book by Erika Andersen called Be Bad First. It’s about “getting good at things fast to stay ready for the future.”

And who among us doesn’t need to do that?

If Michelangelo could overcome his hesitancy to learn something new, so can I. So can you.

But how?

Start by reading an overview of the book in this month’s issue of Harvard Business Review called Learning How to Learn. Then read the book to be truly inspired.

The most important thing I learned? How to change the way you talk to yourself.

Here are a few of Andersen’s examples, which align with her “ANEW” framework for learning.

While I’ve posted about these ideas before, the book came out this week, and I was able to delve deeper into specific tactics and actions.

Aspiration. Instead of “I don’t need to learn this,” say “What would my future look like if I did?”

Neutral self-awareness. Rather than “I’m already fine at this,” ask “Am I really? How do I compare with my peers?”

Endless curiosity. Move from “This is boring,” to “I wonder why others find it interesting?”

Willingness to be bad first. Shift from “I’m terrible at this” to “I’m making beginner mistakes but I’ll get better.”

As I read Andersen’s book in a single evening this week (it was hard to put down), I realized how the things I say to myself can either accelerate my learning or stop it in its tracks.

Her suggested questions are things we’d say to a beloved child, a best friend or a valued colleague. Why wouldn’t we encourage ourselves in the same way?

Because the stakes are high in our rapidly changing world. Learning how to learn throughout our lives is the most important thing each of us can do.

Michelangelo said it best in the quote Andersen selected to close her book:

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

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Caroline Leach

Hi, I'm Caroline Leach. I help people and organizations tell their stories. I'm a Marketing VP at AT&T, a former Communications VP at DIRECTV and an alum of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. This blog, How to Build Your Career through Social Media, shows you how to build your personal brand, advance your career and embrace your future. It helps you promote your employer and your network too. Opinions expressed in this blog are my own. Your comments are welcomed and encouraged. I'd love to hear from you!

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