How to Become a 'Master Learner'

By Desda Moss Mar 16, 2016
andersen.jpgTo succeed in today’s world, leadership readiness expert and author Erika Andersen believes we have to start each day as novices in order to gain new skills quickly and continuously. No matter what you’re good at now, she says, if you hold onto how it looked and worked five years ago, or five minutes ago, you’ll get left behind. Getting good at being bad first is the most essential and most powerful tool you can have to “future-proof” yourself, she argues.

In her latest book, Be Bad First: Get Good at Things Fast to Stay Ready for the Future (Bibliomotion, 2016), Andersen explores how we can become masters of mastery, proficient in the kind of high-payoff learning that’s needed today. With assessments and exercises, she encourages readers to embrace being bad on the way to being great—to be novices over and over again as they seek to learn and acquire the new skills needed in this fast-changing world.
"There’s no way around it: in order to thrive in this new world, you have to let go—on a daily basis—of the idea that to be an adult means to be an expert,” Andersen writes. 
She offers readers a simple model for overcoming internal resistance to learning and for taking advantage of our deeply ingrained human will to master challenges, which she calls ANEW.
The method outlines four mental skills crucial to learning:

Aspiration. How to make yourself want to learn new things by focusing on the personal benefits of doing so, and then envisioning a future where you’re reaping those benefits.

Neutral self-awareness. How to see yourself objectively and accurately, so that you can be clear about where you’re starting from in learning something new—and what you’ll need in order to improve.

Endless curiosity. How to re-engage your childhood impulse to understand and master new skills and information. When combined with aspiration, true curiosity creates an unstoppable momentum of discovery.

Willingness to be bad first. How to accept that you will be bad at things that are new to you, while at the same time believing that you’ll be able to get good at those things over time.

Andersen suggests that anyone seeking to become what she calls a “master learner” start out slowly by looking for low-risk opportunities to try new things and practice new skills. As you get more comfortable, push yourself to learn in higher-risk, more-public situations. And, most important, notice and revise any negative self-talk that doesn’t support you.

“Because each one of us today is faced, moment to moment, with an overwhelming flood of information and possibilities that are brand new to us, we have to learn to be okay with being continuously uncomfortable in a way that no one in previous generations has had to do. We have to learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable,” Andersen says.

Erika Andersen, @erikaandersen on Twitter, is a nationally known leadership coach, blogger and author and founder of Proteus, a consulting, coaching and training firm focused on leader readiness.

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