When you were a kid, you not only went to school, where you did academics, art, and PE, but you probably also took extracurricular lessons in music or sports, and likely even taught yourself things like how to do magic tricks.

Now that you’re an adult, can you think of the last new skill you learned?

My guest today explains why there’s a good chance that you’ll struggle to answer that question, and how that’s a tragedy you ought to do something about. His name is Tom Vanderbilt, and he’s the author of several books, including his latest, Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning. Tom and I discuss why his daughter’s desire to learn chess inspired him to spend a year learning the game himself, as well as to take on a project of learning other new skills. Tom explains the reasons adults give up learning, and why, while it is harder for adults to learn new things than it is for children, it’s still worth becoming a novice all over again. We then explore how to harness the beginner’s mind, using Tom’s experiences in learning how to sing, surf, juggle, and draw as examples. We end our conversation with Tom’s takeaways from his experiment, and how becoming a lifelong learner is really all about pushing through the mental barriers that hold us back from the many possibilities for growth that remain in adulthood.

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Show Highlights

The reasons we give for not learning new skills How Tom decided which new skills to tackle How is the beginner’s brain different from the expert’s brain?Your crystallized brain vs. the fluid brain, or how age really does make a differenceThe value of learning new things regardless of any “real world” value The power of learning in a groupWhat it was like learning to surf as an adult and some bigger lessons on skill acquisition that Tom got from that experience How to handle plateaus in our learning Why take on drawing? Why do people find it so hard to do?Some overarching lessons Tom took away from this experiment

Resources/Articles/People Mentioned in Podcast

How and Why to Become a Lifelong LearnerWhat Poker Can Teach You About Skill, Luck, and Mastering YourselfThe Hidden Pleasures of Learning for Its Own SakeLearning How to LearnGrow, Adapt, and Reinvent Yourself Through UltralearningWhy Generalists Triumph in a Specialized WorldLiving with a SEALPainting As a Pastime by Winston Churchill 100 Skills Every Man Should KnowThe Lost Pleasures of Group SingingBarbarian DaysHow to Learn Another LanguageExperimenting With Your LifeHow to Draw Teddy RooseveltDrawing on the Right Side of the Brain

Connect With Tom

Tom’s website

Tom on Twitter

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