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Not A Math Person? Learn Why You’re Actually Fooling Yourself

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Not A Math Person? Learn Why You’re Actually Fooling Yourself

“That might work for you, but I’ve never been a math person.”

How many times have we all heard that? At work, school, or with friends and family?

Or maybe, more appropriately for a lot of us, how many times have you said it yourself? But is it actually true? Or is it a convenient, or maybe even subconscious, response to the inherent difficulty of learning a complex subject?

Born to learn math?

Yes, math is more difficult than most standard life skills (learning to walk, talk, interact with people, etc.), but that does not at all mean it’s not within reach of the average person. In fact, according to Daniel Willingham, professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Virginia, humans seem to be born naturally able to understand the rough concept of a number (e.g. when comparing 10 coffee beans to 50 coffee beans) and manipulate small numbers, and understand that numbers and space are related (e.g. going forward 10 meters gets you over here, going backward 10 meters puts you over there).

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This seems to mean that the underlying machinery to learn and understand math is present in all of us.

Math Wall

    So what makes some of us good at math then?

    Do you believe in math?

    Well, professors Noah Smith and Miles Kimball show that the one key difference between students who are good at math and those who aren’t is simply that their belief in math as genetic, as opposed to a learned skill. Turns out, it’s much like a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you think your abilities in math are determined by your genes, chances are you probably won’t get that far. If you think math is learnable, chances are you’ll end up a calculus whiz.

    portrait of a genius

      So, depending on your BELIEFS about learning, you might just not have the MOTIVATION to dig in to tough higher-level math. I wouldn’t go as far to say that if you don’t think you’re a math person YOU’RE LAZY, but it definitely turns into a convenient excuse not only given by students, but actually (and tragically) promoted by parents and teachers.

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      The truth about math

      The truth of the matter is this that in order to learn any level of complex math, you need three crucial things:

      1. Factual Knowledge: memorization of the answers to a small set of fundamental math problems.

      This would include numbers, counting, addition/subtraction, multiplication/division, etc. These things need to be fully committed to long-term memory, so that you don’t have to use any working memory to process them. Otherwise, when you reach more complex math, like long division or algebra, you’re going to get stumped much more easily trying to use your brainpower to figure out how to multiply two numbers and perform other more complex operations at the same time.

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        2. Procedural Knowledge: an understanding of the procedures and rules to apply.

        This means knowing the sequence of steps you have to follow to solve math problems, and the constraints that apply to different concepts. These are things like factoring, order of operations, trig functions, etc. This, in addition to memorization of the basic math fundamentals, makes up the core foundation of the mathematics toolbox.

        And virtually anybody can memorize basic facts and sets of rules and procedures (we do this naturally with language), it just takes time and practice (which many people aren’t willing to give because, you guessed it, they don’t think they’re any good at math).

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        Math

          3. Conceptual Knowledge: an understanding of the meaning behind the numbers, operations, and rules.

          This is widely regarded to be the most difficult thing to teach when it comes to math, because in order to understand the rules that apply to say, algebraic variables, you need to be able to relate that to something you are already familiar with (e.g. I push with this amount of effort “f” and that results in this amount of acceleration “a” for any object as heavy as “m”).

          The problem becomes finding something you’re familiar with. And this is where most students and teachers stop, not realizing that it’s impossible to simply learn the facts and procedures without making analogies and relationships to real-world experience. Imagine trying to learn Chinese just by reading a book full of symbols and rules for how to put those symbols together.

          Homework

            (Side note: this is why I think learning physics and geometry should occur directly alongside any math class that goes beyond basic functions. Because, guess what? That’s where mathematics came from!) And this is the reason why most students not only think they aren’t “naturally good at math,” but also how they fall behind – because as the problems become more complex, the conceptual understanding behind the numbers is essential to figure out what to do when, for example, you have a polynomial algebra problem buried inside of an integral.

            What to do about math…

            So stop with the self-defeating self-talk. Yes, you may not be good at math now, but you, and everybody else who is capable of basic human learning, have the ability to learn and become competent if you:

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            1. Memorize the basic math facts (yes multiplication tables are actually useful).

            2. Learn the rules and procedures that go along with different operations.

            3. Simultaneously learn the meaning behind the operations, relating them to familiar knowledge and experiences you already have inside of your head.

            Featured photo credit: Jimmie Homeschool Mom via flickr.com

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            Last Updated on October 21, 2021

            How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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            How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

            Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

            Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

            The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

            Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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            Program Your Own Algorithms

            Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

            Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

            By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

            How to Form a Ritual

            I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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            Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

            1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
            2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
            3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
            4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

            Ways to Use a Ritual

            Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

            1. Waking Up

            Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

            2. Web Usage

            How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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            3. Reading

            How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

            4. Friendliness

            Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

            5. Working

            One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

            6. Going to the gym

            If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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            7. Exercise

            Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

            8. Sleeping

            Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

            8. Weekly Reviews

            The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

            Final Thoughts

            We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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            More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

             

            Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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