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

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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            Published on April 16, 2019

            How Self Care Can Help You Live Your Best Life

            How Self Care Can Help You Live Your Best Life

            When was the last time you did something for yourself?

            Whether it was deciding to treat yourself with a little something or travel for some R&R, how often do you practice self-care?

            Well, as good as above sounds, there’s a common misconception that many of us have about self-care: that it’s only about indulgence and enjoyment.

            However, self-care goes far beyond indulgence. It’s actually about respecting your mind and body, understanding its limits, and being able to take care of every part of yourself, in a holistic way.

            And, you really don’t have to go to extreme measures or do anything specific–like meditating or following a plant based diet–in order to practice self-care. You just have to make sure that what you’re doing is in your best interests.

            So how can you make that happen?

            Below are a few proven methods that will help you become a better version of you. Follow through with these regularly and you’ll be well on your way to living your very best life.

            Listen to Yourself

            The bulk of self-care is knowing yourself.

            This means knowing your body’s limitations, and being in tune with your feelings, emotions and thoughts. So it’s important, then, to know who you are and what you want to do in life, in order to truly say that you know yourself. 

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            What is your purpose?

            Have you ever thought about this question?

            Your purpose doesn’t have to remain the same throughout your life. What you found a purpose in at age 19 would likely be different at age 49.

            In your current situation, think about the different roles that you have – as a working professional, a spouse, a partner, a parent, etc.

            Do you feel like you are fulfilling your purpose through any of these roles?

            All you have to do is ensure that what you’re chasing is meaningful to you; this will bring focus and motivation as you strive to achieve your goals.

            If you have your purpose defined, then that’s awesome! You know what drives you and why.

            But, if you don’t feel like you have a purpose nailed down, it’s good to start by asking why.

            For example, why are you working in your particular job or industry? If the reason is vague or unclear, then your motivational energy will be the same. In which case, you may find yourself not having a direction for where you’re headed in life.

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            If you’d like to learn more about finding your purpose, then I recommend you check out this article:

            How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

            Seek Out Continuous Education

            Now, this may seem less common when you think of self-care, but lifelong learning is incredibly useful and an important component of taking care of yourself.

            It’s Super Practical

            Lifelong learning is extremely practical these days and does not require as much effort as it may have in the past. Long gone are the days when you could only find information on something by visiting a library. In this day of the internet, anything you can imagine is at your fingertips.

            You don’t need to physically go to a learning institution to learn. You can watch Youtube videos to learn new skills, take online courses to earn a degree, and scroll through an endless amount of articles, books and journals from reputable news and informative sites.

            When you’re constantly pushing yourself to learn and take up new things, your mental health also improves. Research shows that an active and engaged mind is responsible for diminishing age-related memory loss and improves overall cognitive abilities.

            Your Confidence Will Skyrocket

            You’ll also have improved self worth as it teaches you to step outside of your comfort zone, which will undoubtedly improve your confidence.

            You’ll also connect better with others by expanding your knowledge base. Learning exposes you to a multitude of new ideas and perspectives that you may have otherwise never considered. This also increases your adaptability. Whether it’s at work or just wanting to adapt to society, your peers, and loved ones, life long learning prepares you to take on new challenges.

            You’ll Be More Desired in the Job Market

            Another obvious reason for continuous education, is that your employability will also increase.

            With the ever changing economy, and huge influences from technology, social media, science etc., job descriptions today are moving targets. Assignments and roles change so quickly in response to changing business demands, it becomes a Herculean task to keep a job description database current.

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            In years past, stability was a characteristic of the world of work. Procedures, information, jobs, and organizations were established and provided continuity. Education was completed in the first 14 to 22 years of one’s life, followed by a long career occasionally punctuated by short-term job training.

            Today, however, jobs, companies, and technology are disappearing and being created simultaneously. To remain current and maintain a competitive advantage in the human capital marketplace, an individual is challenged to continually learn.

            People return to school at every age to enrich their skills and knowledge for their current positions. Some even prepare themselves for new jobs or career changes, moving them forward into new opportunities and technology.

            We can be assured that we will be challenged to continue to learn new tasks and information throughout our lives. Successful careers belong to flexible, curious learners who are prepared for opportunities because they know themselves and where they make their best contribution. As Peter Drucker, the father of modern management stated,

            “Knowledge is choice.”

            Lifelong learning also increases social awareness and perspective. To genuinely understand and empathize with others, increase social awareness, and foster strong interpersonal relationships, it’s important to seek out new perspectives. Enhancing the skills that positively impact emotional intelligence can bring even greater happiness and success, both personally and at work; and, this is all part of self-care.

            Improve Your Habits (Both at Work and at Home)

            Now, the last piece of advice I want to introduce to your self-care regimen, is to improve your habits.

            Habits define who you are, and are built up over time. You are what you eat is a great example of this. If you make it a habit to eat foods that nourish your body, rather than make your body feel bad, then you will be much healthier overall.

            Good Habits Allow You to Reach Your Goals

            Since habits dictate your days and nights, such as waking up every morning to get to work before a certain time, or brushing your teeth before bedtime every night, they play a major role in whether we do or do not reach our goals.

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            When you form habits that allow you to progress towards your goals, you’re automatically living a purposeful day, everyday.

            Habits Make Your Time a Priority

            How do you spend your free time? Do you opt to lounge on the couch watching Netflix passively, or do you engage in activities that support your purpose in life?

            It’s natural to waste a lot of time during the day, but fostering good habits will make you set a pattern for how you spend your time and give you the choice of what you choose to spend your time on. By improving your habits, you’ll find that you can be a LOT more productive. When you create good habits, you become more efficient with your time and a lot less is wasted.

            This in essence creates an overall positive influence on your life, allowing you to treat your mind and body well, which is why improving your habits are so important to self-care.

            Your Well Being Comes First

            We live in such a fast-paced society, where we are often so caught up in our work, families, maintaining our social lives, our studies and everything in between. It’s an understatement to say that life can get a little overwhelming at times.

            If you’ve ever watched the safety video onboard a plane, you’ll know that they always ask for a parent or adult to put on the safety mask first, before tending to the child. This may sound selfish, but the fact is that if you truly want to ensure the child’s safety, then your safety needs to come first so that you can protect and care for the child without complications from your end.

            The same goes for self-care. We need to ensure that our well being is priority, so that we can be the best for the people around us.

            Listening to yourself, practicing lifelong learning and improving your habits are steps that you can take to ensure you’re constantly in the best state of mind, alongside the indulgence and rest that you reward yourself with.

            Featured photo credit: Photo by Raychan on Unsplash via unsplash.com

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