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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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            Last Updated on October 16, 2018

            You’ll Only Live Your Best Life Once You Step Out

            You’ll Only Live Your Best Life Once You Step Out

            Fear is a valuable thing. It keeps people safe and encourages caution when caution is due. But Fear can also be a limiting factor because not everything you’re afraid of should really be feared.

            Have you ever been faced with a situation where you were afraid of making a decision, making a change or taking a risk?

            Did you end up taking that risk or making that decision? Or, did you just stay put and left things as they were? If you did, are you happy with how things have turned out?

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            It’s in our nature to like feeling safe–to be in comfort and away from danger. This has always been the case since the beginning of time, when the first humans only knew how to prioritize survival. Even today, many still choose to play it safe and avoid taking risks or taking leaps of faith when it comes to their choices in life.

            The Realist and the Dreamer

            To put it simply, there are two kinds of people: the realists and the dreamers. The realists are the logical and cautious type of individuals who always think and weigh out the pros and cons before making any decisions–especially the big, life changing ones. Whether it was deciding on what to major in at University, what career path to take, whether or not to purchase that house or car, to go on that holiday, or to splurge on that new watch, the realist thinks long and hard before making a decision, if they even decide. Realists stick to the “what’s next?” plan for the future and may not abstractly consider different possibilities for where life can lead. This is usually because of the confidence they have already devoted to an accepted plan.

            Realists have dreams too, but these are more so rooted in ambition, drive and determination. They are goals that have been enumerated for some time. Realists understand that progress requires more than ambition and drive, but also, connections. They feel that life is never worry-free because of survival, responsibility and…paying a rent or a mortgage. As a result, they tend to make safe choices and stick to their comfort of knowing what’s best for themselves.

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            Now let’s look at the dreamers. The dreamers are well, dreamers. They have big lofty ambitions, are risk takers, sometimes over impulsive, but they often always challenge the norms of society and dare to think outside the box. This is not to say that they do not have plans or a path that they want to follow. But they are more likely to change the course of their journey through time, experience and by following their heart.

            Dreamers derive their inspiration from within. No one else’s perspectives weigh in greatly enough to shift a dreamer’s drive. Dreamers don’t allow their fears to consume them. They may fail from time to time, but they never give up on life or love.

            Embrace Fear

            So which of the two do you think you are? And is one better than the other? In life, balance is always key. I’m sure you would have heard the saying: “everything in moderation”. Likewise, being a realist isn’t any better than being a dreamer. Both come with their challenges. But what I do know, is that no matter where you are in life, fear should always be seen as a way of pushing you towards becoming a better you.

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            Stepping outside of your comfort zone is a type of fear that should be embraced. If you see yourself as a dreamer, then great! Chances are, stepping out of your comfort zone isn’t new to you. Whether it’s deciding to drop out of University to start your own business, moving to a new country on your own, taking that step to ask someone out on a date despite thinking they’re way out of your league, or deciding to quit your high paying job of 10 years to become a DJ. You chose to do that because you knew that you would most likely regret the ‘what ifs’ more than the mistakes (if any) of those decisions.

            But if you’ve always been more of a cautious individual (nearing towards being a realist), then I hope you’ll give more thought to embracing the act of stepping out more! Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to start making hasty or bold decisions such as the ones mentioned. It just means opening your mind to the acceptance that stepping out of your comfort zone isn’t a bad thing, it’s not something to be hesitant or afraid of.

            Managing Fear

            In times of stress or discomfort, remember that some of the best things happen when you’re afraid or put in an uncomfortable situation. These experiences can both challenge you and help you grow. Commit to giving the situation a try with your best effort, and keep expectations low to reduce additional pressure. Living outside of one’s comfort zone is by definition uncomfortable. Therefore, the best habit you can foster within yourself is the practice of becoming familiar with discomfort.

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            You may be at a crossroad in life and feeling undecided about something, or you may feel like you’re not happy with where you’re at right now. It could be a job that you’re not happy with, a relationship you’re not happy in, or even just knowing that you’re too comfortable with where you’re at that you don’t feel challenged. All of this uncertainty can be traced back to your intentions. What is it that you want? What is it that you’re looking for?

            So, What Are You Looking For?

            If you feel like you’re stuck in a rut or know that you need some sort of change, but you’re just not sure how to take that step towards the change, why not subscribe to our newsletter? Our daily inspiration will help you embark on a journey, and will allow you to find that light at the end of the tunnel you’re searching for.

            At Lifehack, we’re dedicated to helping you find the ideal solutions to your problems, and with over 15 years of experience in coaching, we have condensed our knowledge and practices into a highly effective transformational model that you can use to not only help you out of your rut, but to also help you find new and bigger meaning to your life.

            Stepping out of your comfort zone isn’t always the easiest, but we’re here to make it easier for you to realize your true potential. The time to act is now!

            Featured photo credit: Maher El Aridi via unsplash.com

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