Why is it that one person enjoys math, while another person hates it?
Why does one child happily and quickly calculate a simple sum, while another won’t even attempt it because they’re convinced they’re simply “no good with numbers”?
The problem certainly isn’t caused by lack of intelligence.
In fact there are many examples throughout history of seemingly “stupid” people who could do amazing things with numbers.
Take the case of Jedediah Buxton (1702-1772), an illiterate laborer who became famous for his number skills. His employer once asked him:
“In a body whose 3 sides are 23,145,789 yards, 5,642,732 yards, and 54,965 yards, how many cubical eighths of an inch are there?”
Before giving the answer, Buxton asked “which end” of the 28-digit answer he should start at, as he could recite it just as easily forwards or backwards!
Of course, mathematical prodigies are born, not made. But it does beg the question:
“If somebody who can’t even read or write is able to perform these kinds of breathtaking calculations, what stops other people from doing even simple sums?”
Clearly, something went wrong along the way.
Young children naturally enjoy numbers. And even people who now have an intense dislike for math often say they once enjoyed it.
What has happened to them is generally an unfortunate event in their past.
Perhaps they were ridiculed for a mistake they made with numbers, in front of the entire class.
Maybe they missed some crucial math lessons and never really caught up.
Or perhaps they were taught to handle numbers mechanically – when what they really needed was some explanation of why the numbers work the way they do.
Whatever the specific reason, bad experiences with numbers left an emotional scar, which developed into a phobia to keep the sufferer safe from further harm.
The point here is that if you have “math phobia” or “math block”, it isn’t a permanent state of mind.
As a perfectly normal, healthy human being, you can do math and enjoy it as much as anyone.
You can make this change yourself, anytime you want. You just need to ignore the disliking attitude and actually try manipulating a few numbers from time to time.
Start with something easy, like adding small numbers in your head, or on paper if you prefer.
Next time you get some change in the shop, check it’s correct. Or better still, reckon up the change you expect while you are waiting to pay.
Avoid perfectionism, especially in the early stages. Realize there are two ways of working with numbers: approximate and exact. Often, an approximate answer is all you need.
For example, when you pick up a grocery item priced at $3.98, just call it “four dollars”. The next thing you pick up in the shop is priced at $7.95, so call that “eight dollars”. Add them together and you now expect to pay “nearly twelve dollars”.
Try it and you’ll see how easy it is.
The cure for math phobia is to allow a few numbers back into your life. Don’t make a big thing of them, just do whatever you feel comfortable with.
1. Recognize you have an aversion to math, whether it’s full-blown math phobia or just a few math blocks here and there.
2. Make a conscious decision to do something about it.
3. Give yourself a regular math workout, however small to start with.
You’ll find it all gets easier, and you’ll soon enjoy math once again.