Chapter 4 - The math mindset

Do you remember yourself counting on your fingers in your early childhood? It was one of your first interactions with the subject of mathematics in your life. Unfortunately for many of us it was also the last time we enjoyed doing mathematics. As the complexities of the subject progressed the subject of mathematics lost the race of being the favorite subject and became the distant last. As you progressed between classes you lost all hope of linking the subject. Till one day when you started praying to god the Oh! Lord please save me from this dreaded monster.

If you are not the one who did so then congratulations. You are one of the few lucky ones who developed the math mindset from your childhood. If you did relate to the opening paragraph do not feel bad. By reading this chapter you will learn how to create that math mindset that is necessary to win over this fierce monster called maths. If you feel this to be a very difficult task then please read this story and how this boy developed the maths mindset.

There was a young boy in India who was being taught maths in his school. From the very beginning he was showing good progress in maths. Then one day he realized that his best friend was week in maths. He asked him what the problem was. The friend told him that he had difficulty working with big numbers. This boy then asked him the specifics of the problem. The friend told him that he was unable to add 141 with 85 at one go while this was easy stuff for this boy. The boy laughed and said silly I do not do this at one go. I use the ‘Divide and Conquer’ technique. I break 141 into two parts – 140 and 1. I also break 85 into 2 parts 80 and 5. Then I try adding 80 to 140. At first I just succeed in getting to 200 and have 20 left of that 80 in my mind. Then I move forward and reach 220. Then I add 5 and 1 and get 6. Then I move forward from my score of 220 and reach the final score of 226. A long story the friend exclaimed. Our young boy told him that nobody can do calculations instantaneously at one go. It is just that you have to develop the ability to go through the above story instantaneously in the mind.

This brings us to our theme. There are no automatic results in maths. It is just those who are good at maths develop the art of breaking numbers and using them at a faster pace then others. The above said young boy was I myself and I have been in situations where I have taught people this story. I myself believe that I have very limited abilities in working with numbers but there have been situations where school friends meeting after a gap of many years remind me of my days of being the super computer whiz kid in mental maths.

It was this seemingly big discord between my abilities and the results I was able to achieve which inspired me to research on this subject of the math mindset. What began realizing after the above referred discussion that happened somewhere around my class 7th was that people who are considered weak in maths are generally no different from those who are considered superior. It is just that people who are considered superior stumble upon the math mindset even without knowing it and others just wonder around finding it in vain. Over the years I have found certain skills which if taught to people could do wonders for them. These skills are easy to understand and learn. The problem is that our school system never teaches them to us explicitly. This divide and conquer technique though sometimes mentioned does not get enough attention as some of less important but more stressed topics.

If divide and conquer is imbibed from day one then addition, subtraction, multiplication and division become very easy and if you are able to conquer these 4 then mathematics easy very easy for you. In fact the pre-requisite for learning the ancient Indian system of Vedic maths is just having the knowledge of multiplication tables till 5. After that using divide and conquer technique you can calculate anything.

Some people ask me that what is the use of the math mindset after completing the formal education as you can always use calculators and computers in your daily life. I always stress on the fact that successful people are those who have a better developed mind then others. I can give you instances of situation when I found the ability to calculate handy. When we visit foreign countries we have to be quick in calculating currency conversions as otherwise there is always the probability of getting fooled. Similarly, while giving figures in conversations you can not leave the conversation and go to find the calculator or open the computer. In conferences this ability is important for finding prospective clients. The list of situations where the math mindset comes to our rescue is very big. Thus the math mindset is an important ingredient for a successful career and life.