“A mind for numbers” book review

I’ve just read A mind for numbers by Barbara Oakley. I really liked the book and the way the information is presented there. In this post, I’m just going to provide a little summary on what this book is about. What I am writing here is just what I liked and had impression of.

States of mind. So the main idea of the book is that humans have two types of thinking — focused and diffused. The focused thinking implies that you intentionally think about some problem and try to solve it. Diffused thinking is opposite, you do not intentionally think about the problem and make no attempt to solve it.

These two states of mind always change each other and have their own pros and cons. For example, focused thinking is required in order to start solving a problem. You cannot solve a problem before you focus on it and intentionally try to solve it. But there are so many tough mathematical problems, that you cannot stay focused on it all the time and diffused thinking comes in.

In order to solve mathematical (and not only) problems, one should use both states of mind. The focused thinking collects information to process and does some processing on it too, but diffused thinking makes only processing using all the resources of the brain. It is important to start with focused thinking and and push it really hard, so that diffused state has required resources and can process it in the background.

Portions of information. When reading a technical book, always try to go through the whole chapter and read statements, look at the pictures and graphs, citations and other highlighted staff. This will help you to form portions of information so that when you start reading it from the beginning of the chapter, your mind can construct the full picture of what is going on.

When you are done with the chapter, always close the book and try to pull everything you can from your memory without looking into the book. It is proven that remembering works better not when you reread what you want to remember, but when you pull it from your memory. If you cannot do it for the first time, just reread it and try again. It works like a charm.

Procrastination. Habits are the actions that we used to do. They have three phases:

  1. Signal. It is when you receive a signal from the outer world.
  2. Action. This is the action you do after the signal is received.
  3. Compensation. (not about money) After the action is done, we feel good or bad, which determines whether we will continue to do this action next time.

The problem of procrastination is that the Compensation part is very pleasant. Lots of people scared of doing math and they even feel pain when thinking about it. What do you feel when thinking about your favorite youtube channel? I can guess, it is pleasure. That is why it is hard to do math and easy to procrastinate watching youtube videos or surfing the web after funny pics and etc.

In order to stop procrastinating, one should make compensation part more pleasant. Stating a goal to finish a task is a good way to increase compensation saying that you are done with a big part of the task. Changing the reaction to a signal is also helpful. For example, you’ve got a pic from your friend on WhatsApp and instead of chatting, you should keep working on the task. It is always good to turn off the Internet and sound on your phone while working.

Other tips.

  • When you do not want to do something, but you know that it is important, just start doing it and you will see that it is easier than you thought.
  • When remembering something, always try to visualize it, because human’s brain works better with graphical staff than written staff.
  • If you think that you do not know about something because of someone else, you are mistaken. You are the only one who is responsible for your knowledge.
  • Tests and exams are good for you. As they make you to pull the information from you memory, what helps you to remember better.
  • Never give up