Earlier this week, I provided a guest post about math anxiety and kids for Imp3rfect Mom. I wasn’t surprised to get a comment from a reader asking about how to deal with her math anxiety.
My son is an adult so my question concerns me. I’m almost 60 and I’ve been mathphobic (big time) since I was in 6th grade. At that point math just crashed and burned for me and I struggled for the rest of school. Now I am self studying for a designation related to my job (the job itself doesn’t require math ability) but I have to learn some equations for the Time Value of Money for the last exam. I look at that chapter and just freeze. I actually am telling myself “well, if I just skip that part and study real hard, I’ll still pass the test.” This is ridiculous! How do I conquer 50 years of Fear of Math?
I’m sure you can hear the frustration in her writing. (Do you ever feel the same way?) I anxious about certain things–making difficult phone calls, traveling to places where English is not the predominant language, or asking someone for help when I’m lost. (That last one is so silly, isn’t it?)
I’ve talked about the roots of math anxiety–the insistance that the goal is the right answer, timed calculations and an expectation of perfection–but now it’s time to share some ways to cope.
Allow yourself to fail. This is not so easy when you’re dealing with your finances or preparing to take a test. But when you’re learning (or relearning) something, you will make mistakes. Heck, even when you have something down cold, you can screw up. If you’re feeling anxious about math, set up low-stakes scenarios when failure isn’t a big deal. Try things on your own, for example, and allow someone you trust to check your work.
Ask yourself, “How hard can it be?” I’ve said this before, if I can do this stuff, so can you. I don’t have the typical “math brain.” I can’t do mental calculations, and sometimes I forget really basic facts like 6 x 7. And believe me, if a fourth grader can do these tasks, so can you.
Make it fun. I swear, I’m not violating math secret #3 (You Can Skip the Love). You don’t have to have fun or love math to be good at it. Still, if you’ve read my book, you know what I mean. Too often, math is cut-and-dry, boring numbers. When it’s presented or explored using real-world stories with funny characters, it’s a lot more tolerable. So, whether you’re studying for a test or trying to explain a concept to your kid, try making up problems using Sesame Street characters or your crazy Aunt Miriam who has 76 cats and wears a fedora. The sillier the better.
Find resources that work for you. I’m a big DIYer. And everything I know about sewing, painting, renovations and carpentry, I learned from Google. I promise. Besides my book, there are amazing resources out there for folks who need a little refresher. You can even find videos on YouTube or Flickr tutorials. But be careful: sometimes mathematicians think they’re being really helpful, when they’re not. Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by minute details or unrelated tangents. Click through these resources quickly until you find what you need.
Trust your gut. Just because a textbook or a friend has the information you need, doesn’t mean you need to follow that advice or process. This is the beauty of being a grownup–we don’t have to follow the rules that a teacher sets out for us. Think about when you feel comfortable with math. Is it in the kitchen? When you’re gardening? When you’re doing your budget? What is it about that process that is less threatening? Use what you know about yourself–and your learning style–to step into these other, scary places.
So I’d love to hear from you now. What tricks have you used to conquer your anxiety or fear–about anything? If you have dealt with math anxiety in the past, what has helped? Share your ideas in the comments section.