Advice, Lifestyle

A non-mathematical appreciation for math

Understanding concepts in math did not help me with math, but it did help me with life. 

I’ve never gotten along with math. It didn’t matter if I understood the concepts or not. I did not like it and was not personally interested in it. I have a friend who used to procrastinate on his homework by watching calculus playlists on YouTube and completing long proofs for fun. This I understand but cannot relate to. 

Although I was never fascinated by math, I can say that I objectively understand its purpose and application beyond the realm of quantifications, data, equations and calculations. 

In other words, there is more to math than just math. 

Math is about solving problems by looking at them from different angles. I believe this is an essential skill when it comes to virtually every aspect of life.

Math is translation: taking something in one form and putting it into another form, not so that the thing itself changes, but so that the way we perceive it, talk about it and understand it changes — hopefully for the better. 

When I encounter a problem in life — whether it is relational or a difficult task I need to accomplish — I try to assess it rather than judging it immediately. 

Instead of saying “this assignment is impossible” or “these guidelines don’t make any sense,” I try to tackle tasks in a different way than what I am traditionally inclined to. 

When it comes to essays, sometimes you have to write what comes to mind and organize later. When I used to take Advanced Placement exams, I would sometimes flip to the last question of a section and work backward to keep my brain alert: This also applies to relationships and communication. 

Instead of saying “that person’s worldview is wrong,” I attempt to rationalize why a situation may have conspired the way it did. I try to consider multiple possibilities and weigh them instead of jumping to conclusions, especially when I don’t have enough information to accurately understand the situation. 

Our minds strengthen when we achieve the ability to view things in a non-traditional light. When we train ourselves to bypass our cognitive biases, we become less inclined to react to problems in a way that clouds our sense of logic. 

Another mathematical concept I’ve applied to my life is that of limits. In calculus, a limit is a value that a function approaches but never quite reaches. 

In some realms of my life, I’ve had to gradually accept I won’t be able to reach a precise understanding with someone else, but that we can get as close as possible to being on the same page.

An equation. Veronica writes about how mathematical concepts have helped her troubleshoot problems in her life – math itself not included. COURTESY OF TKAMENICK VIA FLICKR

This is how I think about what to say when I talk to my grandmother, who has symptoms of dementia, or my twin brother, who has mild autism. I have to explain things in a different way than what makes sense to me personally. 

In my opinion, everyone has a different framework of understanding than the next person, and few of us are on compatible frequencies. But we make relationships harder for ourselves when we assume that our communication style works for everyone else, or that someone will receive our words in the exact way we intended. 

The skills of problem-solving and having a malleable perspective are also personally applicable, particularly to one’s outlook on life. 

If you have no motivation at all for the courses you’re taking or if they’re draining you because you never understand the content, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are unintelligent. Maybe you’re in the wrong major or the wrong school. Maybe you require accommodations. 

There is a multitude of valid possibilities, and you owe it to yourself to evaluate them before deciding that your poor grades mean that you deserve nothing. 

Sometimes the problems we face are too grand or too complex for us to face on our own, and even the act of realizing that we need help can be a challenge.

It is common to feel like we shouldn’t get help, or we don’t need help, or we don’t deserve help from others. There are a lot of valid explanations for why one may hold this mindset, including but not limited to: pride, low self-esteem, trust issues or a fear of vulnerability. 

In this regard, deciding to ask for help may require you to view your circumstance from a different angle and change your mentality. 

Ultimately, one of my strongest goals for college is to avoid taking a math course. But I know what the purpose of math is, and I will retain those fundamental skills as I continue to encounter problems in the future. 

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