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I feel dumb

  1. May 14, 2008 #1
    I am undergrad math student, aged 20
    In the last 3-4 years, I feel that my intellectual capacity has waned and dont feel as smart as when I was a kid.

    I seem to be fine at handling abstract concepts, but I feel slow and clumsy. My problem isnt lacking ideas, its more about concentration and sharpness. I feel i am extremely unproductive in studying.

    I wonder if other people have same problems, or could offer advice.

  2. jcsd
  3. May 14, 2008 #2
    Unfortunately, curricula for majors like physics or math have a way of inflicting this. Sometimes things like finding a good study group can be encouraging (reduces the difficulty level somewhat, and lets you see how you're doing compared to others). It can also help to find "fun" things to study in addition to the required coursework...if you love the subject, this can help remind you why you're putting up with it.
  4. May 14, 2008 #3
    Here is a rule I used during my undergrad.

    No work after midnight!

    It will help keep you from getting too frustrated and making careless mistakes. Plus, studying in the morning after waking up gives you a fresh look at material without all the distractions.
  5. May 14, 2008 #4


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    You might be chronically sleep-deprived. What are your sleep habits?
  6. May 14, 2008 #5


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    yes, mental work benefits from training like physical work, eating and sleeping well, and moderate living.

    the actual time of day when one works best is somewhat different for different people, but some studies show material learned in the morning is retained better.

    but morning work is not suited ideally for me personally. i like to work late.

    as i got older my memory seemed to reduce in effectiveness, but it was more than made up for by ability to see better into the essence of problems.

    this may not be an option, but during the 2 years i was at harvard as a postdoc, hanging out with fields medalists and other geniuses, i felt i became quicker and sharper, somehow picking up something from them.

    but you might choose smarter friends.
    Last edited: May 14, 2008
  7. May 14, 2008 #6
    possibly, how's your diet by the way?
  8. May 14, 2008 #7
    The best thing you can do is to start to do some exercise every day, like long distance running. This will force your body to adapt itself to high energy use and good recovery during sleep.
  9. May 14, 2008 #8
    HI All,

    Last year I did this Diploma of engineering (one year course) after having one year off from studies.
    I found it extremely hard to readjust to the student life. I even began to wonder if I have some form of ADD but my doctor couldn't confirm this.
    I started exercising more often and combined with an improved diet I started to see better results. A few weeks later I was more productive but occasionally I steel lost focus during lectures. Even my doctor said that he used to sleep during lectures ( which is a bit of a worry so I decided to change doctors) which can be the result of many factors including sleep deprivation, diet, life style, your motivation as well. You probably need to find something to "switch off" once in while.

    Try motorcycles In case you haven't yet.:smile:
  10. May 14, 2008 #9
    I hear you, I felt the same way for approximately 2 years. My doctor diagnosed me with adult onset ADHD. I've always been fit, exercised, ate healthy, etc. but I continued to feel a strong inability to concentrate and learn material. Now, that I know what I have, I've done so much better.
  11. May 15, 2008 #10
    It may be because you have bad sleep habits, a problem kids normally don't have. Maybe you need a bit of physical exercise in the morning. There are also attention disorders that may be surfacing.

    But for math students this is a common tale. Math is pretty dry as compared to science. The beauty is not usually appretiated immediately, and some days you just don't feel like struggling through 10 different theorems. So you lose interest, and tend to wander off. In science and stuff you get immediate gratification with "cool new things", so this is less of an issue with less abstract things.

    And college in general, not just math or science, has a way of making you feel dumb. They are there to challenge you.
  12. May 15, 2008 #11
    Another thing that I've seen in University is that good studens sometimes drop out because they are not used to studying a lot. The students who go to university to study math or theoretical physics were often amoung the best students in high school. They didn't need to spend a lot of time to do their homework.

    At university after your first and perhaps second year that will change. But then you are older than 20 and you have to learn that studying really means studying five hours, six hours, or perhaps eight hours per day, that may be a difficult transition and it may look like you have become dumber.

    What also happens is that there are students who used their extra time in high school and the first years in university to work ahead. They are more used to studying a lot and when they are third year students they need to spend less time to study. For the students in the former category this creates the illusion that they are much dumber than some of their fellow students.
  13. May 15, 2008 #12
    Try to have some fun once in a while. Meet with your friends as often as you can and still succeed in school. There is also a chance that you are in a slump right about now in your studies, try to hang in there and not throw in the towel. Maybe after a year from now you will have accomplished all of which seems impossible right now.

    Do something different once a week. Get yourself a job or something that will get your mind of school. Or join a club or something? chess? soccer?
  14. May 15, 2008 #13
    Great advice Fearless!
  15. Aug 25, 2008 #14
    I would love to "switch off"{ I feel silly writing this.. lol..} but yea I feel like I lose my concentration no matter what time of day, I analyze everything before I can go on to the next it seems!:confused: I cant even put into words the way I'am always doing something but my mind has 50 other thoughts behind it... not cool :uhh:
  16. Aug 25, 2008 #15


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    When you were in high school, you were in an educational program basically designed to educate the "average" person. Only the top 20% (not sure on exact number) of these students went on to university.

    Of those, top 20%, how many decided to pursue the more mathematically demanding courses? A safe bet would be most of the ones who were good at it and enjoyed it.

    Of those, how many dropped out after the first year? That number is not insignificant either.

    Now you're in a program that's more than likely geared towards preparing people for graduate work and research in your field.

    If that isn't enough, lets add some stress to the situation, shall we?
    - First time living away from home?
    - Thought about how you're going to pay for all this?
    - Drinking?
    - New intimate relationships?
    - Debt?
    - Room mates?
    - Conflict of political or ideological ideas?
    - Part-time job?
    - Dorm parties? Frat parties? Social club parties?
    - Distracting games?
    - Distracting co-eds?
    - Career path?
    - Idiots with stereos?
    - Have I mentioned debt?

    So, yeah, I think we all go through it. There's lots of good advice here on ways to keep sane and keep focussed. I agree that leading a healthy lifestyle is a big part of it.
  17. Aug 25, 2008 #16
    Well as far as I know you can't "lose" intelligence

    I think you are just enter the point where math is no longer just common sense.
  18. Aug 26, 2008 #17
    Let's not go overboard here :)
  19. Aug 26, 2008 #18
    Hmmm - I don't agree - actually my IQ dropped dramatically last years ;)

    I haven't found solution of this problem, I also was feeling sooo smart and brainy when I was younger, now I can't force myself to think, I need much more time to solve any problems... It hurts.
    What helps a little bit:

    1. Stop drinking. Absolutely stop.
    2. Stop playing computer games.
    3. Turn off the computer. Limit browsking.
    4. Exercise.
    5. Wake up early and run in the morning.
    6. Think about your diet.
    7. Think all the time about goals.
    8. Then die of boredom, no social life etc ;)

    I see my friends developing intelectually, when I am in fact doing nothing wgat benefits me... It hurts a lot
  20. Aug 26, 2008 #19
    It sounds like your just plain old burnt out. This happens to just about everyone including myself. You push yourself 110% for so long eventually your going to start wearing down. Just take a break, spend some time away from math. What I always found works is to just sit in on some MBA lectures. That always makes me feel smart.
  21. Aug 28, 2008 #20
    I feel the same way all the time. Sometimes to help me stay focused I'll look for something that motivates me - like watching a science sort of inspirational movie or reading an excerpt from a book. I always feel really inspired to study after reading about the great minds of physics and their lives (if Faraday could make it without upper level math, there is hope for us all). Good music can help too - I listen to a lot of classical when I study, because I find that vocal music of about any type is distracting, as is a catchy beat... classical is more complex and actually, it makes me feel smarter! I don't think you can get dumber; I think you can get more bogged down by all the stresses in your life that weren't previously there, and you have to learn to shut all these things out of your mind. Ban the other thoughts during homework time!!
  22. Aug 28, 2008 #21


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    Ok that was marginally funny.
  23. Aug 28, 2008 #22
    MBA lectures? :yuck:
  24. Aug 30, 2008 #23
    Like others have asked, how much sleep do you get at night? If I only get a few hours of sleep, I'm done for. So every night I try to get 7-8 hours of sleep. Other people in my classes laugh at the idea, but it has kept me afloat thus far. Another thing I noticed is that studying at the library is 10 times better than studying at home. Studying in groups can help your realize things you skipped over, but ultimately, at least for me, studying alone I can usually accomplish the most. Heavy meals also seem to make me sluggish. Energy drinks can be good or bad... depending on if the ones you drink make you jittery. Stay away from a computer... you may end up browsing for long periods of time & not even realize it. Lastly... ambient music... don't know why, but it works really well for me.
  25. Aug 30, 2008 #24
    I'm in the exact same situation as you, age 20, poor studying, feeling kind of lousy. I'm experiencing the same thing, I think it's that it doesn't seem as new to me, it's not as fresh... or maybe I have ADHD but don't want to take pills because they make me feel empty inside.

    Personally, I think its great that you feel dumb, it's a more realistic picture of who you really are. We are all pretty stupid if you think about it.

    Have you ever thought you were smart only to realize you were a complete idiot? Hell, there are conspiracy theorists who believe they are the smartest people in the world! (half of them are probably on ADD pills) they're so latched on to their self-intelligence that no one or common sense notion can prove them otherwise. If they are humans, and are capable of such blind arrogance, who's to say we are any better? Aren't most of our notions based on trust, isn't phenomenon presented to us in the classroom pre-interpreted? We don't observe all phenomenon we believe exists, and we don't interpret ourselves the phenomenon we do observe.

    I think your problem is not that you feel dumb, it's that you felt smart in the first place.
  26. Aug 31, 2008 #25
    Just because you don't feel as smart doesn't mean that your assessment is right! You might be feeling just a bit depressed/tired.

    Careful of the "exercise" advice -- do too much and you'll feel even more tired! Build up slowly to a brisk walk of half an hour every other day.

    Read "The joy of laziness" by Dr Peter Axt, who gives medical backing to my walking plan, and some more stress-free advice! He used to be an international runner, as well as a medical doctor, and realised he was wasting his time and probably damaging his health.

    Note that Einstein never went jogging, and Wheeler didn't have all the extra-curricular activities that many are recommending. Read "Geons..." and you'll see that all that Wheeler did "for fun" was read books (often out loud, with his wife). Reading out loud is not one of today's cultural activities, so try chatting to a member of the opposite sex instead.

    If you feel slow and clumsy just take a close look at some of your professors :redface:

    If you feel unproductive in studying, is it just a feeling or are you really unproductive? Try doing examples from your textbooks BEFORE reading the chapter. If you cannot do them, but can do them AFTER reading the chapter, then you are (by definition) productive at studying. If the chapter seems to take a long time to read then remember that's what textbooks are like -- you might only get through a few pages of some university level textbooks in a day even if you are a great studier.

    Make sure to set aside lots of time for studying (keep chatting to girls/boys down to less than an hour a day and you'll have that if you follow the Axt-Wheeler methodology!)
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