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I feel really dumb sometimes

  1. Sep 27, 2014 #1
    I feel like I'm really dumb occasionally. Mostly because I feel like I forget math related things to easily. I'm better than I use to be by good bit, but I still feel like I'm refreshing my memory more than I should be. Also, I still haven't gotten an intuition. Like for example there is this problem "there is a rope that is 140 feet long. It is cut up into 3 pieces. The longest piece is 5x the other two. How long is the longest piece?" I got 20 but I think it is wrong and it took me forever. I should be able to do this stuff instantly. I just don't feel smart. It's very annoying. I don't know what to do. I want to be better. I feel like I worker harder and care more but get less done. It makes me hate myself a bit really.

    What can I do to get better/smarter?

  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 27, 2014 #2


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    There's no magic pill you can take or medical procedure you can undergo to make you smarter. However, you can acquire more experience by working out many different kinds of problems, but this will take time and an untold amount of frustration on your part. Are you willing to risk this frustration in return for getting more experience in solving problems?
  4. Sep 28, 2014 #3
    yes. I'm already doing this...
  5. Sep 28, 2014 #4
    It sounds like Math is more stressful than fun for you. I would recommend that you avoid comparing your abilities to other people. Aside from that, use positive self-talk, make sure you aren't tired when you do Math, and convince yourself that it's fun.
  6. Sep 28, 2014 #5
    I know I shouldn't compare myself but that its sort of impossible. Everyone does it. It's biological I think.
  7. Sep 28, 2014 #6
    What was your problem with the rope question? It seemed obvious, even to rusty old me, to do simple algebra:

    x - longer length
    y - shorter lengths

    x = 5y
    x + 2y = 140

    Obviously 7y = 140
    y = 20
    x = 100

    So you mixed up the longest and the shortest piece.

    Are you expecting just to instantly see the answer? Maybe if you worked in a rope store, or did hundreds of similar problems, or made a lucky guess, you would. But that's not "being smarter", just getting used to rope cutting. And that will not help much for any non-rope problems. So the smart thing to do: LEARN HOW TO USE ALGEBRA EFFECTIVELY. Read through the algebra books in your local public library and you'll soon be a whiz at things like this.
  8. Sep 28, 2014 #7
    There are ways to get smarter in certain ways. What I think is most productive is to learn how to use what you've got.

    Here are a few ways to try to improve your brain directly, rather than just learning how to use it. I tend to be a bit skeptical of brain-training type approaches because you have to be aware of the surprising specificity that comes in the improvements associated with practicing most tasks. But with that disclaimer out of the way, here are a few interesting things to consider.

    Exercise is one of the most important things you can do for your brain.

    Here's an article about reasoning training:


    Which makes me wonder how studying for the LSAT compares to doing math problems. The brain-connectivity is interesting, but I still wonder about skill transfer to other tasks. Still, it's good to be able to think logically, and there's a reason law schools want you to study for that exam.

    It's also worth looking into meditation.


    So, those are the main ways to improve what you've got that are backed up by scientific studies.

    I mentioned the benefits of practice tend to be very specific. That doesn't mean it can't be very powerful:

    I downloaded a program that helps you to practice this mental abacus stuff, starting with mental addition. You could question the value of this when you can just use a calculator, versus a lot of training. But a calculator isn't as cool and impressive. Plus, part of my point here is that specific skills can be valuable, and if you have a narrow target skill, typically, all you need to do to become awesome at it is is lots and lots of practice! Some of these skills may allow you to build other more useful skills on top of them.

    There are some other things that can help, like making sure you are not under prolonged, excessive stress in your life. The other thing is to figure out how to use what you have. To that end, you need to learn how to implant things in your long term memory. I will single out the most important things to keep in mind here.

    1) Practice remembering, without looking at what you are trying to remember. When you read a paragraph, you can stop reading, step away from the book and try to summarize what you just read without looking.

    2) Spaced repetition. Repeat 1) after 1 minute, 1 hour, 1 day, 1 week, 1 month, 1 year...don't take this too literally--experiment to see what works. Some tasks may need daily attention to improve performance, with less of the spacing.


    3) Try to make things memorable. Visualize them if possible. The emotional aspects of learning are important. Don't see everything as just piles and piles of dry facts.

    You can go and try to read more about how memory works. Those are just some of the main points. It turns out just about everyone has an incredible memory. It's just that most of us do not develop the skill to use it effectively. There is a whole world of memory techniques out there.


    One caveat with this type of stuff, though, is that it tends to be useful mainly for rote learning, rather than understanding. Rote learning does have its uses, but understanding is more valuable. However, I think knowing a little bit about it does give some insights into learning and memory more generally, which can indirectly have some bearing on improving your ability to understand and retain more conceptual material, as well.

    There are ways of improving your ability to understand, as well. Practice is part of it, but also finding good examples and learning from people who give enlightening explanations, rather than people who like to just move symbols around. Moving symbols around violates principle (3) above and thus results in completely unmemorable explanations of things, although PRACTICING the symbol-moving and the rules can help internalize the necessary symbol-manipulation skills.
  9. Sep 28, 2014 #8

    I've been doing a few of the things you have suggested. Meditation is what I attribute to doing better almost exclusively. Also, I've been doing visualization. I've gotten really good at it too and I can remember things with like 75-90% accuracy pretty quickly. I memorize the names of wild animals and fish for fun. I draw it in my head connect an actual moving image to the name of the things I'm trying to remember and then mentally visualize storing it away in a cabinet. It really works for me because I'm so visual. It has also helped me come up with answers to problems just by visualizing it without math or knowledge. I also, try to make connections to other things I have learned. This is why I've been reading a lot more and watching a lot more documentaries because I'm trying to increase my "connection bank" or "glue" sort to speak. This is why I think I've gotten better although it doesn't address my issue. The issue isn't my memory per say. It is connecting those memories in a meaningful way. Again I've gotten better, but things that should be easier aren't always and math seems to be more involved then stuffing a bunch of formulas in a cabinet.
  10. Sep 28, 2014 #9
    Well, then, it seems you have laid a good foundation to build on. In your initial post, it did seem that your problem was memory, but it turns out, your problem is in understanding, I guess. Part of the problem here is the way math is taught is often at odds with what we know about how our psychology works. So, I think the most important thing I said for you was sort of there as an afterthought because I thought memory was your problem. The thing is, I'm not sure what sort of math you are trying to learn or remember. With lower level stuff, there is a lot of symbol-manipulation that you have to get down that's not necessarily going to involve a lot of conceptual work (although, it helps to not do things blindly and make sure you know why you can do each step). It's mostly just going to take a whole lot of practice.

    If you are past calculus, you should read books like Visual Complex Analysis or Geometry and the Imagination or Lines and Curves and practice picturing the arguments there in your mind's eye every day until they are just obvious to you. If you can do that, your ability to understand things will go way up. That will show you how you can turn mathematical dry facts into memorable things. You'll still run into the issue that virtually no one is as good at explaining math as the authors of those books (and a lot of math is just inherently more difficult to understand, compounding the problem). What can help with that is to try to think for yourself a little more. For example, when I read a proof, I usually try to partially prove it myself before I read, and then what I read will make a lot more sense and be more intuitive.

    I can do your example problem in my head with a little thought, numerically, but I'm not sure how I do it or how I learned to do it. You can also do the algebra, but that takes pencil and paper and is not going to be instantly doable. I don't think you should worry that you can't do it quickly.

    Another thing might be to work on problem-solving skills. There are books for that, like How to Solve It. Also, you have to work on hard problems where you get stuck, so that you learn how to deal with getting stuck. I have a lot of ways of getting unstuck, like double-checking to make sure I really understand the problem, taking a break and coming back to it, and keeping my brain moving, so that I don't get stuck in a loop, thinking the same thoughts that don't solve my problem, over and over again. One of the keys to creativity is to generate a lot of ideas. If you throw 100 ideas at something, maybe one of them will have a good chance of working. At least some problems are that way. If you reach a certain level, things are just going to be hard and you have to expect it to be difficult. Expecting it to be easy and feeling stupid if it's not isn't going to work. It's normal for it to be difficult. Everyone else has difficulties, too, but they may not be completely visible to you.
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