A Mind for Numbers

Andrew Chien
3 min readJan 3, 2021


“A Mind for Numbers” this book talks about how the right way of learning changes the performance of learning the new things. In addition, this book also gives much knowledge about how our brain works to guide the readers to find the relation between our brain and the learning method.

There are many ways to improve the learning. Before that, hereby would introduce 2 working modes mentioned in the book first. In our brain, there are 2 working modes which are diffuse mode and focused mode. Diffuse mode can analyze more information at once but in less depth and the focused mode is contrary to the diffuse mode that it could target on the problem with depth. Usually, focus mode can help understand the problem but if the problem is quite hard or complicated then the diffuse mode should step in to work to help find more information in the brain to piece the solution. In terms of efficiency in solving the familiar questions, the focus mode would be more appropriate to be adopted. On the contrary, if the question is quite hard without any clue, then diffuse mode would be more ideal. Accordingly, it’s suggested to start working problems with what appears to be the hardest one. But steel yourself to pull away within the first minute or two if you get stuck or get a sense that you might not be on the right track. Then your brain would go to diffuse mode to find the connection to the potential solution. And then go back to your question after a while, then probably the answer would be solved. That is also why it’s said that the most important things and most disliked job should be done first in the morning.

Here we would like to talk about how to enhance our learning process. First of all, let’s talk about sleep. Sleep actually influences a lot on our learning performance. Too little sleep would cause the learning performance to drop. Therefore, burning the midnight oil to prepare for the exam is certainly not the right way to approach. After gaining enough sleep, then it’s time to get exercise. Exercise helps create a new neurons in areas that relate to memory, therefore, regular exercise definitely could make our learning more efficient. The way we think unexpectedly also impacts a lot. Though we’re still in the infancy of understanding neural development, one thing is becoming clear — we can make significant changes in our brain by changing how we think. The next learning tip is about recall learning. Compared with the passive rereading or highlighting, talking to ourselves is actually more efficient and useful as this can help us to create the context and further build a stronger network to seize the knowledge. In addition, when creating the mini tests and dividing the big task into multiple smaller ones also help the learning.

To enhance the learning, some bad habits should also be prevented, such as multitasking as the new ideas and concepts can be difficult to take root when multitasking. Also, we should also not let the things go untouched for more than a day if we’re learning the new things.

Sometimes, working with experts can help shorten our learning cost as well. Based on some researches, brainstorming and working with others as long as they know the area can be helpful. So don’t hesitate to connect to those talented people or experts, but remember to use these mentor’s time sparingly as mentors’ time are always precious.

Lastly, it’s important to follow our tempo to learn as everyone’s learning curve is different. When facing the problems in learning, it’s also suggested to nail down a few ideas with some simple framework. This approach can help make the problem easier to be solved as well. All in all, the action is the key to change. To make action work, then cultivating a good habit is inevitable. Usually, it may take 3 months to shape a habit. It’s recommended to keep a written history for cultivating the habit over several weeks as this way can help make change. Hope we all can have a better learning experience in the coming future!

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash