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A Mind for Numbers

A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science

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If you have found math to be a barrier to achievement in your life, then “A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)” by Barbara Oakley may finally get you out of that rut. The stories that you tell yourself are often wrong. For example, a lot of learners think that they must stay focused at all times, but this book lays out how untrue that idea is. Oakley wants to show you that math is never as difficult as you anticipate it to be. She uses vivid comparisons and examples to support her claims.


Art is often considered to be completely separate from science and math. However, Oakley finds that solving a difficult math problem can be a form of art. You sometimes need to find a creative new approach. Two main modes of the mind that the author describes are what she calls “diffused” and “focused” modes. If you are stuck, she asserts, you cannot keep trying the same things. She teaches you how and when to switch to the more inspiring diffused mode. To keep you entertained, she also presents stories from the lives of teachers, mathematicians, scientists, and more.


Oakley explains how to outsmart your “inner zombies” that want you to ignore the future in favor of right now. She stresses chunking out the time spent on math or science work as an important step toward overcoming, and even benefiting from, procrastination. If you figure out what the parts are to whatever you are studying, she explains, you can devise a more organized approach. Some more lessons in the book include rejecting overconfidence, asking for help, and improving memory with “memory palaces.” You will learn how to use your judgment of the material, rather than of yourself or your perceived abilities, to accomplish more in math.

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