How to Use a Mathematical Thinking Model to Overcome Stress

We must all be aware (and remind ourselves) that the information we receive through our senses is not always accurate. It is not necessarily a factual representation of the outside world. When we receive information through our senses, we add our own interpretation and emotion onto this information. This can create false characteristics. But if we think of everyday tasks as mathematical sets, we can train our brains to operate objectively and create a more efficient way of understanding and accepting what is going on around us. 

We can treat what is around us as simply a set of knowledge. We should put this ‘knowledge’ into a separate set so that we are not tempted to create a picture of the world around us based on this erroneous information.

Mathematical thinking

Adopting a mathematical thinking model doesn’t involve ‘doing’ any maths. It is about thinking differently so you can stop feeling overwhelmed by classifying the information and putting it into what is known as mathematical sets. In particular, we can classify the information we receive and ensure we focus on what is important, like kindness, helpfulness, loyalty, honesty, etc.

Sets are groups or lists of objects with specific characteristics – they are connected. For example, if we want to travel from A to B, we create a set that contains all the transport options. This helps us to think objectively without pre-sorting options based on subjective feelings or perceptions.

But the modern world, in which we are bombarded with information, has deteriorated our quality of thinking. By moving away from creating a subjective picture of the world, and instead focusing on objective mathematical thinking models you can concentrate on making the most of your life.

Here are ten tips, based on a mathematical way of thinking, that will help reduce stress and overwhelm. Although these ways of thinking may not immediately appear mathematical, each suggestion comes from mathematical thinking where the facts are what matters, not the assumptions, or external influences or the things we cannot control – just ourselves, what we can control, and the facts we can be sure of.

  1. Don’t automatically assume that everything you hear is true. Treat the information as words/language that could be true or false. It’s easy to focus on appearances or on the tangible thing in front of you, but what matters most is the things you don’t discern directly through your senses, such as kindness, honesty and loyalty. As the saying goes, ‘you cannot always judge a book by its cover’.
  1. Remember that everyone’s perception of reality is different. The pictures we create in our heads are a product of our imagination and the way we talk to ourselves. These internal representations are simply a road map and as with any map they may be incomplete and distorted.
  1. Reference the past only to find learnings or things you’d like to replicate. Don’t refer back to bad experiences, whether yours personally or someone else’s, or even those of humanity as a whole. Refer back only to learn. You can put the event in a ‘mistakes’ set and the learnings in a ‘new approaches’ set. You can also have a refer-back set called ‘good experiences’ so you can look to this set for things you’d like to see replicated.
  1. Ignore what you can’t control. In general terms there is little you can do to change the outside world; you can’t stop the war in Ukraine, or the rising price of fuel, or Brexit, so stop focusing on what you can’t control and instead focus on what you can. Worrying about the outside world doesn’t help you and won’t change it. Don’t try to control things you can’t control. Focus on what you can do in the circumstances you find yourself in. This frees up the mind and ensures it is not cluttered with perceptions and generalisations, which is far better for our mental health.
  1. Remember every decision has a consequence. This can be mathematically represented by an equation: decision = consequences. Both sides form a set, and this can be used for teaching/learning purposes when talking to children about the consequences of their actions.
  1. Stop making generalisations about people or stereotyping them – this is the source of many conflicts (in and out of work). Everyone is unique, which can be represented as a unique set of knowledge (although everyone is based on the same template). Allow them the courtesy and opportunity to show you their uniqueness, rather than pigeon-holing them before you even know anything about them. This applies to individuals, and groups of people. By thinking of them as mathematical sets, the emotion can be removed and only the objective fact of the set remains.
  1. Create a routine and structure that ensures the important parts of your life are dealt with and included. These need to be in the ‘priority set’. Focus on things that matter to you. Other people will have different priorities.
  1. Learn philosophical phrases such as ‘worse things could happen.’ It reminds us that perhaps things are not as bad as we think. Saying these phrases will help lessen the stress you are feeling over a particular issue/incident. This is not a panacea, but it can help.
  1. Everyone makes mistakes, don’t beat yourself up about them. If they are important mistakes, break them down into sets – the mistake, and the learning. And then share these sets with friends or colleagues. Remember, the mistake is in the past, make corrections if you can and learn for the future.
  1. Challenge bullying, sexism and racism. Focus on the qualities like kindness, helpfulness and empathy, as these are far more rewarding attributes to have in your life.

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