8-bit style image depicting a student's journey from confusion to mastery in learning mathematics, presented in a pixel art format reminiscent of classic video games.

I love not understanding things.

How I learned to change the way I look at puzzling new concepts.

tldr: Trying to understand hard things compounds positively and brushing confusion under the rug compounds negatively.

I try to love the moment I don’t understand something.

I see moments of confusion as opportunities for improvement. When I overcome a lack of understanding, it permanently distinguishes who I was from who I am now. The more I do this, the progress starts to compound quickly, and I get further and further ahead of who I used to be. Looking back on my life and thinking ‘Woah me from a year ago would think it’s crazy I’ve learned X or am doing Y’ is an incredibly intoxicating feeling. So, I learned to embrace confusion, not because I enjoy it, but because I know how rewarding it will feel when it’s gone.

Even if I don’t succeed in understanding everything, shifting from avoidance to effort makes all the difference. Once I got in the habit of resolving bewilderment I slowly learned to love not understanding things. I also found I am a less confused person, fewer and fewer things were going over my head – so when they did, they jump out like a whack-a-mole. Ultimately, what I did is seek out things I didn’t understand, inadvertently training my brain to love all the bad parts about learning hard things. When I did that, the bad parts became the good parts, making learning not only straightforward but also enjoyable.

But, the inverse is also true. It’s a slippery slope from letting one hard concept go by, to becoming a person who defaults to not understanding things. I first noticed this happen in school. Before 6th grade, most of my class had a clear understanding of math. After we added linear equations to the mix, the move from numbers to letters made that understanding drop to about 10% of the class, and the rest adopted an identity of someone who would never understand math. From then on they took this default stance every time they walked into that class. Their MO became remembering formulas and doing mindless repetition as opposed to sitting with themselves, being confused, and overcoming it.

The bottom line is, I think this bleeds past math, to your entire life. Trying to understand hard things compounds positively and brushing confusion under the rug compounds negatively. Changing your attitude towards how you view these moments of misunderstanding is a crucial choice most people don’t even realise they are making. So, recognising this in myself, getting in the right habits, and seeking out hard confusing things has helped me in getting that intoxicating feeling of knowing I am less confused than me from a year ago.

ps: I loved school, loved math, took HL math in IB, understood everything… still got a 5 😂