Limitless Mind

Limitless Mind Learn, teach and live without limits: free summary by ebookhike

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Author: Jo Boaler

Limitless Mind: Learn, Lead, and Live Without Barriers Jo Boaler 2019

Limitless Mind
Limitless Mind

Anyone can be a genius (Limitless Mind)

Limitless Mind: Is it possible to learn everything in the world? To finally deal with integrals, even if you were always sure that you did not have a mathematical mindset? Learn to play the violin or start learning Japanese in retirement?   

Jo Bowler is sure: not only possible but also very useful! Neuroscientists confirm that innate abilities are just a myth, and the level of our talents does not depend on age, gender, or race. 

“I have absolutely no abilities for mathematics” – according to statistics, almost every second adult inhabitant of our planet thinks so. 

Music, English, physics, programming – often, faced with the first serious difficulties in the study of any complex discipline, many of us decide that we are not smart enough or naturally gifted and give up what we would like to do. Frustration, fear, and the belief that we have been born with the wrong brain limit us and close many doors in our lives.

Destructive ideas of insufficient potential are born within us, but require an external signal in order to activate and begin to poison our lives. And this signal is just a matter of time. Sooner or later, a school teacher or even loving parents will tell us something like: “You are unlikely to make a good artist, you can’t even draw a chicken!” If you’ve ever heard this, welcome to the club. 

Professor of Stanford University, teacher and teacher of mathematics Jo Bowler fundamentally disagrees with this point of view. She is sure that our brain is infinitely plastic, and the ability to acquire new skills is given to each of us and persists throughout life. To achieve incredible results, it is enough to change the approach to learning.

Jo Bowler is recognized as one of the most creative and innovative educators in the world today. She does not just talk about school methods of teaching mathematics in the context of the latest achievements in neuroscience – step by step she convincingly proves that each of us has unlimited potential for development and is literally able to master almost any skill – it is enough to unlock our thinking.

It’s time to forget about school

The most common cause of insecurity in one’s abilities is the school math course and the feeling of dizzying shame when you stand at the blackboard and cannot solve the most ordinary problem. 

The failure to master basic school mathematics most often contributes to the devaluing label of a “not very gifted student” who is not capable of achieving career or academic heights in the future. It is precisely when faced with these first difficulties that children lose faith in themselves and consciously limit their thinking, mistakenly forever classifying themselves as people with a “non-mathematical mindset.” 

This is an erroneous and harmful myth: in fact, there are practically no people incapable of mathematics or any other sciences. However, from this moment on, any difficulties become for us a painful reminder of supposedly existing shortcomings. 

Studies conducted in the USA have shown that 48% of students are anxious about their progress in the study of mathematics. Over 50% of introductory college math students are seriously worried about upcoming exams. It is difficult to calculate the exact number of adults who put an end to their relationship with mathematics, but it can be assumed that almost every second person did not have a relationship with this subject.

Limitless Mind


Who is at risk?

• High-achieving women and girls. • Children from poor, dysfunctional families with a lack of parental attention. • People belonging to the black race. • Children enrolled in elementary school with reduced performance requirements (US or UK educational system). 

In the UK, 88% of pupils who were placed at the age of four in reduced difficulty classes did not manage to get out of it until the end of schooling.

Limitless Mind

The researchers found that when people need to work with numbers in people who are anxious about their mathematical abilities, the same center of fear turns on in the brain, which becomes active when confronted with spiders or snakes. At the same time, there is a decrease in activity in the brain center responsible for solving problems. 

The mechanism for losing faith in ourselves is simple: faced with numbers, we experience fear. Fear blocks brain activity. We cannot solve the problem and once again we are convinced of our own worthlessness. 

Thoughts about genetic or gender predisposition to certain activities are widespread and very dangerous: many school models are built with these ideas in mind. It is they who limit the potential of students and turn them into insecure adults. 

In fact, people never reach the natural limits of their own development – they simply give up ahead of time, faced with seemingly insurmountable difficulties. The reason for our self-doubt is limited, fixed, and locked in a cage of our own fears. The reason for the spoiled thinking is the messages received during training about the lack of abilities. 

Regardless of our race or gender, there are people with only two types of thinking:

•  The mentality of a continuously growing brain. Its bearers believe that throughout their lives they can learn something new and improve in different areas of knowledge.
• The mentality of a limited brain. Its carriers believe in the existence of natural talent and the impossibility of fundamentally changing the genetically inherent predisposition to certain types of science.

The most destructive tool for the formation of limited thinking is innocent praise. “You are so smart!” Which parent has not said this phrase to their child? This is a time bomb in the further development of the brain: faced with a difficult task that cannot be solved with overclocking, a child inspired by praise is lost and disappointed in its potential: “It turns out that I am not smart enough to cope with this …” And before you had time to look back , as the beginning of the formation of limited thinking has already been laid. 

Limitless Mind

Students who are recognized as gifted by society are also often locked in a cage of limited thinking. Considering himself gifted, a pupil or student is afraid of losing this status and is even less ready to deal with difficulties in solving complex problems. Failure can cut the ground from under the feet of a recognized genius just as easily and naturally as someone who trails behind. Therefore, praise your children and students, but do not evaluate their mental abilities, but the perseverance shown in solving the problem or the originality of the approach.

Six Keys to Boundless Thinking

Jo Bowler believes that in order to “unlock” your thinking and ultimately change your reality, it is enough to use six complementary keys. The first of the keys is the most important and the most unfairly underestimated. 


Limitless Thinking Key #1:
Remember Neuroplasticity

Every time we learn something new, our brains form new neural connections, strengthen existing neural pathways, and connect previously disparate sections of neurons. To achieve this, we must acknowledge that our brain is in a state of constant growth and abandon the idea of ​​genetic predisposition. 

Neuroplasticity is a property of the brain discovered in the 1970s by American neurophysiologist Michael Merzenich. 

This is the ability of the brain to form and strengthen new neural connections at any time in life. The discovery caused devastating criticism from those who believed that the talents of each of us are predetermined by genetics and laid down at birth, and the adult brain is a fully formed and unchangeable structure. 

Almost the entire educational culture of mankind is built around the idea that some people are gifted and some are not. But neuroscience has been able to convincingly debunk the devastating myth of the lack of learning potential in different groups of people.

Every time we learn, our brain grows in one of three ways:

• formation of new neural pathways. At first, the “paths” will be thin and weak, but with the persistent study of the subject, they will certainly get stronger;
• strengthening and developing of existing routes;
• connecting two previously disparate neural pathways by forming a new section between them.

The most valuable qualities of our brain are adaptability and potential for development. Teachers and parents have no right to label children and place low hopes on them. It is the responsibility of adults to create conditions for the growth and development of all students, not just those who appear to be “naturally gifted.”

A study published in the journal Science by Sarah-Jane Leslie and Andrea Simpian showed stunning results: the more common the idea of ​​“innate talent” for achieving success in a particular scientific field (higher mathematics or physics), the fewer women and people with black in this area skin color. 

Limitless Mind

If we recognize that each of us is on the path to growth and is capable of developing our talents, prejudice against women and black students will disappear.


Boundless Thinking Key #2
Love Your Mistakes, They Help You Grow

The time when we are forced to make efforts to solve complex problems and make mistakes is the most productive time for the growth and development of our brain. When we hit an obstacle, put in the effort, and (inevitably!) make mistakes, we strengthen our neural connections, speeding up and improving the overall learning experience.

Mistakes are part of everyday life. And yet, most of us react painfully to our own mistakes, each time mentally beating ourselves up and blaming ourselves for worthlessness. We grew up with the idea that mistakes are bad. Fortunately, this is absolutely not the case.

Neuroscientists have found that when we make a mistake, our brain fires up, creating new neural connections and strengthening existing ones, to a greater extent than when we confidently give the correct answer. Mistakes have a positive effect on the growth of our brain. On one condition: we should not perceive our own mistakes as failures, thereby driving ourselves into the trap of limited thinking.

In order to give our brain the opportunity to grow and develop, we must challenge it and work on issues that are on the verge of our understanding.

A prerequisite is the presence of a beneficial educational environment that is condescending to mistakes. It is only these two complementary components that create the perfect learning experience. How to crack the “talent code”? Constantly give the brain difficult tasks. This will stimulate the production of the myelin sheath covering the nerve fibers. It is thanks to her that the speed and accuracy of the passage of nerve impulses increases. The more difficult the task, the more it requires tension, the stronger the myelin sheath will be and the more impressive the results will be. Pushing yourself to the limit, making mistakes, correcting them, and moving on will help your brain grow effectively.


Key to Infinite Thinking #3:
Change your mind and reality will change with it.

Surprisingly, it is true that when we think differently about ourselves, our body and our brain function differently. As soon as we change our perception of ourselves, the changes will not belong incoming: our brain, our body, and, after them, our reality will change.

Our beliefs even affect the length of our lives. Stanford researchers Alia Cram and Octavia Zahrt collected data on 61,141 people over the course of 21 years. The researchers found that those people who were convinced they were maintaining the required level of physical activity were 71% less likely to die in the period following the survey. At the same time, the level of physical activity of all respondents was exactly the same. The difference is in beliefs.

Limitless Mind

The way we think can influence how we resolve conflicts. Researchers have found that people with limited minds (that is, those who believe their brains are static and genetically predetermined) are more prone to aggressive behavior during conflicts. Any failure they see as evidence of their own weakness, cannot be corrected. This causes an increased sense of shame and often increased aggression towards opponents. Boundless-minded people are more tolerant and recognize the right of themselves and others to make mistakes. This allows them to get out of conflict situations with a lower level of aggression. Also, people with limited thinking tend to be more biased towards the race or gender of the opponent. 

The researchers note that by developing a limitless mindset, one can reduce the level of aggression and get rid of gender and other stereotypes. By changing our attitude towards ourselves, we change our attitude towards others. Changing our beliefs improves our health and behavior in society. Not surprisingly, as we change our beliefs about our own potential and talents, our level of achievement also begins to rise.

For many years, people have believed that our emotions are separate from our cognitive processes. In fact, they are intertwined: for example, when making mistakes, those who believed in themselves and their potential had more useful brain activity than those who gave up on their development.

When faced with a difficult situation, believe in yourself – and your brain will be able to actively form new neural connections and strengthen existing ones. Thus, changing self-image changes the physical structures of the brain and creates opportunities for a higher level of thinking. Just like those people who believed that their physical activity would allow them to live longer, we program our brains: those who are convinced that they study more productively actually achieve better results.


Boundless Thinking Key #4
Use a Multidimensional Approach 

The synergy between the development of neural connections and learning becomes possible when using ideas with a multidimensional approach.

When it comes to the practical side of education, believing in yourself and in the ability to change your mind is not enough. The approach to education must change and allow students to learn in a different way. It is unfair to force students to repeatedly solve complex problems on the verge of possibilities, using today’s system of education and knowledge assessment. 

A solution is a multidimensional approach to learning and teaching. Communication between different areas of the brain improves performance. For example, math learning can be optimized by using different areas of the brain at the same time. Mathematical problems can be solved not only with the use of numbers but also with the help of words, visual effects, graphic diagrams, algorithms, tables, or graphs. 

When two or more methods are used to solve the same problem, different areas of the brain are activated that are responsible for processing different types of information. At the same time, they communicate with each other, building new neural connections and accumulating the experience gained. 

By simultaneously stimulating the areas of the brain responsible for memory, attention, reasoning, communication, and visualization, we implement a multidimensional approach to education, the brain actively builds up new neural pathways, and learning reaches its maximum effect.

Studying the brains of innovators in various fields of knowledge, scientists noted one common feature: they all have unusually active connections between different areas of the brain and an unusually large number of connections between the hemispheres. This gives their thinking a special flexibility. This extraordinary brain structure is not a genetic gift given to innovators at birth, but the result of long training.

Limitless Mind


Boundless Thinking Key #5:
Be Agile, Not Fast

Thinking speed is not a measure of ability. Learning is optimized when we solve complex problems with flexible creativity and depth.

You have to think fast, otherwise, you will not see the reputation of a clever man. This is one of the most harmful myths of modern education, which causes irreparable damage to the depth and flexibility of thinking.

Mathematics, more than any other subject, is subject to the vicious idea that you have to think fast to be successful. The reason is the ubiquitous school practice to test students’ knowledge with the help of time-limited tests. It makes students — and adults too! consider themselves losers if they are not fast enough with numbers. 

Neuroscientist Sian Beilock studied the brains of people working in stressful environments. When doing mathematical calculations, the brain uses a certain area – working memory, or the search engine of the mind. Baylock proved that when we are forced to work in a state of stress, anxiety and worry, our working memory cannot function at full capacity and the brain freezes. Students who had to complete test tasks by a certain time experienced anxiety. This made it difficult for the brain to work, did not allow them to concentrate and prevented them from finding the right answers. In turn, failing the test undermined their self-confidence and contributed to the formation of limited thinking. Feeling stressed is a bad helper for brain development.

Limitless Mind

Algorithm for the formation of limited thinking in the system of school education:

1) time-limited testing of knowledge, including in mathematics;
2) an increase in the level of anxiety among students;
3) freezing of the brain’s search system, a decrease in the activity of the brain’s working memory;
4) the inability to find the correct answer;
5) lack of confidence in oneself and one’s abilities;
6) the formation of limited thinking.

A more important criterion for information processing in depth. Information that enters our brain easily and quickly leaves it just as naturally, and the unstable neural connections that arose during its processing are destroyed. Stronger neural connections are formed by slowly but deeply immersing yourself in a problem.

It is a mistake to think that slow-thinking people have low potential. They simply use a different, more productive type of learning. Students who work slowly, persistently, and persistently on complex problems will, in the long run, be more successful in mastering the subject than their smart classmates.

When educators rely on memory speed, they harm both types of thinkers. 

• Fast thinkers will get used to using a less efficient learning approach.
• Slow thinkers will compare themselves to fast thinkers to their disadvantage, wallow in frustration, and turn away from studying the subject.


Boundless Thinking Key #6: Collaborate

Connecting with other people and sharing ideas strengthens neural pathways and enhances the quality of learning.

One of the professors who taught at the University of California, Berkeley noticed that more than 60% of African American students failed math tests and for this reason made the decision to drop out of college. Having studied the data on all student cases, the professor noticed that Chinese students almost never failed mathematics. The professor decided to find out what is the difference between the two groups of students. 

After examining the way students worked on solving problems, the professor drew attention to one significant difference: African-American students worked on solving mathematical problems alone, while the Chinese did it together. Faced with yet another challenging math challenge, Chinese students cheered each other on and shared ideas, while African Americans, locked up alone in their dorm rooms, gave up, became frustrated with themselves, and made the decision to drop out of college due to “lack of math talent.”

Limitless Mind

The professor and his team organized seminars for a vulnerable group of students and created an emotionally conducive academic environment for working together. Within two years, African-American students’ test scores matched and outperformed other students.


Collaboration Benefits

• When faced with difficulties, we think we are alone in our struggle. As we begin to work together, we find that each of us struggles with challenges.   This strengthens our self-confidence and encourages the formation of a limitless mindset.

• Collaboration promotes the exchange of ideas, unification, and deepening.

• While working together, we activate the area of ​​the “social brain”, which is responsible for understanding someone else’s experience. People who are good at communicating their ideas to others—whether in mathematics, physics, or any other field of science—are more effective at solving life’s problems and are able to contribute more to collaboration with others.

Top 10 Thoughts

1. Each of us can learn almost anything. Every morning we wake up with a renewed brain, able to adapt to any complex and new tasks. But in order to achieve incredible results, we will have to believe in the limitless possibilities of our brain.

2. Our abilities are not given to us at birth.  Talent or giftedness is not genetically predetermined and has nothing to do with genetics, race, gender, or skin color. This is the result of long and hard work on yourself.

3. Our brains need challenging tasks to develop. We must challenge ourselves every day and work to the limit of our intellectual capacity. 

4. One of the most common causes of our self-doubt is the thought inherent in childhood that our brain is not designed for this or that kind of activity. Neurophysiologists confirm: when the mathematician shouted that you were an absolute zero, she was categorically wrong.

5. “Clever” and “well done” – the worst praise. Faced with difficulties in the future, a person will think that he is not smart enough to solve this problem. Evaluating yourself on a fixed scale is destructive and leads to a loss of self-confidence.

6. Speed ​​of thought is not a measure of talent. The key to the formation of stable neural connections lies in the depth of studying the problem and flexibility in solving problems. 

7. Don’t be afraid and don’t be ashamed of your mistakes! Mistakes have a positive effect on the growth of our brain: it learns from them, assimilates new information, and correlates it with what we already have. On one condition: we should not perceive our own mistakes as failures, thereby driving ourselves into the trap of limited thinking.

8. Depth is more important than information processing speed. Information that enters our brain easily and quickly is also easily forgotten, and the unstable neural connections that have arisen during its processing are destroyed. Indestructible neural connections are formed only with slow and prolonged immersion in the problem.

9. Solve complex problems together with others. Working in a group allows you to exchange ideas, deepen and detailed understanding of the problem and draw inspiration and strength to overcome difficulties.

10. Learn in a supportive learning environment that is tolerant of error, encourages creative thinking, and inspires you to overcome challenges, and you will surely succeed.

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