Welcome to the College Prep Confidential Podcast
Aug. 11, 2019

CPC Episode #15 - 7 Math Brain Filters

2 people can see the exact same math problem, but interpret it completely different. This is because we all use brain filters. And in this episode, we'll reveal: 7 ways we see the world, and how it affects math The magic about thinking about thinking...

2 people can see the exact same math problem, but interpret it completely different. This is because we all use brain filters. And in this episode, we'll reveal:

  • 7 ways we see the world, and how it affects math
  • The magic about thinking about thinking
  • Top frustrations about math, and what to do about them
  • What the 3 Rectangles Test reveals about your brain organization
  • Who really determines when your successful in math
  • Wants versus Have Tos - Which One Are You?

Episode 15 of the College Prep Confidential Podcast. - we're talking math, and how it affects your life. Since people filter the world in their unique ways, today’s episode is called The 7 Math Brain Filters

As I've spoken with students and parents over the years and asked them their deepest, darkest fears for math, I hear repeated patterns...

  • Muddled half-comprehension.
  • Fear of asking questions.
  • Shyness about getting the teacher’s help.
  • Badgering a friend instead.
  • Copying homework.
  • Excuses; blaming others.
  • Procrastination.
  • Anxiety about public failure.
  • Terror of the teacher’s judgment.
  • Feeling incurably stupid.
  • Not wanting to admit any of it.

Now, I'm a big believer in words, and the power they bring. Specifically, how certain words reveal your real problems, as well as the key to the solution. Examples include a student saying:

All math problems suck

The key word here is all. When I asked a student to tell me more, I start with "All math problems?" Well, not all, algebra really hurts my brain. 

Is it all algebra? 

I can't factor anything, nothing makes sense.

So it's factoring algebraic terms which causes you trouble?


In a brief conversation, we've reduced and isolated the problem to factoring. The problem comes from, the student cramping up on math in general simply by equating algebraic factoring to any math problem.

When you isolate the problem, you simplify the struggle. To get more clues into how I can help students, I use something called metaprograms. Metaprograms act like a filter for how you process information or events. Or, thinking about thinking. If you treat the life experience as a territory, then your perception is the map. And nobody has the same map. Which is how you get the phrase, "The map is not the territory." Using metaprograms, we can see how students construct their map of the world.

Let's discuss the 7 meta programs I use to help students and parents with math and college prep. Since math gives people the most trouble, let's use this as our subject for the following meta programs, a.k.a. Brain filters

  1. Toward or Away
  2. External or Internal Frame of Reference
  3. Sorting By Self or Sorting by Others
  4. Matcher or Mismatcher
  5. Convincer Strategy
  6. Possibility vs. Necessity
  7. Independent, Cooperative and Proximity Working Styles

Toward or Away (1)

Metaprogram (1) has to do with how your move relative to motivation. Is it towards or away? What this means is, do you move away from pain and discomfort? Or do you move towards pleasure and gain? Here's a question I ask students and parents:

Why are you studying hard for your test? 

  • Students with a Moving away mindset or filter say, "I don't want to fail."
  • Students with a Moving Towards mindset say, "I want to get an A+"

You can further elaborate with a "why" question as a follow up. But you get the idea. One student avoids failure, and the other moves towards rewards or recognition.

Simply by changing your language, you can change your mental state on these questions. For instance... What if the student who moves away changed their statement to, "I want to get a B"

How would this change their preparation and mindset?

External or Internal Frame of Reference (2)

Let's talk about the second Meta program, which is Frame of Reference. This metaprogram reveals people's motivations for success or failure. People have one of two motivations, sometimes a blend, but they'll lean more toward one of these two:

  1. Internal Frame of Reference. They look within themselves for their own validations of success or failure
  2. External Frame of Reference. They look to others for their validation, praise, and approval

I remember a story about this with a guy I used to have math class with in high school. And we played together on the baseball team. And what happened was, this guy had a fully external frame of reference, which was his Dad. During the game, after he made a play, he'd always look over in the stands at his Dad, to gauge his reaction. 

And there were times this guy got a great hit, but still looked to his Dad for validation. This frame of reference provides insight into what motivates students.

For math, I like to ask to identify a student's frame of reference is:

How do you know when you've done well on your math assignment? Or How do you know when you're doing well in math?

The answer given reveals the student's frame of reference. Some will say, "When my parents are proud of me." What this frame of reference tells us is even the grades aren't the success indicator, it's the parent's interpretation and reaction to the grades.

Some students will say, "If I beat my previous highest score." These students have a deep internal drive for success, and rarely let external factors get in their way.

And some students will say, "I try to get better grades but I also look to see how my friends did." This student has an internal and external frame of reference. A follow up question would be, "Which do you look to more?" This gives you an idea of the weighting the student gives.

Sorting By Self or Sorting by Others (3)

The third meta program is, sorting order. Do you sort by self, or sort by others. And what this means is, do you start any interaction with, "What's in it for me?" or "What can I do for myself and others?" In other words, how do you invest your attention?

Applying this to math, we can see a student who wants to get better grades in math to both excel for personal reward and make his parents happy with consistent progress. We can also see a hyper-competitive student as somebody who's out for good grades, just to beat their peers.

With college, we can see a student who wants to get into a Division 1 school for personal validation but also to make their parents proud.

The key with this metaprogram is, who does the student want to share the rewards with?

Match or Mismatch (4)

Our fourth metaprogram is called Match or Mismatch. In math, one of the things you see with factoring is something called grouping like terms. Well, based on how your mind works, you may struggle with "sameness." And here's how to find out...

Draw 3 shapes on a piece of paper, or a white board. One large horizontal rectangle, one medium vertical rectangle, and one small vertical rectangle. Once you draw these, I'll ask the student, "What is the relationship between these shapes?"

Then sit back and wait. What I look for is the next question the student asks...

For instance, this particular student said, "You mean the differences?"

This answer tells me the student has a particular metaprogram. This is a fancy word, by the way, for thinking about thinking. Simplified, it's a way to filter data which enters our brain. For this student, they defaulted to finding differences between things immediately. Based on this filter, can you imagine how difficult it must be for somebody who looks for differences to be able to group like terms?

Some people sort by sameness and likeness, or matching. Others, like this student, default to differences, or mis-matching.

If you reframe this problem to this student, who looks for differences as, eliminate every term which has a difference, they're now left with only terms left over which share common factors or variables. Now they've learned to factor based on their personal metaprogram. And this is where the magic happens!

Convincer Strategy (5)

Our fifth meta program is called the Convincer Strategy. You'll find this in Tony Robbins Unlimited Power book. To identify a student or parent's metaprogram, we ask 2 questions:

  1. How do you know something or someone is good? Do you have to hear it, see it, read about it, or do it with them? In other words, how do they process information which validates success?
  2. Next question is, How often do they have to demonstrate something to prove they're a success? Immediately, a certain number of times, over a period of time, or all of the time?

The answers to both of these questions reveal clues behind a student's judgement process. For instance, you'll find students who are never satisfied. If they got an A last week in Algebra, this week is new. They don't even think about the last grade they got.

And some students use their prior grade as motivation for the next grade. Some students need 2 passing grades to build initial confidence in their abilities. 

I've seen this with college prep as well. How do they know a college is good? Example answer 1: Because all my friends want to get into this school. Question 2, how often do they talk about it? At least once a week if not more.

Possibility versus Necessity (6)

Now let's move on to Meta program number 6, called Possibility versus Necessity. I like to call these types, seekers versus Have To's.

Those who lean toward possibility tend to be seekers, meaning they search for opportunity because they want to. They use phrases like "I want to, I can't wait to, I'm interested."

Versus have to's who work off necessity. They use phrases like, "I must, I have to , I cannot miss this deadline."

It's want versus must

Seekers tend to be proactive, they like the search and the variety

Versus Necessity driven people, who react, and cover what they feel is vital.

Asking a student about why they take a test, or why they chose math, reveals insights into their motivations. Are they taking math just to get college credits? Are they taking math because they're chasing after a STEM degree? Or are they taking math because numbers and problem solving fascinate them?

Independent, Cooperative and Proximity Working Styles (7)

How you like to work and who you like to work with is our 7th, and final metaprogram for the show today. Do you like to work on math alone? Do you like to work in a team? Or, do you like somewhere in between, with independent time followed by team time?

I find most introverts like to work alone, or work quietly in a team as part of their time

I find most extroverts love to be in the team setting, face to face with people and then there is the rest of people.

If you need quiet time and focus to complete mental tasks like math, then try working in silence, and away from people.

If you need human contact and feedback, then public study groups and forums may be your best bet. 

I like to ask students and parents, what's your ideal work environment for math? do you understand better at school with your peers, or do you do your best work quietly in the kitchen at home with no distractions?

So those are 7 metaprograms which reveal clues behind math behaviors, mindsets, and outlooks on life. And remember, the map is not the territory. Even better, metaprograms can be changed if needed. It takes time, but they are adjustable, all it takes is help.

Now that we've covered the mindset and mental gymnastics behind how students and parents approach math, let's talk about help. As you've probably heard in prior episodes, you know we've got 2 resources to tighten up your college prep game.

The first is for exam prep. We've got an ACT and SAT mastery toolkit, designed by Ivy League Experts. It's nicknamed, download an Ivy Leaguers Brain. And you can take a 7 day trial for just $1. The Mastery Toolkit guarantees you improve your ACT scores by 3 points, and your SAT scores by 150 points. And you can try it out for $1 for 7 days.

And for parents of students going to college, I've reserved a $250 college prep strategy session for you, absolutely free. I've partnered up with a college prep company, and in this free session, you'll get expert advice for how to plan for financial aid as well as the college prep journey.

To reserve your free college prep session, go to cpcshow.com. That's cpcshow.com. Or call 1-800-234-2933, that's 1-800-234-2933. Tell my assistant you're interested in the college prep session. One thing to consider, I'm only capable of reserving a few free spots per week, so if this resonates with you, be sure to call 800-234-2933 and book your free session.

Thank you for listening, and I'll see you in the next episode.