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5, 4, 3, 2, 1... Making confidence count

6 Nov 2023

By Ishraq Li-Rahman, National Numeracy Training Officer, for Number Confidence Week

Numbers play an integral role in our daily lives, from phone contracts to newspaper headlines and cupcake recipes. Number confidence isn't about being great at or loving maths, but about feeling able to approach and work with numbers in daily life. It means being comfortable with calculations, budgeting, and making decisions that involve data.

Image of Ishraq Li-Rahman with a quote saying "Sometimes all it takes is a friendly ear to help someone feel supported and seen, and ready to tackle their fears"

This might look different for different people in practice; you might demonstrate number confidence when adapting a recipe to feed more people, or figuring out how much money you can comfortably save each month. Simply trusting yourself to work through a problem involving numbers is a great foundation for number confidence.

We might think that number confidence is only useful for those who work with numbers on a regular basis, but it’s useful for everyone of all ages no matter which walks of life they come from. It can help us feel more independent, manage our finances more effectively, open up job opportunities and reduce our stress levels. So, it’s important that we all try to take steps toward improving our number confidence – whether that’s by talking openly about how we feel, or building our skills a little at a time.

In this blog, I’ll give five top tips for talking about numbers, four reasons to try the National Numeracy Challenge, and three confidence-boosting techniques that we can use for numbers too. I’ll also share two pieces of advice I’d give my younger and present self, along with one confidence-boosting song that works like magic!

Five top tips for talking about numbers

  1.  Simply ask, "How do you feel about numbers?" It's a question we don't often ask and will give you and others the opportunity to express yourselves honestly.
  2. Be patient and listen, acknowledging others’ feelings and giving them space to express themselves. Sometimes all it takes is a friendly ear to help someone feel supported and seen, and ready to tackle their fears. This can go a long way in helping them overcome their maths anxieties – a problem shared is a problem halved, after all!
  3. Chat about the practical side of numbers, like organising your schedule, budgeting, or measuring out that perfect cup of coffee. Encourage your friends and colleagues to think of other ways they use numbers in their daily lives.
  4. Find common ground. Sharing your own experiences with maths, both positive and negative, can help create a connection and foster understanding. We all struggle with something, and mistakes are just part of learning.
  5. Some people might be puzzled by others' struggles with maths. Encourage them to reflect on the reasons behind their own confidence, such as supportive parents or a good education. It's important for everyone to appreciate that maths anxieties are common and often stem from personal experiences, not a lack of ability.

Four reasons to try the free National Numeracy Challenge

  1. You set the pace: We don’t set any time limits, so you decide how quickly or slowly you work your way through the questions, resources, and learning.
  2. It’s more than just maths: We offer plenty of confidence-building resources to help you too. These can be tailored to your reasons for learning, such as for work, your family, managing your money, or all three!
  3. Access to nudge: A free, unbiased, financial education platform. Once you’ve completed a quick check of your skills using the National Numeracy Challenge, you can get exclusive access to the nudge platform. Like the Challenge, it can be tailored to your interests – whether that’s saving up for a holiday, looking into a side hustle, or understanding mortgages.
  4. Bonus benefits: Improving our confidence and skill with numbers can lead to boosts in other areas of our lives, including our employability, our financial capability, and even our health and wellbeing!
Image showing a screen on the National Numeracy Challenge that asks "How confident do you feel with numbers today?"

Three ways you can boost your confidence and wellbeing in general (and how we can apply these to numbers)

  1. Reflect on your little wins: Taking the time to recognise where you have succeeded or reflecting on a recent achievement can be great for your self-esteem. But seeing the small steps we take toward progress (like simply being willing to tackle a maths problem) is important in helping boost our confidence too. 
  2. Set realistic goals: Breaking down your number-related challenges into smaller, manageable goals can help us stay the course. Achieving these smaller milestones on our way to larger goals can boost our overall confidence as we go. 
  3. Embrace mistakes: Learn to see errors as opportunities for growth. We can often learn more from getting things wrong than from getting them right. Understanding your mistakes and learning from them, instead of shying away, is a crucial step toward improvement and building our confidence.

Two personal pieces of advice on number confidence

  1. For my younger self: Don't be afraid to ask for help. You don't have to navigate the mathematical maze alone! Everyone has their own maths journey and pace, so don't let anxiety hold you back.
  2. For my current self: Keep practising the skills you want to keep. If it's not something you're doing regularly at work or at home, you might find yourself needing to shake off the rust whenever you next need those skills.

One song that gets you feeling confident, no matter what!

The classic hit "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor is an anthem that never fails to boost my confidence. Its empowering lyrics, upbeat rhythm and infectious chorus make me feel like I'm in my own training montage preparing to take on any challenge. So next time you need a confidence boost, slap on this song, turn up the volume and get ready to conquer your number-related fears!

Start your journey to number confidence...