As with anything, sometimes you need a break from maths.

For me, maths is something that I have a real drive to learn more about. I don’t want to stop learning more about the subject and seeing which interesting and unexpected directions it can lead me. Maths is by far one of the most important aspects of my life – I feel that maths forms a substantial part of my identity. I don’t want to just accept what I know and accept what I don’t know and leave it at that – I want to keep pushing to know more and more.

But this comes at a price. Every now and again and without really realising it I can feel like a kind of exhaustion hits me and I realise I’m doing too much. I don’t realise it at first because I’m caught up in the whole learning process; the enthusiasm is there; I feel good when I’m learning and thinking about things in minute detail; dissecting proofs and theorems and trying to squeeze every last drop of knowledge that I can out of what I read and learn. But this can’t go on forever; it is very draining and energy intensive. It can be difficult to stop because I feel that I will forget things or that I’ll end up squandering my time when I could be doing something useful like doing learning more. At this point it’s got to the point of obsession and I’ve been here many times before; It’s neurotic John again.

As much as I don’t want to, I know that I have to take a break. I need to do something else for a few weeks or even a couple of months. And I think now might be a good time for me to do that. Maybe I won’t take a complete break from maths – after all, I’m a maths tutor so I can’t exactly not do ANY maths at all. But maybe I can turn to other things for a while like spending some time in my garden, spending time with my daughter or getting a bit more exercise.

I always find this part difficult because I feel that much of what I’ve been learning will be forgotten and that I’ll be taking a step backwards. This might be true; I might forget some things – I’m human after all, right? But by taking a break I give my brain a chance to have a bit of a change; in fact some things I will remember with even more clarity after having a break. And even though I might forget some things (which I might have forgotten anyway), in the long run I’ll be refreshed and my enthusiasm will return (it always does when it comes to maths) and then I can throw myself into things again and let the cycle play out all over again.

I think I’m writing this post,┬ámore than anything else, to convince myself that I need a break – but there is something that I want to make clear: sometimes you just have to take a break from what you’re doing. This is really true if you’re like me and you tend to get completely absorbed in things and become oblivious to what your body is telling you – I know there are, and have been, lots of my A Level maths students who remind me of myself when I was doing my A Level maths; they just want to learn more and more about the subject and nothing will stop them. But you do eventually have to draw the line somewhere; admit that you need a break and that you deserve a break from time to time. Though, you have to be honest with yourself – do you genuinely need a break or are you just looking for yet another reason to not do any maths for a while because if that’s the case then a break really won’t do you any good.


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