Five things Mo Farah can teach you about maths (and other things too)

Mo Farah running away from Wile E Coyote

(Image from mofarahrunningawayfromthings.tumblr.com)

OK, I’ll admit it. I have a bit of a man-crush on Mo Farah. However, I’m going to sully the purity of my man-love for super-Mo by cashing in on his success with a list post.

1. Train hard, race easy

After his victory in the Olympic 5,000 metres final, my man Mo was very quick to credit the hard work his coach had had him put in: it was all about the hard work and grafting. Because he’d put all that work in ahead of time, building his strength with impossibly hard hill-runs at altitude, running 120 miles a week, moving to where he needed to be — he had the legs to hold off his rivals in that desperate last sprint for the line.

That’s why, when you’re studying for an exam, you should ideally practise questions much harder than the ones you’re going to need in the test. If you know how to do the hard stuff, everything else seems easy — and you have a bit left in the tank in case of a really hard exam.

2. You need good people on your team

As well as highlighting the phenomenal amount of effort he put into his training for his double-gold success, lovely Mo was quick to thank his wife, his coach, his training partner and the crowd that had cheered him non-stop for nearly quarter of an hour. How gracious!

The point is, however outstanding an athlete Farah is, he would not have won either of his races without support from the people around him. Some of them are paid to support him; some of them are friends and colleagues; and some of them just wanted to see a British athlete succeed*. You need the same with your studies: a team of people who can support you emotionally, mentally and technically, so you can take strength from them in your own personal final.

3. Believe in yourself

Mo isn’t just a terrific athlete. He was also the first person to beat The Cube — which is pretty impressive, given that he probably didn’t train for it.

The amazing thing about this clip (for me) is that he asks Philip Schofield if he can get advice from his family and friends, all of whom are saying ‘take the money, you fool.’ Before he even gets to the last one, they’re obviously clocking the look he’s giving them and starting to backpedal with “of course, it’s up to you…”.

There’s no way Mo would say ‘actually, Phil, that looks a bit hard, I don’t think I’m up to it.’

4. Get feedback

There’s a shock, midway through Mo’s final task on the cube, where he shows that he’s fallible. He knocks the bar off and the audience groans. But Mo’s not the sort to give up — he just asks one question of no-one in particular: “was I close?” The feedback means he can decide whether he needs to do the same thing, but better, or if he needs to rethink his strategy altogether.

As it turned out, he was close and just needed a tiny adjustment to win the quarter-million quid Schofe was cruelly making him perform for.

You can use this to your advantage, too: when something goes wrong, ask for feedback on how you did. You can use it to figure out if you were close (maybe just made a careless error) or if you need to find another way to approach your obstacles.

5. Do a little dance when it all works out

When Mo – or his friend Usain Bolt – win a race, which is pretty much always, they do a little dance to celebrate. Bolt has the To Di World pose; Farah has the Mo-bot. It’s a little ritual to say “I just kicked arse [again] and I feel good about it.”

Celebrating your successes is a good thing. It encourages you to have more of them. You don’t need to pull a silly pose when you do well in a test – but a celebration of some sort is certainly in order.


If you’re so inclined, you can donate to the Mo Farah Foundation here.

* The next time someone bangs on about how immigration is terrible and how all of them Islams should be sent home, do remind them that Mo Farah is a Somali-born Muslim who’s won more gold medals for Team GB than they have.

Colin

Colin is a Weymouth maths tutor, author of several Maths For Dummies books and A-level maths guides. He started Flying Colours Maths in 2008. He lives with an espresso pot and nothing to prove.

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