By Matthew Canning, Become Better at Everything Founder
Look, I know you count with your fingers—we all do from time to time—so you might as well do it like a pro. You’re an adult, and you face issues that require adult-sized numbers. You have ten fingers, but that doesn’t mean you need to stop at ten. How does 899 sound?
Tools you’ll need: Ten fingers and working wrists.
A speedy counting method known as Chisenbop was developed in Korea centuries ago. It provides an easy method for counting to ninety-nine on your fingers. We’re first going to learn basic Chisenbop and then extend it using some simple customizations I developed.
I’ve seen other methods that allow you to count beyond ninety-nine, but they involve learning binary or hexadecimal notation. They are difficult to learn and aren’t worth all the work involved. Chisenbop relies only on knowledge of our current (decimal) counting system, and my extension just takes advantage of the fact that our hands can point in different directions, allowing us to represent different increments of one hundred.
First, let’s learn basic Chisenbop.
Step 1: 0 through 9
Take your right hand, and hold it with your palm facing down. Ball your fist so that no fingers are extended. This represents zero. Extend your index finger. This represents one, adding your middle finger represents two, adding your ring finger represents three, and adding your pinky—that is, all four fingers extended—represents four. Now close them all and go back go zero. Extend your thumb. Your thumb alone represents five, adding your index finger to your thumb represents six, etc., until you’ve extended every digit on your right hand (nine).
Step 2: 10 through 99
Take your left hand, and hold it with your palm facing down. This hand represents the tens place. Ball your fist so that no fingers are extended. This represents zero, so if your left hand is in a ball, anything you do with your right hand will simply represent zero through nine. Now, follow the same system you used for your right hand, but know that each digit represents ten. An index finger represents ten, index and middle represent twenty, etc. Your thumb represents fifty.
Example: A five (just the thumb) on your left hand and a seven (thumb plus two fingers) on your right hand would together represent the number fifty-seven.
Everything you learned so far is standard Chisenbop. Spend a few minutes getting familiar with this.
Let’s grow beyond basic Chisenbop.
Step 3: 100+
From your perspective, both hands palms-down means the number you’re representing with your fingers is between zero and ninety-nine. This means, for example, that your left and right index fingers extended with your palms facing down equals 11. Basic Chisenbop.
However, with your left palm down but your right hand turned ninety degrees clockwise (so that your right thumb faces the sky), you represent a number between 100 and 199. In such a case, both index fingers extended would represent 111.
See where I’m going with this? Let’s continue:
- With your left palm down and your right hand turned 180 degrees clockwise (so that your right palm faces up): 200 – 299.
- With your left hand turned 90 degrees counterclockwise (so that your left thumb faces the sky) and your right hand palm down: 300-399.
- With both hands turned 90 degrees, so that both thumbs face the sky: 400-499.
- With your left hand turned 90 degrees counterclockwise (left thumb facing the sky) and your right hand turned 180 degrees clockwise (right palm facing up): 500-599.
- With your left hand turned 180 degrees clockwise (left palm facing up) and your right hand palm down: 600-699.
- With your left hand turned 180 degrees clockwise (left palm facing up) and your right hand turned 90 degrees clockwise (right thumb facing the sky): 700-799.
- Both hands turned one hundred eighty degrees, so that your palms face up: 800-899.
Spend a few minutes going through this quickly so that you get used to the pattern. With both fists closed, quickly represent 0, 100, 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, 700, and 800. Once you feel comfortable with the hand placements, practice by representing the following numbers as quickly as possible: 12, 88, 127, 321, 193, 685, 339. Once you represent a number, freeze and check your answer against the instructions above.
You can also randomly extend fingers and choose a hand placement, and then attempt to “read” the number you’ve represented as quickly as possible. Check yourself, and, if you made an error, spend a moment trying to figure out where things went wrong. Most of the time, there will be a pattern to your mistakes, and by addressing them, you minimize future mistakes of the same type.
A quick way to further reinforce this is by practicing with real-world examples. If you see a three-digit number in your daily life (the time on a digital clock, for example), attempt to represent it using your fingers as quickly as possible. While I understand if you’d like to do this discreetly when in public, it’s important to actually make the physical motion, as simply picturing your hands in your mind doesn’t help build muscle memory.
That’s it. Nice and simple. Happy counting.