Cognitive flexibility refers to our ability to disengage from one task and respond to another or think about multiple concepts at the same time. Individuals who are cognitively flexible will be able to learn more quickly, solve problems more creatively, and adapt and respond to new situations more effectively.
In 2016, a report from the World Economic Forum that looked at the future of jobs across nine different industries in 15 of the world’s largest economies, stated that employers in no distant time will place more emphasis on cognitive abilities like creativity and adaptability. That time in upon us.
So whether you’re a student or a working professional, building your cognitive flexibility is a great way to develop professionally and keep up with the ever changing work environment of the future. One of the best ways to become more cognitively flexible is to expose yourself to new experiences and ways of doing things, but if you’re not sure where to start, here are a few ideas.
How to Improve Cognitive Flexibility
1. Pay attention to your thoughts
Where does your mind go (or not go) when you’re called upon to share knowledge or experience?
2. Be intentional
Ask yourself some questions: What do you want to know? What do you want to talk about?
3. Create categories
Create mental categories for information and situations ahead of time so that you can more easily organize your experience. While reading the news, place article headlines into mental categories such as Environment, Politics, Arts, etc. so that you can easily pull up the information later on.
4. Align encoding and retrieval cues
Think about the functional meaning of the info, which context you’ll apply it to, and that will help you remember it when you need it. “Number one reason why start-ups fail isn’t cash flow but fact that people don’t want the product.”
5. Record your experience
Do a brain dump. Research says that if we unload our worries it frees up more space in our brain to think of other things throughout the day, therefore promoting greater flexibility.
6. “If you understand it, you’ll remember it.”
A friend told me this one recently and I think there’s a lot of truth to it. Oftentimes we have trouble recalling concepts because we don’t understand them as well as we thought we did.
7. Physical exercise
After only twenty minutes of intensive exercise, your brain releases dopamine, serotonin, opioids, endorphins, neurotrophics, and endocannabinoids—feel-good chemicals that allow the body and brain to learn and grow. For evolutionary reasons, the body is primed to learn while exercising. Exercise also enhances focus and lowers anxiety. Over time, it stabilizes mood, increases the size of the hippocampus, and promotes neurogenesis. All of these things enhance cognitive flexibility.
8. Learn new skills
Learning new skills promotes mental flexibility. Try picking up a musical instrument, a new foreign language, or learning a new game.
9. Shake up your routine
To keep the mind sharp and flexible, introduce new things into your routine. New stimuli promote mental flexibility because they force your brain to adapt quickly. Travel is great for this, but you can also simply take a new route home from work or go for a walk in a neighborhood you haven’t explored before. Occasionally surrounding yourself with people who are unlike you is also a good way to push your brain into making new connections.
10. Cultivate humor
Quick-wittedness is a sign of cognitive flexibility. When we make a joke, it means we’re able to step back and see the bigger picture rather than getting caught up in the literal meaning of the situation. Finding the humor in a variety of situations is an exercise in flexible thinking.
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Culled from: InformED.