Cognitive Skills: What They Are and How We Can Boost Them

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cognitive skills

You’ve probably thought a million times how life would be better if you could learn faster, focus more easily, make better decisions, or solve problems instantly. Guess what — all this is actually possible! All you need to do is work on your cognitive skills.

What Exactly Are Cognitive Skills?

Cognitive skills are a range of mental skills that we use to acquire information, understand the world around us, and react to it.

They play an essential role in the way we generally function. We use them for all the activities in our everyday lives: learning, reading, playing, paying attention, etc.

The six core cognitive skills are:

  • Attention
  • Perception
  • Memory
  • Logic and reasoning
  • Processing
  • Mobility

Let’s learn more about them.

1. Attention

Attention is a person’s ability to focus on a certain activity, thought, or an object. It’s an important skill, as being able to focus on your work or any other action for a long time will boost your results. That’s why it is the primary skill you should try to improve.

There are three types of attention: sustained, selective, and divided.

  • Sustained attention is the ability to focus for a long time without being distracted.
  • Selective attention means that you can focus on a certain activity, but you might get distracted from time to time, especially due to other attention-grabbing factors (for example, talking to a friend at a loud party).
  • Divided attention is the ability to multitask. However, concentrating on two or more things at once often results in making mistakes.

2. Perception

Perception is the way we recognize things using our senses and brain. There are many types of perception, but the most important are the following:

  • Visual perception: the ability to understand information based on what we see. For example, when we are driving, we need to be able to interpret many things we see at once: the cars around us, the traffic signs, the pedestrians that might cross the street. This is one of the reasons it is important to work on our visual perception.
  • Auditory perception: the ability to interpret information based on what we hear. For instance, when talking to a friend, I will understand what they are saying, but from their tone, I can also notice if they are sad, happy, or excited.
  • Spatial perception: the ability to understand how things are located in space around us. This is the skill we use to walk, dress, recognize shapes and sizes, or park our cars without hitting anyone.

Everyone perceives things like tastes and feelings in their own way. For example, a situation that may be stressful for one person might be relaxing for someone else.

3. Memory

There are two types of memory: long-term memory and short-term memory.

Short-term memory is working, active memory. It may last anywhere from five seconds to a couple of days. For instance, you probably remember what you had for breakfast this morning, but you won’t remember it next month.

However, when information is important to you, especially in an emotional way, it will be stored in your long-term memory. These are the facts, events, or actions that you will remember in the weeks, months, and years to come.

4. Logic and reasoning

Logic and reasoning refer to the way we interpret logical sentences and situations. These skills reflect on how well you can think clearly, make decisions, solve problems, and handle different situations.

With deductive reasoning, we make specific conclusions based on broad concepts (very much like Sherlock Holmes). On the other hand, inductive reasoning is making generalizations based on specific observations.

While both of these processes are important for our everyday lives, deductive reasoning is more difficult to improve.

5. Processing

Processing refers to our ability to think and understand different concepts. Good processing skills will help you remember information faster and think more clearly.

6. Mobility

Mobility is the way we move our muscles and body parts according to the situation. By improving it, you’ll be able to move faster and more precisely.

So, How Can We Boost Our Cognitive Skills?

I remember that when I was a child, learning new things was so easy. Not just easy — it was fun! I used to pick up all sorts of trivial information, learning French verbs was like a big game to me, and I could solve any puzzle my parents put in front of me.

Now, however, remembering new information is so difficult. Luckily, it’s not because I got less intelligent over the years. It’s just that my cognitive skills are not what they used to be.

In our childhood and adolescence, we actively develop our cognitive skills. Yet, as we grow older, they slowly start to decline. Still, there is no need to worry — cognitive skills can be improved at any age.

Just like we have to work out regularly to keep our bodies in shape, our brains also need some of their own exercises. Different cognitive abilities are caused by processes in different parts of the brain. This is why you should do various types of activities to improve them all.

For this reason, I’ll give you the seven best activities that will boost your cognitive skills.

#1. Exercise regularly

You probably know that regular physical activity does wonders for your brain. Studies have shown that it stimulates the growth of new brain cells and prevents your mental skills from declining as you grow old.

Because of that, exercising is crucial for your cognitive skills. It will boost your memory and thinking. Furthermore, you will have more energy and sleep better.

#2. TV and books

Watching TV can be great for your mental skills. However, you should pick content that is mentally stimulating for you. Watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians won’t be helpful here!

You must choose something that requires more attention, and that will make you ask questions. Therefore, find some interesting documentary or watch a movie with a complex plot.

Additionally, reading is a great tactic for improving your skills. A good non-fiction book will keep your brain stimulated.

Alternatively, you can choose any well-written novel. Reading fiction will give you a new perspective. In the end, you’ll be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

#3. Find a new hobby

Learning new things is an excellent exercise for your brain. Any new hobby will do.

You’ve always wanted to learn more about gardening? Now is the time to do it. Do you want to learn how to dance? Go for it!

Finally, if you’re a fan of music, take up a musical instrument. Learning how to play it is good for both motoric and perception skills.

#4. Challenge yourself with puzzles

Your brain needs a challenge, and puzzles can provide it.

For example, Rubik’s Cube and Sudoku will significantly improve your logic and reasoning skills. Jigsaw puzzles are amazing for both logic and visual perception.

Moreover, you can give crosswords a try. They have become my obsession lately and have really boosted my processing skills.

Additionally, puzzles are a good tool because you will be able to see results. As you practice, what was initially hard will become easy, and you’ll move on to more challenging levels. That way, you can track your progress.

#5. It’s time to play!

Just like puzzles, games will boost your brain activity. There are so many options here, and they’re all fun!

For instance, board games can be very stimulating and fun at the same time. Get Monopoly or Cluedo, invite your friends over, and host a game night!

Also, don’t forget about card games. Your strategic skills will skyrocket as you try to beat your opponents and foresee their moves.

Another game that you shouldn’t miss out on is the king of strategic games — chess. As every game is different, you will need to come up with a new strategy every time you play it.

Finally, if you’re a fan of trivia, quizzes can be your way to improve cognitive skills. Watch Jeopardy or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and try to guess the answers before the contestants. Alternatively, you can organize a quiz night with your friends or do quizzes online.

#6 Get back to school

At a young age, one of the main reasons for the development of our cognitive skills is the fact that we have to learn and remember skills, and later, study. However, once we finish school, we usually forget all about it. Consequently, our skills stagnate.

Therefore, if you want to improve our cognitive skills, go back to the classroom. Studying and revising will boost your memory drastically.

For example, find a course or a workshop that is interesting, but also demanding. Alternatively, if you’re up for a more challenging task, start learning a foreign language. It will do wonders for your cognitive skills!

#7. Reduce stress

High amounts of stress are detrimental to our cognitive skills. Unfortunately, everyday life is quite stressful. So, to deal with it, try to engage in different relaxing activities.

Give meditation a try — it will not only reduce stress but will also improve your cognitive skills. A nice, relaxing massage is another good option. Finally, drink enough water, take regular naps, or go to personal counseling.

Conclusion

Developing your cognitive skills will help you in all aspects of your life. Whether you want to advance in your career, concentrate better on your studies, or just think faster, you will benefit from them. Therefore, grab a Sudoku book, turn on a TV quiz, or hit the gym, and start improving yourself right away!