Don’t you wish that your brain could toggle two ideas at once? People envy us if we have cognitive flexibility.
Cognitive flexibility is essential for many reasons, especially as we get on in years. What’s exciting about it is that we can develop it at any age, and we suggest how.
What Is Cognitive Flexibility?
Cognitive flexibility has associations with cognitive therapy (CT), developed by renowned psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck. Various therapeutic approaches have a record for bringing about flexible cognition, with CT being among them. Beck promoted these therapies in the 1960s.
CT draws from the cognitive model, which stresses the link between thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Proponents of this school of thought believe that people can achieve their goals if they change their ways of thinking. They must eliminate limiting behaviors and emotions, as well.
Individuals must work with therapists the skills needed to change these negative beliefs and limiting thoughts. Therapists help their patients to alter behaviors. They customize treatment roadmaps and appropriate interventions for their clients.
Why Flexible Cognition Is Essential
Imagine if there is only one way to complete a task, and it is a roundabout method. If you had an extensive To-Do list, you’d be completely overwhelmed.
Flexible cognition allows you to view a task from different perspectives, and understand that there’s more than one way to complete it. The result? You’ll feel at ease because you can check items off your list.
For example, your task is to organize the clothes in your wardrobe. You can do so either by color, type, or size. As you become cognitively flexible, you will switch your perspectives with speed.
How to Improve Your Cognitive Flexibility
Research has proven time and again that it’s possible to make our cognition flexible. Here are a few science-backed ways to show how it is possible.
1. Change your routine
First of all, the basics. Cognitive flexibility should make your brain amenable to different ways of thinking, and not stress it. Start.
A simple way to develop flexible thinking is to do ordinary, routine things in new ways. Go to work via a different route. Instead of going to the gym, run in the park. Even small changes like using a different shampoo instead of the brand you usually use will strengthen your neural pathways.
2. Practice thinking creatively.
One of the best ways to build flexible cognition is to make it a point to think unconventionally. Practice divergent thinking.
A study by Dr. Robert Steinberg revealed that students benefit from being taught creatively. Their grades improved tremendously, and they applied what they learned in other areas of their lives.
Flexible thinking is spontaneous and flows freely. It requires letting go of limiting beliefs and embracing possibilities.
3. Forget your anxieties
Experts say that relieving your brain of your worries frees up space in it to consider the solutions to problems. You’ll also be able to think of other things throughout the day, which gives it more flexibility than before.
Meeting new people allows you to embrace new perspectives and become flexible in your thinking. You’ll learn that there’s more than one way to do things.
People exposed to new ways of thinking tend to challenge themselves and have great cognitive flexibility. A study found that college students who accepted new ideas had better moral reasoning abilities than their peers.
5. Transfer your learning.
Transferring knowledge is an excellent way to develop cognitive flexibility. You’ll form the links between knowledge networks and think creatively.
Your experience will not have much impact if you do not apply it. Some children may be able to perform complex mathematical calculations in school but had problems when doing so in real-world situations.
You can develop your ability to transfer knowledge by explaining concepts in your own words. Doing this will also help you to identify false assumptions.
6. Don’t take short cuts
Technology has brought us much relief. Mobile phones allow us to get in touch with loved ones at the touch of a button. Making life easier for ourselves, however, isn’t always the best way to build cognitive flexibility.
An appropriate level of difficulty can lead to improved learning and keeps the mind sharp. It also allows you to learn through experience. Try navigating your way around a new town by using a map. Do things the old-fashioned way.
7. Try something new
When you experience anything out of the ordinary, the synapses in your brain make new connections. New experiences trigger dopamine, which creates motivation. It also improves memory and learning.
You may travel to new places or volunteer in a new industry. Learning a new language or playing a new instrument helps as well.
After only twenty minutes of exercising, your brain will release serotonin, dopamine, opioids, endorphins, and endocannabinoids, which help it to grow. Exercising also improves cognition. The children who participated in one study showed that flexible thinking enabled them to develop to their full potential.
9. Be humorous
Crack a joke or two. Quick wit is a sign of flexible cognition. You’ll be able to step back and assess situations without being caught up in them. Being humorous is a way to develop flexible thinking and creativity.
10. Check your understanding
You can only apply new concepts and think in a flexible approach when you understand them well. Make sure that you have understood everything that you have learned.
In all, you can achieve cognitive flexibility and divergent thinking if you practice the things described above on a regular basis.
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