At first thought, nothing!
But bear with me a moment. Let’s quickly start with a recap of what Cognitive Fitness is in case you haven’t read any of my previous articles.
In the US, Cognitive Fitness is concerned with mental exercises to delay or avoid cognitive decline such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, (itself a form of dementia). But here in the UK, having founded the Cognitive Fitness Consultancy 25 years ago to help individuals and organisations think more effectively, we define Cognitive Fitness as, “Thinking in the right ways at the right time with flexibility, agility and strength”.
So rather like going to the gym to develop your physical fitness, being cognitively fit involves making a deliberate effort to actively develop your thinking skills. While it’s generally true that we become ‘better’, more effective thinkers as we age, due to experience, exposure to problems we need to solve and our ability to learn from others, like the gym, this development route is significantly slower and less effective than a planned and active development programme.
Of course, we are all different, and some people are naturally very talented at thinking in certain ways. You may be brilliant at mathematics for example, or you may be great at understanding and simplifying complexity. People who score highly on the personality trait of ‘conscientiousness’ tend to be naturally good at paying attention to, remembering and managing details. But what do we do if there are some kinds of thinking that we aren’t very good at, or worse, actually dislike and avoid doing? This is where my reference to peas comes in.
Not everyone likes peas. Children, in particular, can be picky eaters. Imagine if you are a parent and you’re trying to get your child to eat peas when they really don’t like them. What would you do? You can’t expect them to suddenly go from disliking peas to liking them – that would be impossible. The following strategy is much more effective …
Before you can get someone to like peas, you have to reduce their dislike of them. This sounds blindly obvious, but it’s a critical point. Only from a neutral position can we then move on to liking something we previously disliked. So back to peas; making funny and fun smiley faces using peas is a great strategy. As is mushing the peas up and wrapping them around an egg or sausage and covering them with breadcrumbs so there’s a pleasant surprise embedded in the parcel. Over time, your child’s neural pathways that relate to peas will be rewired, and, as if by magic they will forget their dislike of peas and start eating them as if it’s the most natural thing in the world!
Cognitive Fitness via flexibility is the same; it involves rewiring neural pathways. Only this time you’re practicing new strategies of thinking rather than eating peas. Identify the kinds of thinking you dislike and find someone who does like them. Have a conversation; what do they find fascinating, what strategies do they employ, how can you learn from them?
Does this sound too difficult? Would you like some help?
Start by learning more about the different kinds of thinking that we all use at work. Here’s a link to a sample report of the psychometric tool Thinking Styles™ which we use as a first step to increasing self-awareness.: http://www.cognitivefitness.co.uk/documents/2019/Thinking%20Styles%20sample%20report%202019.pdf
If you would like to discuss further or find out what your own cognitive strengths are, please get in touch with Dr. Fiona Beddoes-Jones (firstname.lastname@example.org )