That’s a great question! I say that because ‘cognitive fitness’ means different things in different countries! That may sound crazy but it’s true.
In the UK, from an organisational and business perspective, we use the term ‘cognitive fitness’ to mean;
“Thinking in the right ways at the right time with flexibility, agility and strength”
But if you’ve grown up in the US for example, this isn’t how you will think about the idea of being cognitively fit. In the US, cognitive fitness is all about the mental exercises we can do to avoid age-related cognitive decline, which in its more extreme conditions is often called dementia or Altzheimers.
So just to be clear, I’m talking here about the UK version of ‘cognitive fitness’.
Cognitive Fitness is not about intelligence or ‘book learning’. It’s certainly not about college or university qualifications, and yet it’s one of the most important concepts that you will ever come across — especially at work. After all, it’s only the quality of your thinking that sets you apart from your colleagues and sets your organisation apart from your competitors.
Your Cognitive Fitness is your USP. It’s your ‘unique selling point’ and it’s absolutely what sets you apart from everyone else.
Almost unconsciously, we apply the idea of cognitive fitness to people at work, after all, it’s the quality and effectiveness of our thinking that leads to success in the workplace isn’t it? Things such as delivering on great projects, being creative and innovative, paying attention to critical details and somehow ‘being on the same page’ as clients to name just a few ways that our thinking skills and strategies influence our lives every day.
Both personally and professionally, we spend our whole lives thinking. And yet paradoxically it’s probably not something that most of us give much thought to … we just kind of do it and learn as we go along. Well that’s not a great strategy for learning to drive a car and it’s not a great strategy for developing your cognitive fitness either!
So as a starting point how can you become more cognitively fit?
Cognitive Fitness is really all about strategies. What kinds of things do you need to do if you want to think more effectively; with Flexibility, Agility and Strength? Understanding these three concepts is going to be your first step towards becoming more successful. After all, as Warren Bennis said, “The major challenge for leaders in the twenty-first century will be how to release the brain-power of their organisations”.
So let’s begin to explore the Cognitive Fitness strapline …
“Thinking in the right ways at the right time with flexibility, agility and strength”.
Flexibility involves using a variety of different strategies and kinds of thinking to achieve your outcomes; whatever they might be. One of the best exercises in flexibility is to take a multiple perspectives approach and look at a situation through the eyes of its various stakeholders. This is extremely valuable when you’re working with a team or a client and absolutely critical in any conflict situation. You need to become flexible enough to get to the stage where you’re able to hold different people’s perspectives in your head easily. This isn’t easy. It means not being wedded to a particular approach or outcome and being able to incorporate new ideas into your thinking. You need to be able to hold these conflicting ideas in your head easily without experiencing ‘cognitive dissonance’ – that is, without feeling any kind of internal conflict and being able to switch between different perspectives easily.
Agility is about your responsiveness. It involves self-awareness and understanding how other people think as well as being good at alternative scenario planning and thinking through contingencies and different options. Agility asks how quickly you can switch your approach and use these different strategies effectively? For example, being able to change your mental state so that your head is always in the best place emotionally and cognitively. Again, it’s not easy, which is why we have to make a deliberate decision to develop our Cognitive Fitness.
Strength and courage go together. The American writer Clare Boothe Luce said that “Courage is the ladder on which all other virtues mount”. Having the courage to be generous towards yourself and others whilst also being decisive and mentally tough, sometimes vulnerable yet always open and forgiving will make you become stronger and more resilient over time. It will make you a more valuable colleague and team member and a role model to others. It will create psychological safety for your team.
Developing your thinking skills and becoming more cognitively fit (UK style) will make you more likely to be promoted, more likely to be head-hunted and less likely to be made redundant. It’s worth doing!
And if you want to become more Cognitively Fit US style, that’s absolutely worth doing too! Mental puzzles, soduku, cross-words, learning something new, engaging in a hobby you are passionate about … all of these will help to delay cognitive decline and keep you young at heart and young in mind.
What is Cognitive Fitness?
Quite simply, it’s thinking in the right ways at the right time
(Please note that the infographic below is a representation only and is not a comprehensive list!)
Above is a useful summary of just some of the different kinds of thinking that exist. We will be exploring it more in future posts where we will also take the development of Cognitive Fitness further. To become involved in the discussion, ask a question or make a comment, contact: Dr. Fiona Beddoes-Jones, Charted Psychologist,