Multiple research studies support the view that cognitive development is positively correlated with expertise in that same area of development. Reaching toward your greatest potential also means increasing the depth and breadth of knowledge.
There are many ways to integrate learning into your day; read about new things, ask questions, spend time in unfamiliar situations, try to create something with limited or no instructions. When you make learning a part of your day, it encompasses much more than learning facts and figures. It changes the way you address problems and work through issues. It sets the stage for transferring ‘lessons learned’ from one discipline to another.
I like to stretch my ‘cognitive wings’ at least weekly with some of these activities.
Increase your crystallized intelligence
The Cattell-Horn-Carroll theory separates intelligence into 10 buckets of abilities. Whether you agree with labeling intelligence or the ability to measure intelligence, it is still intriguing how different demographics emphasize certain buckets of intelligence over others. Crystallized intelligence is the bucket measured in our school systems. How much of the lecture did you retain? How much of the book did you understand? I have two stances on crystallized intelligence; increase the depth of your relevant knowledge and the breadth of your general knowledge.
There are increased opportunities to use new information if you focus on learning about something relevant to you. If you are a new restaurant owner, connect with other experienced restaurant owners to learn more about delivering excellent service or satisfying a niche market. If your child needs help in math or physics, research and dig a little deeper so you can have a more robust conversation and even conduct experiments at home.
Learn about something you know absolutely nothing about. I was challenged to learn about educational psychology and cognitive development. This was out of my area of expertise but I found it was quite interesting once I gained a better understanding. I was able to use this knowledge later during a project that required retraining staff and implementing strong change management strategies.
Exercise your fluid intelligence
In the absence of explicit training and instruction, people rely on their fluid intelligence to think abstractly or solve problems. You have probably been in a situation where you had limited information and were forced to make a judgment call. You relied on your fluid intelligence to assess what was going on and address the issue in a unique way.
Fluid intelligence is shown to decline with age so it is important to stretch your abilities to slow the atrophy. When time permits this week, trouble-shoot a problem before seeking help, build a Rube Goldberg machine without directions, or cook a new dinner without a recipe. Do not worry about failing, though. It is about learning from your successes and failures. Thomas Edison submitted over 1,000 patents, many of which were failures. However, he is typically viewed as very successful.
Creative and divergent thinking rely on fluid intelligence and tend to use different pathways in the brain than traditional problem-solving and logic. Stretch your creative and divergent thinking abilities at least once a week. The next time you look at an object like a coffee maker, try to think of as many uses for it (and its component pieces) as you can. For example, the carafe can be an ant farm and I can hide presents in the water reservoir. As for its components, it has plastic, metal, and glass pieces. The metal can be used to conduct electricity, the glass can cut something, and the plastic can be melted and used as a coating.
Train the little things
Periodically, try to:
- Memorize something for both short- and long-term memory
- Time how long it takes to answer a battery of test questions (cognitive reaction time)
- Test your visual memory by looking at a display in the store window for 10 seconds and then trying to remember as many items as possible. Train your tactile and auditory memory in the same fashion
- Stretch your quantitative and verbal reasoning muscle by doing some math or writing an article.
Exhausted yet? Incorporate one new activity a week for the next four weeks and assess whether your cognitive prowess is expanding. Building depth and breadth of knowledge helps propel you closer to your potential.