Our brain is a vital organ that controls various aspects of our thoughts. Cognitive skills are brain-based skills that include our brain’s crucial functions of acquiring knowledge, processing information, retaining it in memory, paying attention, reasoning, and solving problems. It makes us realize that strong cognitive abilities are the ground requirements to grasp and process information better and promote effective learning.
Major Cognitive Functions
Cognitive functions involve several processes associated with your brain. These functions are generally stronger in childhood. Aging and illnesses may cause cognitive functioning to diminish. The most important cognitive functions include the following:
- Long-term memory – Helps to retain information in your memory and recall it when required.
- Short-term memory – Enables you to remember instructions and follow directions.
- Pay attention – Supports you to focus on the work at hand, avoid distraction, and multitasking.
- Reasoning and problem-solving – Helps you think logically and find solutions to problems.
- Processing auditory information – Enables you to analyse and internalise sounds, thereby helping you to interpret what you hear.
- Processing visual information – Supports you in analysing and processing visual representations such as images and tables, processing the information, and interpreting the inputs.
- Speed of processing information – Helps you perform tasks quickly and accurately.
Importance of Cognitive Skills in Students
The brain uses cognitive skills to learn, think, remember details, focus and solve problems. The cognitive skills of children differ in various stages of development. From using their senses to learn and interpret objects around them to using logic and reasoning to solve problems, children develop their cognitive thinking and intellect to interact with their surroundings.
Each cognitive function helps a child in processing information. Weak cognitive skills in one or more areas result in learning struggles. Students with weak cognitive thinking often face one or many of the following difficulties in their learning:
- Poor memory retention – Difficulty in recalling information that they know.
- Struggle to follow directions and understand multi-step instructions.
- Difficulty in thinking logically – Getting stuck with concepts involving logical reasoning.
- Struggle to find solutions to problems and seek others’ support for the same.
- Trouble in reading or comprehending text.
- Struggle to read or interpret images, maps, graphs, etc.
- Difficulty in focussing or paying attention – Often get distracted
- Struggle to complete mentally challenging tasks on time and with accuracy.
Ways to Improve Cognitive Skills
Strong cognitive skills help process information efficiently, thereby promoting effective learning that lasts for a long time. Such skills help you in performing well in academics or your career. However, often due to aging or medical conditions, your cognitive functioning may not be as strong as it needs to be. But it is never too late to improve your cognitive skills.
1. Challenge your brain
Studies confirm that people engaging in complex, novel mental activities can enhance their cognitive abilities. Engaging the brain with mental exercises protects it from degeneration and can improve your cognitive thinking, brain function, and connectivity. These exercises can engage your brain for improving your cognitive thinking:
- Learning a new language.
- Playing games that stimulate your brain, such as memory card games, chess, speller, or checkers.
- Solving puzzles such as crosswords, sudoku, or jigsaw
- Engage in creative ways – Writing, sculpting, or handicrafts.
2. Stress Reduction and Emotional Well-being
Stress can be a cause and effect of low cognitive abilities. Stress interferes in your thought process and has a significant impact on your performance. Cutting down on stress is an essential step in improving your cognitive skills. Reduced stress levels help in clarity of thoughts, improved focus and attention span. To fight stress, you can:
- Give time to your pastime activities such as art, dance, or swimming in your daily routine.
- Take a walk or listen to cheerful music and practise short meditations. These activities are stress-busters that yield positive thoughts in your brain.
- Occupy yourself in activities such as gardening or cooking that engage all your senses.
- Socialize and interact with people. Research proves that those who engage in social interaction display higher levels of cognitive functioning than others.
3. Physical Exercise
Exercising is an excellent tool to reduce anxiety, depression, and stress, leading to increased cognitive flexibility, thus improving the speed of processing information. Studies confirm that exercising increases blood flow to the brain. The increased blood flow boosts the hippocampus, a complex brain region responsible for memory retention and learning. Regular exercising helps in enhancing your ability to make decisions and problem-solving.
4. Nutritious Diet
Diet composition and calorie consumption have a vast impact on cognition and emotional well-being. Malnourishment leads to less energy, which impacts cognitive functioning. A healthy diet can prevent cognitive dysfunction and protect it from degeneration. A balanced diet, which includes whole grains, pulses, fruits, and vegetables, improves memory and concentration. You can also prevent neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive impairments by following a nutritious diet plan.
- Diet rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin B, and antioxidants support brain health.
- While caffeine in coffee is said to increase your alertness and concentration, too much of it can cause stress and anxiety, making it counterproductive. Hence, consume coffee wisely.
- Nuts are a good source of antioxidants and vitamin E, which protect the brain cells from stress caused by free radicals.
5. Adequate Rest and Sound Sleep
Sleep flushes out toxins, and clears your brain, and fosters concentration and focus. It restores our body and mind and helps in cognitive functioning, such as logical reasoning, concentration, and problem-solving.
Sleep deprivation and inadequate rest result in cognitive impairment that includes lack of focus and short-term memory issues. A prolonged period of sleep deprivation leads to a decline in cognitive functioning and cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
Hence, set your sleep cycle right. Avoid both daytime naps and using gadgets during bedtime.
Our brain is gifted with the ability to change. With a systematic approach, we can modify our cognitive thinking for the better. With enhanced cognitive skills come academic achievements, career competency, and progress. So, let us adopt the best lifestyle practices to improve our cognitive skills.