Why Cognitive Flexibility Is Crucial & How Can People Improve It?
The term “cognitive flexibility” is often said to be an important part of understanding our thoughts and emotions, but what does it even mean? Simply put, it is a set of cognitive abilities including creativity, imagination, and curiosity, that work together to enable an individual’s understanding of navigating through different environments and situations. Cognitive flexibility is about learning and being flexible with the way we learn. Improving cognitive flexibility may help us with our decision-making, as we may be more open to thinking of and considering solutions that we may not have originally thought of before.
How does cognitive flexibility fit into our daily lives?
Cognitive flexibility allows us to observe a situation and then alter our decisions to best fit both our needs and the current situation at hand. This mental flexibility can be used to change anything from taking a new route to work or learning a new recipe for dinner.
A relevant example of how cognitive flexibility helps people conquer difficult situations would be how people coped during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Being inside for a lockdown created new challenges for everyone: it affected the way we work, learn in school, and interact with others. While many aspects of life changed, cognitive flexibility likely helped people learn to adapt to the new ways of living during the COVID-19 pandemic. Having good cognitive flexibility does not mean that someone is immune from facing hardships in life, but it may help make difficult times more bearable by helping people develop coping skills and creative solutions to push through.
Working on cognitive flexibility may translate to better emotional control. Someone may be more likely to have negative emotional reactions when presented with challenges if they do not know how to adapt or problem solve. Working on cognitive flexibility skills may help your clients become more resilient when life throws obstacles their way. It allows people to create connections between existing ideas and make new ones when needed.
Aside from supporting creativity, cognitive flexibility also supports academic learning and performing tasks at work. High cognitive flexibility is reflective of an individual’s creativity. For example, successful artists create masterpieces by using creativity to work with different materials and put them together to create paintings, sculptures, woodwork, and other works of art we appreciate everyday.
How can we improve cognitive flexibility?
For working on how cognitive flexibility may be applied for psychological well-being, people may seek to work with a psychologist who provides cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT. CBT is used to help people replace negative or unrealistic thoughts with more realistic and positive ones. Someone may seek CBT if they often have negative thoughts about themselves or a situation they are in and need guidance on improving their self-esteem and solving emotional problems.
Cognitively, someone may benefit from cognitive remediation therapy. This kind of therapy works on building the foundations of cognitive skills and helping people translate them to everyday life situations. Sometimes, this kind of therapy is done by using digital cognitive therapy tools or by using good cognitive therapy worksheets that focus on a variety of cognitive skills. Many people can benefit from this kind of therapy, as it helps improve cognitive abilities overtime and address cognitive areas we may be weak in.
Cognitive flexibility is a subset of skills that allows us to adapt to new situations, create connections between different pieces of information, and develop new ideas. In life, it helps us succeed in academics, helps us be better workers, and can help us create works of art. Working on cognitive flexibility may help us have better control over our emotions and help us handle difficult situations with grace. People wanting to improve their cognitive flexibility may seek to engage in psychological or cognitive therapy treatments depending on their needs.
WEF. “Why Is Cognitive Flexibility Crucial and How Can People Improve It?” The Standard, The Standard Group PLC, 4 Sept. 2021.