How To Improve Your Cognitive Skills in 5 Ways

Jennifer Herrity

Updated November 29, 2022

Published October 7, 2019

Jennifer Herrity is a seasoned career services professional with 12+ years of experience in career coaching, recruiting and leadership roles with the purpose of helping others to find their best-fit jobs. She helps people navigate the job search process through one-on-one career coaching, webinars, workshops, articles and career advice videos on Indeed's YouTube channel.

This article has been approved by an Indeed Career Coach

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Cognitive skills help you learn new information and are essential for problem-solving in the workplace. You can develop cognitive skills throughout your career and strategically improving them can help you excel in your profession.

In this article, we define cognitive skills, provide examples of these skills and explore how you can improve your own cognitive abilities.

What are cognitive skills?

Cognitive skills, or cognitive abilities, are the ways that your brain remembers, reasons, holds attention, solves problems, thinks, reads and learns. In the workplace, cognitive skills help you interpret data, remember team goals, pay attention during an important meeting and more. These skills help you recall previous information that may relate to your organization’s goals and help you make important connections between old and new information so you work more effectively.

Read more: The Importance of Cognitive Ability in Your Career

Examples of cognitive skills

Cognitive skills are often divided into five categories. Each of these cognitive skills reflects a different method that your brain uses to effectively interpret and use information.

1. Attention

This category includes sustained, selective and divided attention. Sustained attention helps you focus on a single task for a long period of time. Selective attention allows you to focus your attention on a single task even when there are distractions around you. And divided attention helps you retain information while successfully completing two or more tasks at the same time.  

2. Long-term and short-term memory

Long-term memory allows you to recall information from the past and short-term memory helps you retain recent information. Both long-term and short-term memory can help you with daily tasks, such as remembering the main points of a recent meeting, and remembering project instructions that were given in the past.

Read more: Best Games You Can Play To Improve Your Memory

3. Logic and reasoning

Logic and reasoning skills help you solve problems and generate ideas. You use logic and reasoning skills when you identify the needs of a consumer and go through a process of brainstorming and problem-solving to meet those needs. You also use logic and reasoning when you analyze data or compile reports.

Related: The Best Ways to Strengthen Your Logical Thinking Skills

4. Auditory and visual processing

Auditory processing helps you make sense of information that you hear and visual processing helps you effectively interpret images. These cognitive skills can help you with active listening and are essential in helping with interpreting visual data, such as graphs and tables. 

5. Processing speed

When you have high processing speed, your brain is able to more quickly interpret information and apply it to a certain task or project. Strengthening this skill can help to improve your productivity by improving your ability to efficiently and effectively complete tasks.

Read more: Skill Assessment Tests: Definition and Examples

How to improve cognitive skills

Strengthening your cognitive skills can help you perform better in almost every aspect of your job. Improving your attention skills can not only help you stay on task, but it can also help you be a more active listener, which can improve your relationships. Building your logic and reasoning skills can also help you generate creative solutions to difficult challenges. Here are a few ways you can improve your cognitive skills:

1. Reduce stress

Reducing your stress levels can help you focus and improve your attention span. Try to remove yourself from stressful situations if you can. If you cannot remove yourself, try stress-reducing activities. At work, you could take a brief walk around your workspace or, if possible, put in some headphones and listen to music to focus your thoughts. At home, consider taking time to exercise or do yoga. 

You can also reduce stress with simple meditation techniques by sitting in a quiet place, focusing on your breathing and being mindful of your thoughts. These stress-reducing strategies can improve your ability to concentrate and build attention-related cognitive skills.

2. Care for your body

Maintaining your physical health can improve your cognitive skills. Drinking plenty of water, eating a balanced diet and getting at least seven hours of sleep every night can improve your attention-related abilities and help you perform better in the workplace. Sufficient sleep can also drastically improve your memory skills, as sleep helps your brain sort through and store memories.

3. Practice focusing

You can actively improve your attention and memory skills by purposefully focusing your mind throughout the day. When you are at work, find ways to remove distractions, and see how long you can remain focused on a task without losing concentration. This could include placing your smartphone in a drawer or wearing headphones if your workplace allows it.  

You can also improve focus by engaging more senses. While at work, read a customer’s concern out loud, or if you are at home, try memorizing a poem or a favorite passage in a book by reading it repeatedly out loud.

4. Exercise your brain

Like any other muscle, you can find activities that target and exercise certain areas of the brain, improving the associated cognitive skills. Consider these activities to strengthen your cognitive abilities:

  • Read a book during your break or before you go to bed. 

  • Find puzzles that you enjoy, like a crossword or Sudoku.

  • Play chess or another game that engages your mind. 

  • Write a story, or memorize your favorite song.

Challenging mental activities can help you improve your memory, focus, reasoning and processing skills. 

Read more: 6 Simple Ways to Improve Your Memory

How to highlight cognitive skills during a job search

In addition to using cognitive skills in the workplace, you can also highlight your cognitive skills during your job search to help you become a more appealing candidate. Here are a few ways to display your cognitive skills while looking for a new position: 

Cognitive skills for your resume

A well-written and well-structured resume can itself be a representation of your strong cognitive skills. Clean structure and spacing illustrate your visual processing skills, for example. When you target your summary and objective statements to the details in the job posting, you display logic and reasoning skills that demonstrate how you can contribute to the company’s mission. You can also include cognitive strengths like problem-solving and active listening in your skills section.

Example: “Marketing professional with three years of market research experience. Analyzing consumer buying behavior and seasonal trends to create effective product marketing campaigns for target demographics.”

Related: 6 Universal Rules for Resume Writing

Cognitive skills for your cover letter

A cover letter requires that you professionally address your potential employer, creatively present yourself as the right candidate for the job and illustrate how you can benefit the company. As you meet these requirements through your cover letter, you display your ability to creatively solve problems, which in turn shows your logic and reasoning skills.

Example:  “I value planning sessions with my team because I am able to share my ideas with others and collaborate on creating the best product design. I always use data from previously tested designs to show the potential value in certain visuals that appeal to our target customers.”

Cognitive skills for job interviews

An interview will likely present many opportunities to display your cognitive skills. When answering a question, you can display your memory skills by referencing your research into the company or the original job description. You can show your attention skills by actively listening and responding to your interviewers. You can also demonstrate your logic and reasoning skills by solving hypothetical problems that the interviewers may present.

Example: “I understand that your company hosts a marketing conference every year to bring together professionals from different areas of our industry. These conferences would provide me valuable insight into what other companies are doing to meet the needs of their customers as well as the creative solutions they’ve found to increase brand loyalty.”

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