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Published on March 11, 2019

7 Most Important Cognitive Skills for Fast and Successful Learning

7 Most Important Cognitive Skills for Fast and Successful Learning

One of the biggest problems with the traditional education model is it works on the premise that one size fits all. As we now know, a one size fits all does not work well in a universal education system.[1] Everybody learns differently.

At the basic level, there are 4 learning types: visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinaesthetic and each of us are dominant in one or more of these types.

  • Visual learners learn better in an environment where there are a lot of visual stimuli. These people often have what is commonly called “photographic memories” where they see an image or a page of text and from the visual cues memorise whatever it is they see.
  • Auditory learners learn best when they can hear and listen to the subject they are learning. These people thrive in lecture halls, using podcasts and audiobooks.
  • Reading/writing learners find reading and writing out what they learn a better way to learn.
  • Kinaesthetic learners need to be doing. Tell teaching or textbooks do not stimulate their brain’s learning centres, instead, they need to be doing whatever they are learning. These people do well in school science labs or in the art or woodwork rooms. Here they can practice what they learn in real time.

However, on top of these basic learning types, there are also cognitive skills which are related to the way our brain processes information. There are 5 primary cognitive skills: reading, learning, remembering, logical reasoning, and paying attention. Each of these can be utilized in a way that helps us become better at learning new skills and developing ourselves.

Understanding where we are strong and where we are weak helps us improve what we learn and how we learn. For example, most people find that when they learn something new at a workshop and don’t apply that learning to a real situation soon after the workshop, whatever they learned is soon forgotten. This is part of the cognitive skill of remembering and being able to translate what you learned to a practical situation (logical reasoning).

One of the advantages we have over our ancestors is the almost limitless access we have to free education. Websites such as ted.com, YouTube and millions of web pages on Google give us limitless possibilities. You can learn anything from how to polish shoes and tidy your house to quantum physics, and applied mathematics.

No matter what it is you want to learn, you can learn it. However, with those almost limitless possibilities, you will not learn anything effectively unless you know and understand what kind of learner you are.

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So, to help you become more effective at learning, here are 5 ways you can use your natural learning type with cognitive skills:

1. Discover Your Dominant Learning Style

This will appear obvious once you start to think about the way you naturally learn.

For example, whenever I want to learn something new, I will begin on YouTube. I am a very visual person and I need to see how to do something.

Recently, I have been learning how to fold clothes the Marie Kondo way. I regularly have an item of clothing on the table and Marie Kondo on YouTube ‘showing’ me how to fold. What I am doing is taking my naturally dominant visual and kinaesthetic learning style and applying the cognitive skill of logical reasoning to learn the best method for folding clothes.

A two-minute video of Marie Condo folding a tee-shirt while I am following the instructions ensures I am internalizing and applying the correct method to fold a tee-shirt.

2. Experiment with Different Channels of Learning

If you are not sure what kind of learner you are, then experiment.

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Take a subject you want to learn and start off by reading around the subject. Then watch a video or lecture on the subject. After that, apply the knowledge you have learned.

For example, if you were to improve your presentation skills, you could do a simple Google search for an article about the top ten ways to improve your presentation skills, read that, and then do a similar search on YouTube. After you have read the article and watched the video, apply your new knowledge to your next presentation. That way you reinforce the knowledge you learned and internalise your new skill and you also discover which learning points you remembered more readily.

3. Practice Focused Work

One of the weakest cognitive skills for most people is the ability to pay attention. In a world where we are being distracted and interrupted multiple times a day, it is very difficult to stay focused on what we need to stay focused on. Teaching ourselves to be comfortable with our phones turned off and all the notification on our computers off is one of the best ways to strengthen your attention skills.

You do not have to go all day with your phone and notifications off. All you need do is turn everything off for set periods of time each day. Likewise, if you are in a meeting or training course, turn off your phone completely while you are in a session. These days, facilitators understand the need for people to be in contact with the outside world so there are regular breaks for you to catch up with messages and important emails.

Learn more about practicing focused work in this article:

17 Ways Deep Work Will Help Wipe Out Modern Distractions and Refocus

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4. Seek as Many Different Ways You Can to Take Advantage of Your Preferred Learning Style

To help reinforce your new knowledge, do not rely on just one way to practice your new skill.

For example, if you have spent some time learning how to write better emails, then apply your new learning by writing a journal, or writing a blog. Both a journal and a blog do not have to be published, you can keep them private. What you are doing is applying your new writing skills in a variety of different ways which strengthens your brain’s capacity for flexibility and allows for a larger scope where your new skills can be applied.

5. Reinforce Your Knowledge by Reviewing What You Learned in Your Less Dominant Learning Style

While we all have a preferred learning style, it is wise to review your new skills in a different way. If you are a visual person and you have devoured every chart, image and infographic you can about your new skill, then find a written article or book on the subject and read that.

The more ways you study your new skill, the faster you internalize the skill itself. Doing this helps your brain to ‘fill in the missing gaps’ of what you have learned and strengthens your knowledge.

While our dominant learning style will always be the best way to learn, we still need our less dominant way of learning to help with the retention and deeper learning required to really master a skill.

6. Apply Your New Knowledge in a Practical Way

This works on the principle that if you don’t use it, you lose it.

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Think back to your foreign language classes at school. Most people very quickly forget the new language if they do not use it consistently after they have learnt it. Even with your native language, you might learn a new word or phrase, but if you never find a need to use that word, you soon find you cannot remember it.

Our brain’s neurones need regular exercise. Without it, like a muscle, they shrivel and die.

7. Use Your New Skill as Quickly as Possible

Imagine you were to attend a sales training workshop. On day one, you learn about meet and greet and asking questions. At the end of that first day, practice what you learned. On the way home, start a conversation with a stranger on the bus or train. Alternatively, if you call at the supermarket on your way home, talk to the cashier and practice asking them questions.

The important part of doing this is you are strengthening the learning process. What your brain has now done is taken something you learned in theory and applied that to a real situation in a practical way. You can adjust the theory to fit better with your personality and very quickly asking questions becomes almost natural.

This strategy works with almost any new skill you learn. When I learned to drive a car, my instructor taught me to hold the steering wheel at the ten minutes to two position. I found that position uncomfortable and after passing the test, I found myself more comfortable holding the steering wheel at fifteen minutes to three. Much more comfortable for me. Changing the way I hold the steering wheel does not prevent me from driving in the correct, but it just works better for me.

The Bottom Line

When you apply the science of learning to the skills you want to learn, you increase the chances of succeeding at learning. It also speeds up the learning process as you are naturally developing the parts of your brain that learn the fastest.

Over time as your skills grow, you can deepen the learning by reviewing different ways of developing the skill.

More Resources About Effective Learning

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity?

More by this author

Carl Pullein

Dedicated to helping people to achieve their maximum potential through better time management and productivity.

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Last Updated on March 19, 2019

How to Ask for Help When You Need It Most

How to Ask for Help When You Need It Most

Nod your head if you’ve ever had to ask for help at work, at home or anywhere else. Now, nod again if you’ve ever felt shy or silly when doing so.

I’m sure some of you reading would have nodded twice!

Whether it’s not knowing the answer to a question in class and looking around to see if your classmates knew, getting stuck on a project at work and needing to get additional input from colleagues, or just being in a new city and needing help with directions, we’ve all been down this road before.

We may not know what to do, and clearly would benefit with some help, yet we won’t–or are afraid to–ask for help. We either very reluctantly do so eventually, or decide to suffer in silence altogether.

Why Are We so Afraid of Asking for Help?

So what stops us from seeking the help that we need? Sometimes it might be that we fear requesting assistance as we don’t want to seem weak, needy or incompetent in front of strangers, our peers or superiors.

Especially if you’re in a competitive work environment, there is an understandable fear that if you let your guard down, this information about you not knowing will be used against you. If you’re too open about asking for help, people may start associating you as the leech who’s always relying on someone, and you’ll start to appear incapable in front of your peers. And as much as you would like to play a fair and just game, the reality is that not everyone thinks that way. There will be overly aggressive individuals out there who will gladly walk over you to get to the top in their career.

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Not to mention, your reputation is at stake. If word got out that you had to seek help of some form, you’ll feel embarrassed or perhaps insecure. You might feel less confident about your abilities and worry about what others think of you. You’re afraid to attract that kind of attention at work.

Unfortunately, we all have a natural tendency to judge ourselves harshly–often thinking of situations much worse than they actually are in reality. As a result, we also miss out on a lot of potential knowledge or help. If only we were able to see past all that self imposed negativity! Or, at least learn how to manage such situations in a more confident manner.

Meet Paul

I have a friend by the name of Paul who runs his own company. He started at a young age and is already a very successful business man at age 40.

When I ask Paul to name something he does to stay focused and on track in life, he tells me that he has a life coach. He has regular monthly sessions with a life coach who helps him through different aspects of his life.

“It almost sounds like a counseling session”, I told Paul.

He simply replied, “Yes.”, with a smile.

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To Paul, the purpose of having a life coach is to give him perspective and to call out on areas of his life that he may have missed out on or neglected.

He see’s having a life coach as a benefit to his success, and not as a sign of weakness.

We’re Seeing It All Wrong

This got me thinking. Many of us automatically assume that going for counseling, taking self help courses, or seeing a life coach means that something unpleasant has happened or is happening in your life. The word help is regarded as a negative.

But the truth is, if we can turn “help” around to see it as a positive act, then going for any of the above would actually be an empowering act.

You need not be in some dire state to seek change. You also don’t have to be at some terrible dead-end or crossroad in life only to seek help. It may just be that you’re wanting to better improve your wellbeing, or to go through some self development to become a better you.

Everyone goes through periods of change in their lives. Whether it’s naturally occurring, or a ‘forced’ change, it’s always meant to improve our well being, and allow us to become better versions of ourselves. But we can’t always make or go through change alone, and that is completely normal. So we should embrace that fact and know that seeking help from someone or somewhere is a perfectly normal thing to do, and not something to be ashamed of.

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Help Is Not a Form of Weakness 

In Paul’s case, having a life coach helps give him an extra set of eyes so that he can envision his life and plans much clearer.

As a busy working professional, he has many responsibilities to attend to alongside being a father and husband. In order not to burn out or lose sight of his goals, Paul’s life coach acts as a reminder and offers him new insights to problems or situations that Paul may find himself in.

This is applicable to any form of help and not limited to what a life coach can bring to the table. Research has proven that having a support system has many positive benefits, such as higher levels of well-being, better coping skills and a longer and healthier life.

If this isn’t enough to convince you, even the most successful people like Richard Branson and Warren Buffet require asking for help and have other people advise them.

Take athletes for an example. Behind every successful athlete, or any athlete for that matter, is a coach. He or she is there to train and guide them on their path to greatness. Coaches have the ability to point out blind spots and play on the athlete’s strengths. The athlete focuses on a current or specific training routine, but the coach already has a bigger plan mapped out and that one training routine that the athlete is focusing on, is but one of many more training routines that will eventually lead to the athlete succeeding and outperforming. Without the coach’s vision to map that out and guide the athlete, the athlete will be training blindly, and not maximising his efforts.

Seeking Help Is Strength

By taking an active step in seeking help or advice, you’re actually taking control of your life, and not letting external circumstances (such as what people think) affect how you behave and perform. It is courageous to accept your weaknesses!

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So if you’re at a point in life where you’re wanting some change to happen, or feel stuck in a rut, it’s time to turn your weakness into strength by seeking help.

Here at Lifehack, we’re committed to your personal development. We want to be your transformational coach, to pull you out of that rut so you can be up and going again. Even if you’re not feeling stuck or at a crossroad, there is always more that you can do to improve and upgrade your life.

Want to learn how to save more time than wasting it? Or how to find out what you should be focusing on at present? Perhaps you just simply want to learn how to ignite that spark of motivation within you again to either pursue new interests or to continue pushing ahead with existing goals.

Learning never ends. So no matter your age, we’re here to guide you towards becoming a better you.

If you’re keen to take that step towards becoming a better you, begin a journey of transformation with us here!

As we guide you through important lessons and Cornerstone Skills that will significantly change your life, you will live the life you’ve always wanted!

Featured photo credit: Andre Maliik via unsplash.com

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