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Published on February 2, 2021

How To Improve Your Visual-Spatial Skills

How To Improve Your Visual-Spatial Skills
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When I think of visual-spatial skills, I think of an aptitude test I took in high school where I had to analyze different shapes and figure out what they would look like if they were turned this way or that. I didn’t give it much more thought than that at the time, but visual-spatial skills are increasingly important in today’s world.

Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Visual-spatial intelligence is one of Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences. Gardner’s theory expands what we think of as intelligence. Instead of just academic intelligence, or book smarts, Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences leaves room for people to excel in other areas.

Gardner’s multiple intelligences include musical, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, existential, and visual-spatial.

Visual-Spatial Intelligence

Visual-spatial intelligence is the ability to visualize objects’ positions, shapes, movements, and their relationships to other objects. For me to grasp visual-spatial intelligence, I think about two things. First, that aptitude test I took in high school. I had to mentally flip objects around and move them to be able to get the test questions correct.

Second, Ikea furniture. Nothing makes me think visual-spatial intelligence (or lack thereof) like putting together some Ikea furniture. My husband was just building an armoire. I came downstairs and saw that one of the shelves should have been inverted and rotated to fit better into the frame.

That’s visual-spatial intelligence—being able to mentally picture how objects will look when they’re moved and how that will change their relationship to other objects. If I’m being totally honest, the shelf still ended up being upside down, so maybe my visual-spatial intelligence isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

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How to Improve Your Visual-Spatial Skills

Thinking about visual-spatial skills as intelligence might give you the impression that it’s innate—you’re either born with it or you’re not. But that’s not at all true.

I’m a big fan of Carol Dweck’s mindset theory, and I think it’s a great way to think about visual-spatial skills as well. A growth mindset is when you think that your skills and abilities are malleable—that you can improve with dedication and practice over time.

On the other hand, a fixed mindset is when you think skills and abilities (like visual-spatial intelligence) are fixed—that you’re either born with it or you’re not.

It’s important to have a growth mindset when it comes to visual-spatial skills. There are exercises and activities you can do each day to improve your ability to visualize objects, their relationships to other objects, and their positions in space.

1. Move Your Body

One way to improve your visual-spatial skills is to be one of those moving objects. That’s right—move your body.

Visual-spatial intelligence includes being able to visualize your body’s relationship to other objects in space, so movement that requires this kind of bodily intelligence can beef up your visual-spatial skills. Think dance and martial arts.[1] If you have to strain your brain to figure out which foot goes where, then you’re probably strengthening your visual-spatial skills as well as your body.

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You can also pay attention to objects’ shapes, sizes, and relationships to other objects, while you’re outside taking a walk. What’s in the background? What’s in the foreground? How far is that tree away from that creek? Study the scenery as objects and examine those objects’ position as compared to other objects.

2. Paint a Pretty Little Painting

Visual arts can also help your visual-spatial skills. I vividly remember watching Bob Ross paint his pretty little trees on PBS when I was a kid. I would watch for hours because I was fascinated by the way he could create such depth in his paintings.

When I painted, everything was the same size and on the same plane. Not Bob Ross. His paintings had objects with clear relationships to other objects. The mountains were in the background. The trees were in front of the mountains. Birds were flying here and there, from foreground to background.

What better way to enhance your visual-spatial skills than wielding your own paintbrush and painting your own happy little trees? Even if you’re no Monet, you’ll still be practicing the skill of visualizing objects and their relationships to other objects. You can even find Bob Ross’s tutorials on YouTube still if you want to learn from the master himself.

3. Ditch the GPS

While you’re at it, you might as well ditch your GPS the next time you’re driving or walking somewhere. GPS does us no favors in terms of visual-spatial skills. You don’t have to pay any attention to where you are or how you’re going to get yourself to point B when you’re using GPS.

So, turn off the phone and find yourself a map. Before your next adventure, study the map and figure out how to get from point A to point B. Studying maps is a great way to force your brain to boost its visual-spatial skills.

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4. Play Video Games

Video games are another way to work your visual-spatial skills. Think Tetris or Snood. I know I’m dating myself, but these games are a great way to visualize objects’ shapes, sizes, and relationships to other objects. They’re also a great way to visualize how objects will affect other objects when they move through space. It’s definitely a bonus that they’re also fun and a great way to pass the time on a long GPS-free car trip.

5. Try 3D Puzzles

There is also a whole slew of 3D puzzles you can try. I always think of the 3D Empire State Building puzzle but there are tons of other options. The sky’s the limit, really.

Even a regular puzzle is a fine way to practice your visual-spatial skills since you have to imagine what pieces will look like when they’re flipped and turned. So, find yourself a puzzle, hunker down, and boost those visual-spatial skills.

6. Bust Out the Brain Teasers

You can also find brain teasers that are reminiscent of that high school aptitude test I took.[2] These are just visual questions about which shape comes next to make a pattern or what this shape would look like if inverted or rotated. These brain teasers are also a ton of fun for children.

7. Build Stuff

Let’s say you’ve done the brain teasers and you’ve built the puzzles, and you’re still hungry for more visual-spatial skill-building. I’ve got you covered. You can literally build things.

When I was a kid, I competed in Odyssey of the Mind. We did the challenge where you had to build a structure out of balsa wood. The structure had to be super strong and endure weights and collisions, so the very act of designing and building this lightweight yet strong structure demanded intense visual-spatial skills and problem-solving.

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Now, you don’t have to build a balsa wood structure to boost your visual-spatial skills. You could build a contraption to protect a raw egg from a high fall. You could build a chicken coop. You could even build some Ikea furniture. It’s up to you, but if you want to keep your skills sharp, just build something.

8. Read

You can also boost your visual-spatial skills by reading. Any book that involves objects (including people) moving through space helps improve your skills. It’s way better than a film or TV show because you have to picture the action in your mind, and that’s what visual-spatial skills are all about: visualizing objects.

9. Pick Up an Instrument and Play

Studies have also shown that playing a musical instrument boosts your visual-spatial skills.[3] Again, this has to do with imagination and visualization. To play an instrument you have to picture how your body needs to move to create a certain sound.

So, the next time you’re plunking away at the piano, you can encourage yourself by saying that while you may not be the best pianist, at least you’re boosting your visual-spatial skills.

Why Visual-Spatial Skills Matter

More and more jobs require visual-spatial skills. It used to be the turf of architects and designers, but now an increasing amount of programming, computing, and tech jobs also require people to be able to mentally manipulate objects in space.

You need visual-spatial skills to be able to think abstractly and understand how details fit together to create the big picture.

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So, whether you’re painting, playing, building, or roaming, the results are the same. Boost your visual-spatial skills to better understand the world and your place in it and to finally be able to put together that Kleppstad armoire from Ikea.

More About Learning Styles

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Clay Drinko

Clay Drinko is an educator and the author of PLAY YOUR WAY SANE (January 2021 Simon & Schuster)

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

How to Stop Information Overload and Get More Done

How to Stop Information Overload and Get More Done
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Information overload is a creature that has been growing on the Internet’s back since its beginnings. The bigger the Internet gets, the more information there is. The more quality information we see, the more we want to consume it. The more we want to consume it, the more overloaded we feel.

This has to stop somewhere. And it can.

As the year comes to a close, there’s no time like the present to make the overloading stop.

But before I explain exactly what I mean, let’s discuss information overload in general.

How Serious Is Information Overload?

The sole fact that there’s more and more information published online every single day is not the actual problem. Only the quality information becomes the problem.

This sounds kind of strange…but bear with me.

When we see some half-baked blog posts we don’t even consider reading, we just skip to the next thing. But when we see something truly interesting — maybe even epic — we want to consume it.

We even feel like we have to consume it. And that’s the real problem.

No matter what topic we’re interested in, there are always hundreds of quality blogs publishing entries every single day (or every other day). Not to mention all the forums, message boards, social news sites, and so on.

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The amount of epic content on the Internet these days is so big that it’s virtually impossible for us to digest it all. But we try anyway.

That’s when we feel overloaded. If you’re not careful, one day you’ll find yourself reading the 15th blog post in a row on some nice WordPress tweaking techniques because you feel that for some reason, “you need to know this.”

Information overload is a plague. There’s no vaccine, there’s no cure. The only thing you have is self-control.

Luckily, you’re not on your own. There are some tips you can follow to protect yourself from information overload and, ultimately, fight it.

But first, admit that information overload is really bad for you.

Why Information Overload Is Bad for You

Information overload stops you from taking action. That’s the biggest problem here.

When you try to consume more and more information every day, you start to notice that even though you’ve been reading tons of articles, watching tons of videos and listening to tons of podcasts, the stream of incoming information seems to be infinite.

Therefore, you convince yourself that you need to be on a constant lookout for new information if you want to be able to accomplish anything in your life, work and/or passion. The final result is that you are consuming way too much information, and taking way too little action because you don’t have enough time for it.

The belief that you need to be on this constant lookout for information is just not true.

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You don’t need every piece of advice possible to live your life, do your work or enjoy your passion.

How to Stop Information Overload (And Start to Achieve More)

So how to recognize the portion of information that you really need? Start with setting goals.

1. Set Your Goals

If you don’t have your goals put in place, you’ll be just running around grabbing every possible advice and thinking that it’s “just what you’ve been looking for.”

Setting goals is a much more profound task than just a way to get rid of information overload. Now by “goals” I don’t mean things like “get rich, have kids, and live a good life”. I mean something much more within your immediate grasp. Something that can be achieved in the near future — like within a month (or a year) at most.

Basically, something that you want to attract to your life, and you already have some plan on how you’re going to make it happen. So no hopes and dreams, just actionable, precise goals.

Then once you have your goals, they become a set of strategies and tactics you need to act upon.

2. Know What to Skip When Facing New Information

Once you have your goals, plans, strategies and tasks, you can use them to decide what information is really crucial.

First of all, if the information you’re about to read has nothing to do with your current goals and plans, then skip it. You don’t need it.

If it does, then ask yourself these questions:

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  • Will you be able to put this information into action immediately?
  • Does it have the potential to maybe alter your nearest actions/tasks?
  • Is it so incredible that you absolutely need to take action on it right away?

If the information is not actionable in a day or two, then skip it.

(You’ll forget about it anyway.) And that’s basically it.

Digest only what can be used immediately. If you have a task that you need to do, consume only the information necessary for getting this one task done, nothing more.

You need to be focused in order to have clear judgment, and be able to decide whether some piece of information is mandatory or redundant.

Self-control comes handy too. It’s quite easy to convince yourself that you really need something just because of poor self-control. Try to fight this temptation, and be as ruthless about it as possible – if the information is not matching your goals and plans, and you can’t take action on it in the near future, then SKIP IT.

3. Be Aware of the Minimal Effective Dose

There’s a thing called the MED – Minimal Effective Dose. I was first introduced to this idea by Tim Ferriss. In his book The 4-Hour BodyTim illustrates the minimal effective dose by talking about medical drugs.

Everybody knows that every pill has a MED, and after that specific dose, no other positive effects occur, only some negative side effects if you overdose big.

Consuming information is somewhat similar. You need just a precise amount of it to help you to achieve your goals and put your plans into life.

Everything more than that amount won’t improve your results any further. And if you try to consume too much of it, it will eventually stop you from taking any action altogether.

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4. Don’t Procrastinate by Consuming More Information

Probably one of the most common causes of consuming ridiculous amounts of information is the need to procrastinate. By reading yet another article, we often feel that we are indeed working, and that we’re doing something good – we’re learning, which in result will make us a more complete and educated person.

This is just self-deception. The truth is we’re simply procrastinating. We don’t feel like doing what really needs to be done – the important stuff – so instead we find something else, and convince ourselves that “that thing” is equally important. Which is just not true.

Don’t consume information just for the sake of it. It gets you nowhere.

The focus of this article is not on how to stop procrastinating, but if you’re having such issue, I recommend you read this: Procrastination – A Step-By-Step Guide to Stop Procrastinating

Summing It Up

As you can see, information overload can be a real problem and it can have a sever impact on your productivity and overall performance.

I know I have had my share of problems with it (and probably still have from time to time). But creating this simple set of rules helps me to fight it, and to keep my lizard brain from taking over.

I hope it helps you too, especially as we head into a new year with a new chance at setting ourselves up for success.

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Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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