Prepare for the unknown: 8 tips to stretch your cognitive flexibility

Let’s face it – however thoroughly you plan, life often throws you a curveball. Especially in today's fast-evolving world of work, it's vital to be able to be comfortable with change, unknowns and ambiguity and adapt to whatever comes your way. That’s where cognitive flexibility comes in.

What is cognitive flexibility?

Cognitive flexibility means having the skills to be able to multi-task, prioritise and remain adaptable in the face of change. Whether you’re having to catch a replacement bus service when your usual train’s cancelled, figuring out what is (and isn’t) socially acceptable in a foreign culture, or starting a brand-new job, your cognitive flexibility helps you adjust to the situation.

What does that mean for you in the workplace?

As you develop in your career, you’ll find yourself constantly testing and learning new skills, while also balancing deadlines and priorities. At EY we work with a range of clients with different expectations, needs and requirements. Being able to apply your experiences and knowledge to new situations and contexts is a key skill.

Adapting to new ways of working: When was the last time you tried a new app? How about using a PC if you’re used to a Mac? Whether you’re working with a new client, learning a new type of software, process or reacting to a change in legislation, it will be easier if you have strong cognitive flexibility.

Juggling ideas, priorities and workload: Think about when you’ve had to manage lots of things at the same time - perhaps many pieces of coursework, or replying to friends across different social media channels. The ability to “switch subjects” – between projects, clients, or focus if expectations or deadlines change is a key part of being able to multitask.

How to improve your cognitive flexibility

As with most skills, there are many ways you can increase your flexibility to help you stay ahead and adapt to new experiences.

 

Stay curious - never stop learning

 

1) Look at your strengths – What skills do you have already? Write them down! Knowing where you’re already strong will help you identify ways to build on this and be ready for future opportunities. 

2) Read more – Not only does this help you find out new information, but the act of reading itself helps stimulate your brain. Picking up a book, magazine or reading a blog will help you keep up to date with the latest news and ideas.

3) Follow people who inspire you – Pick key role models to follow, online and at events and meet-ups. Podcasts, webinars and videos are great sources to learn industry tips, tricks and ways to improve your game.

4) Learn from your peers – Whether it’s a structured skill-sharing session or someone on your team or course showing you how to figure something out, don’t be afraid to ask others for help.

 

Keep an open mind - do you still have the same beliefs you had five years ago?

 

5) Challenge your beliefs – Have you ever changed your opinion on music, technology or food? Don’t let your thought processes get stuck in a rut – in business or in your spare time. Let your ideas evolve.

6) Break out of your bubble – It’s easy to surround ourselves with people who agree with us – whether it’s our choice of film, fandom or political view. Engage with people with different views to help develop your opinions and allow your mind to stay open.

 

Stay flexible – keep making small changes to better prepare for uncertainty

 

7) Shake up your usual routine – Walk a different route, eat somewhere else for lunch or use a different gym locker than usual. Even the smallest changes can help you build and strengthen new pathways in your brain.

8) Seek out new experiences – Whether it’s trying a new sport, going to a festival or travelling somewhere new, continuing to try new things will help keep your mind flexible!

Our world is changing – and fast. Improving your cognitive flexibility today will help you adapt to those changes and carve out a successful career!