As we become more and more dependent on our smartphones and computers, even for problem-solving and decision-making activities, we may be utilizing less and less of our cognitive skills. It’s time to look away from our screens and focus on reviving our cognitive thinking abilities. Let’s begin by understanding the meaning of cognitive skills and then understand their importance.

What Are Cognitive Skills?

Before we fast forward to unraveling the meaning of cognitive skills, let’s understand what cognition means. The word ‘cognition’ comes from the Latin word ‘cognoscere’, which means ‘get to know’. In other words, cognition stands for a group of mental processes involved in gathering and making sense of information.

Cognitive thinking may include acquisition, storage, recognizing and recovering information. It’s a state of knowing as opposed to a state of feeling or willing.

The meaning of cognitive ability is having the skills that help you think, pay attention, remember, reason and utilize other functions of your brain. Your cognitive abilities help you recognize and process new information. It stores information in your brain for you to access it and use it later. These cognitive abilities aren’t inflexible and can be improved with practice. If you work towards developing your cognitive abilities, your mind will be better prepared to incorporate and process information more efficiently.

List of Cognitive Skills

Here’s a list of cognitive skills for you to understand your cognitive abilities in more detail:

1. Memory

Memory plays a crucial role in cognitive processes. It helps you store, retain and remember information whenever required. The ability to remember events from your life would be impossible without the help of memory.

Memory can be of two types—short-term or working memory and long-term memory.

  • Short-term memory 

Think of your short-term or working memory as having limited storage, allowing you to access small amounts of information at a time.  It helps you retain or hang on to information. For example, remembering your project presentation deadline.

  • Long-term memory

Think of your long-term memory as having unlimited storage, allowing you to store information for a prolonged period. It helps you recall information from the past and can store information for a lifetime. For example, remembering your parents’ anniversary date.

2. Attention

It’s a selection process that helps you choose and focus on your tasks while responding to your internal and external stimuli. Paying attention helps you interpret information more effectively, prioritize your goals and avoid irrelevant distractions. For instance, you may not be able to work at home, if it weren’t for attention. There are three types of attention—sustained, selective and divided.

  • Sustained Attention

It helps you stay focused and motivated until you meet your target. Sustained attention helps you concentrate on tasks for a long period. It helps you work towards your long-term goals. For example, answering a three-hour examination paper.

  • Selective Attention

It helps you focus on a single task despite being surrounded by distractions. You choose where to place your attention. For example, reading a book in a crowded metro train.

  • Divided Attention

Sometimes you may be required to work on multiple tasks simultaneously. It’s because of your capability to divide attention that you can work towards multiple targets at the same time. This skill is more popularly known as multitasking. For example, if you conduct a business conference, you may have to divide your attention among the guest list, food and refreshments, and internal communications.

3. Perception

It refers to the process of capturing, accessing and making sense of information. Everyone interprets information differently because everyone perceives or responds to their stimuli differently. Perception allows us to connect with the surrounding environment and make use of our internal senses. There are five key types of perception:

  • Visual Perception 

It is the ability to see and interpret information through your eyes. It’s also known as thinking visually. For example, understanding diagrams or presentations.

  • Auditory Perception

The ability to hear and process information through sound or audio. For example, analyzing and segmenting sounds to produce music.

  • Touch or Haptic Perception

It is the ability to understand information through touch, pressure and vibration. For example, carpenters use this ability to make furniture.

  • Smell or Olfactory Perception

This is about interpreting information through the sense of smell. For example, livening up your workspace with some scented candles to help you feel motivated.

  • Taste Perception

As the name suggests, this is about accessing information through taste. For example, chefs cook fusion food to attract diverse customers and promote their business globally.

4. Processing or Thinking Speed

The rate at which you can pick up new information, assess and produce a response or reaction is your cognitive thinking or processing speed. In other words, it’s the difference between the time taken to gather information and reach a conclusion. Quick thinking is a valuable skill to have as it helps you process information quickly and avoid unnecessary delays. Job interview questions, for instance, are easier to answer when you’re thinking on your feet.

5. Logic and Reasoning

The process of continuous thinking to reach a conclusion can be termed as logical thinking or reasoning ability. These cognitive skills help you approach a problem or situation with a structure. Your argument’s foundation rests on reason, ideas and problem-solving. You’ll want to form logical connections and reach reasonable conclusions. It has been observed that logical abilities are a consistent ingredient for academic and professional achievements. Developing these skills can help you avoid recurring thoughts like ‘what do I do next?’ or the experience of feeling stuck.

The Importance Of Cognitive Thinking At The Workplace

Cognitive skills are required in modern-day workplaces because things are constantly evolving and employees are expected to keep up with the changing industry demands. Multi-skilling has become the new norm. Your qualifications are no longer limited to your knowledge but you’re also expected to efficiently use your skills to interpret that knowledge. Here are a few ways in which cognitive abilities help you achieve better professional outcomes:

1. Helps You Stay Focused

Using your cognitive skills can help you to engage with tasks more productively. By being able to divide or sustain your attention, you can effectively focus on specific projects with greater accuracy. Once you’ve resolved your immediate priorities, you can move on to other important tasks at hand. Staying focused and motivated will allow you to listen actively to your co-workers, learn from meetings and progress ahead with specific and measurable targets in mind.

2. Helps You Analyze Resources

You can use your logic and reasoning skills to effectively study and analyze reports. Instead of just skimming through data, enhancing your logical skills will push you to do a detailed analysis. It’ll help you ask critical questions and identify the areas of improvement. Be a better decision-maker and a constructive problem-solver by embracing your cognitive skills.

3. Helps You Recognize Patterns

As you climb the corporate ladder, you tend to shoulder more responsibilities. Introducing new initiatives and building strategies are some of those key responsibilities. It’s because of your cognitive abilities that you will be armed with perceptive and reasoning skills. These skills help you identify patterns in your data. You’ll have an understanding of what worked and didn’t work.

Harappa Education’s Thinking Critically course is designed to help you evaluate and improve your cognitive abilities. It will enable you to hone your critical thinking skills by using concepts such as the Ladder of Inference, a four-step approach to process information, and the Circle of Competence framework to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Learn how to process information better by separating opinions from facts. The course will also teach you how to analyze any situation and become a mindful professional. Earn brownie points as an employee by embracing Harappa’s powerful mental models.


We can’t make decisions in a vacuum. We always depend on previously acquired knowledge to think through and understand things. The interpretation of knowledge is made easier through cognitive thinking. Cognitive skill development often starts during childhood and continues throughout our lives. However, cognitive skills have the potential to decline over time for various reasons including mental health disorders and age. This is an important reminder to keep sharpening your cognitive thinking through regular practice and exercise. Have a work-out regime to sharpen your mind and improve your cognitive thinking by solving riddles or puzzles.

Explore our Harappa Diaries section to know more about topics related to the Think habit such as Learning From ExperienceWhat is Critical ThinkingMeaning of an ArgumentCreative Thinking & Design Thinking.

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