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10 Essential Cognitive Skills for Navigating Life

These are the essential cognitive skills you need to learn and practice to be able to successfully navigate life on your own.

There are all kinds of things that make it hard to navigate life. You can get stuck, you can feel lost, you can lose touch with what matters and with what's important. Things bother you that you can't seem to sort out, you can feel like you're not able to make sense of things, move on, make important decisions, or move forward in life.

These are all different experiences, but they aren't all different problems. There is a root of all these experiences and others, and it is the breakdown in what is called your “natural intelligence”.

Modern cognitive science has revealed that we all rely on a powerful form of intelligence called natural intelligence to successfully make sense of and navigate life.

When our natural intelligence breaks down, it leads to painful psychological states, the inability to think clearly, failing to make sense of things, and much more.

The good news is that modern cognitive science has revealed exactly how our natural intelligence breaks down. And because we know how it breaks down, we know how to reverse it.

There are real cognitive skills, distilled from modern cognitive science, that you can learn and practice to restore, strengthen, and protect your natural intelligence for navigating life.

In this article, I am going to go over the most essential of these cognitive skills that are the most direct path to unlocking the power of your natural intelligence for successfully making sense of things and navigating life.

1. Tuning In to Your Cognitive Senses

We all have cognitive senses that can serve as an important guide as we’re trying to navigate life. These senses include things like your sense of confusion, overwhelm, interest, curiosity, insight, intuition, fantasy, familiarity, novelty, surprise, dissonance, and clarity.

For many of us, we’ve been incorrectly taught to ignore these senses as being unreliable and untrustworthy.

But we now know from modern cognitive science that these are reliable senses that we need to get better at listening to in order to make sense of things and improve our understanding of how our life and the world works.

2. Taking Back Control of Your Attention

Sometimes we may find ourselves feeling scattered, as if our attention can be grabbed by every distraction or input. We may start to feel frustrated or pushed around by life as it continually overrides our intentions by dictating where our attention goes instead of us being the one in control.

When we have a strong ability to control our attention, we can identify when our attention is being held by something that does not serve us and simply use our mental muscles to put our attention somewhere else that will be much more fruitful and rewarding.

3. Being with Physical and Emotional Pain

One way to think of pain is that it’s simply a signal that some part of us needs our attention, whether that is physical, psychological, or emotional pain. However, life does not always afford us the ability to pay attention to ourselves like this, so we may find ourselves in the habit of trying to ignore what hurts.

While ignoring pain or using pain-killers is extremely useful in some circumstances, without any ability to feel pain, we would constantly be damaging our body, failing to make sense of things, and falling into harmful situations.

An essential skill in navigating life is to take time to simply be with what is painful, instead of trying to ignore it. In being willing to do this, we can discover ways to make the pain more bearable, to learn from it, to identify possible sources of the pain we can address, and more.

4. Getting out of Your Head

When we invest a lot of energy into our thoughts, we may feel like we get stuck 'in our heads.' This can leave us feeling fatigued, empty, or cut off from our feelings, our body, and the world around us.

When we develop the skill of getting out of our heads, we restore access to the bigger picture as well as our own senses and feelings which need to be available to us as a part of navigating life.

5. Being Open, Curious, and Non-Judgmental Towards Yourself

When you're trying to restore your ability to navigate life, you need to be able to be with yourself as you are. You need to be able to address what's bothering you, address when you're in pain, and be open, curious, and non-judgmental to what's actually happening for you.

But sometimes, you just don't want to be with yourself. You don't want to reconnect with yourself and you don't want to be you in that moment.

Becoming skilled at addressing this in the moment will allow you to restore the stance you need to be able to make sense of things and navigate life with your full natural intelligence.

6. Using Life Outlook to Navigate Away from Harmful Life Circumstances

When we look out on our life, imagine different possibilities, and bring to mind different aspects of our life, it changes our feelings about our life, or our ‘life outlook’.

Our life outlook can be experienced through varying degrees of feeling hopeful to hopeless, connected to disconnected, valuable to worthless, empowered to powerless, safe to threatened, and purposeful to empty.

Most of us have either learned or been taught to ignore these feelings, but if we ignore these feelings, we can miss important information we need to navigate away from something that doesn’t work for our lives and towards something that does. This can lead to staying in circumstances, situations, or environments that aren’t good for us.

It is possible to get better at tuning into your life outlook as you go through life and use it like a real-time compass to help you navigate towards what’s good for you and away from what isn’t.

7. Breaking out of Painful Ways of Thinking

Getting trapped in a way of thinking or in a narrow quality of attention is one of the primary ways our brain's ability to navigate gets blocked and it is a known way we experience psychological distress.

Getting distance, or ‘self-distancing,’ can be a very effective tool for getting out of trapped ways of thinking by restoring context, or “the forest for the trees”, and broadening the frame beyond whatever painful thought pattern you might be stuck in.

8. Managing Difficult and Challenging Thoughts

A really common experience is having distracting or intrusive thoughts. This can come in the form of having too many thoughts, distracting you from life. This can also come in the form of thoughts that feel mean, like negative self-talk, or thoughts that have a quality of being exaggerated or over-generalized.

Many of us have been taught to ignore these kinds of thoughts or try to drown them out. But as clumsy as they are, these thoughts are our minds' attempt to get us to pay attention to something it finds distressing. And if we ignore them, they often just grow louder and more persistent. Instead, we need to learn to “actively listen” to our thoughts and work to understand the deeper source of distress they are signaling.

By learning and practicing how to address these kinds of thoughts, you can become skilled at managing your mind on your own and translating the thoughts that are being presented to you into opportunities for learning and growth.

9. Resolving Personal Problems and Challenges on Your Own

We are guaranteed to face all kinds of problems and challenges in our life. Accidents happen, our life gets disrupted, things don’t go our way, we’re faced with difficult decisions, we get put in challenging circumstances, and more.

Resolving personal problems and challenges can feel so difficult, that it can lead us to think that it‘s not possible to do it on our own. But we now know from modern cognitive science that not only are our minds incredibly capable at making sense of and resolving problems in life, we are the only ones who can do it in a way that truly makes sense for us.

But when our natural intelligence breaks down, our ability to resolve personal problems and challenges gets impaired. As a result, we may naturally start to seek out others for help. The problem is, when we rely on others to solve our life problems for us, we are vulnerable to adopting solutions that aren’t good for us.

Fortunately, you can restore your ability to resolve personal problems and challenges on your own. And because this ability is essential to navigating towards what’s best for you, it is arguably the most important skill in life.

10. Protecting Yourself from Nonsense

Modern cognitive science now knows that there are many factors and forces all around us, that are blocking, impairing, and breaking down our natural intelligence for navigating life, in ways we are not trained to notice.

When our natural intelligence is impaired, we are vulnerable to taking in nonsense without realizing it. And most of us find ourselves bombarded with it daily.

If we don’t find a way to block it from getting in, we can find our lives taken over with a never-ending task of attempting to restore our natural intelligence and make sense of the nonsense.

To escape this, we need to become skilled at recognizing what breaks down our natural intelligence and actively defend against it.

This includes:

  • Addressing mental habits that have been informed by myths about the brain and cognition
  • Defending against nonsense information and false models about how life and the world works
  • Protecting yourself from silver bullet solutions, placebos, and ‘snake oil’
  • Navigating group and social dynamics that block natural intelligence
  • And more

If you can do this, you can become resilient to what breaks down your natural intelligence for navigating life, which will make it easier to increase resilience to life challenges, to stay connected to the big picture, and maintain clarity over your life.

What is it Worth to Become Skilled at Navigating Life on Your Own?

When our ability to navigate life breaks down, it can lead to the most painful experiences of our lives. And failing to navigate life can lead us to make bad decisions, to fall into harmful circumstances, and to end up feeling lost, disconnected, worthless, and hopeless.

By learning and mastering these cognitive skills, you can become your own best guide to life.

What would this be worth, to be able to rely on yourself to address painful psychological states, to resolve what's bothering you, and to reach the insights you need to make sense of things on your own?

How much time could we save if we stopped following ‘expert advice’ that doesn’t fit our situation. How much money could we save if we didn’t need to use others to help us make sense of things? How much more time could we spend feeling good about our lives and the direction we’re taking instead of staying stuck being lost?

We now know from modern cognitive science the skills we need to develop to restore our natural intelligence for navigating life, and that means that investing could be the most important way to invest in ourselves and our future well-being.

Want to learn these skills and start applying them to your life right now?

If you’re at a time in life when you really need to get unstuck, or if you’re serious about becoming self-reliant for addressing painful psychological states, resolving what's bothering you, and reaching the insights you need to make sense of things and navigate life, now you can learn these cognitive skills and start applying them to your life.

We’ve created a 6-week course to give you the tools, coaching, knowledge, and practice you need to develop the essential cognitive skills for navigating life with natural intelligence.

Each week you will follow a new self-guided lesson, practice new skills with the help of a software technology for navigating life, then meet for a live discussion and Q&A with your instructors and classmates.

As part of the course, you will get 6 weeks of unlimited 1-on-1 support, a year subscription to one-of-a-kind life navigation software, and access to an ongoing community of practice.

By the end of the course, you should expect to have a clear understanding of the essential cognitive skills, the confidence to apply them to your life, and the tools and knowledge to help you be successful.

Courses start soon with limited spots available. Learn more.

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