Sure, in theory you should be learning something new every day at your job. But certain types of careers are more beneficial for your brain in the long-term than others.
A recent Wall Street Journal piece examined the most mentally stimulating skills, according to past research studies, and the jobs that utilize those skills most often. How do you know if your job is making you smarter or just keeping you in a rut? Consider if your daily routine usually involves one or more of these tasks:
1. Interpreting facts, figuring out what distractions to block out, and other problem-solving skills.
The good news: All jobs require some degree of problem solving. But you may want to find a way to take on more tasks that incorporate it. A 2014 joint study from the University of Texas and the University of Illinois found that people who have more training in problem-solving and time-management skills performed better on tests that measured people's ability to think abstractly and focus. Some of the jobs that rely on these skills the most, according to the WSJ, include managers, paramedics, and emergency medical technicians.
2. Working with codes and patterns.
Another study by a professor at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, found that for people between the ages of 18 and 80, performing exercises that involved "translating codes and spotting patterns of letters or lines" resulted in improved scores on exams that tested those same skills as much as three years later. The most obvious occupations that work this skill set: computer programmers and translators, as well as financial analysts and data scientists.
3. Spatial thinking.
The same study also found that a similar effect occurred with people who regularly perform tasks that that involve visualizing three-dimensional objects. Architects, engineers, designers, and surgeons are all good jobs for those who want to flex their spatial-thinking muscles.
However, much like getting a promotion, if you want to improve your cognitive abilities it takes more than just showing up from 9 to 5 at a job that requires you to think abstractly. You also have to be engaged in your career and find new ways to learn each day, researcher Michael Merzenich told the WSJ.
"We have an early period on the job when we master it, commit it all to memory, and say, 'I'm good at this now,' and stop advancing. And you slide backward," Merzenich added.