WHY YOU MUST PRACTICE METACOGNITION
APRIL 25, 2014 ALEXANDER SKAFTE 9 COMMENTS
What you’ll learn: What metacognition is, why it is one of the most fundamental tools for improving yourself, and how to practice it.
I think the following is something we all can agree on…
It is the fact that we periodically enter states of apathy and laziness, leading to a collapse of daily routines and motivation. This is normal, and happens to basically everyone (if you find however that your motivation never wanes, I applaud you). For some people, these dips last only for a short time — maybe a couple of days — while for others they can last for weeks or months.
How can it be that some people seem to be able to just snap out of it after a while, while others get stuck in negative thought loops and a deeply apathetic state? This is a very broad question that probably has many answers, but I believe I have at least found one of them.
The answer lies within the concept of metacognition — to think about one’s own thought processes. It is to consciously and methodically observe and thereafter change how one thinks — a skill that becomes more powerful with repeated practice. The practice of metacognition is a very powerful tool for doing many things, including:
Improving mood by snapping out of negative thought loops.
Detecting cognitive dissonance, and getting rid of it.
Noticing how food and nootropics affect your thinking.
Let’s look at a few more way to think of metacognition, in case you didn’t follow:
Metacognition is to step away from a big painting you’re drawing to observe it holistically.
Metacognition is to “transform” yourself into an outside observer that can rationally observe an irrational and emotionally driven conversation (full of racing thoughts and emotions).
Metacognition is to catch yourself with having apathetic, negative, irrational, or self-victimizing thoughts.
Metacognition is the ability to be self-critical.
Daily metacognition – an example
Let’s say you’re walking somewhere. Suddenly it starts raining. The first thought that enters your mind is probably “Shit! This sucks!” Time to pull the metacognition card…
“Well, there isn’t really anything I can do about it. If I continue being angry at the rain, the rest of the day will probably be ruined because of the negative mood spiral I’m putting myself in. I don’t really want that, because that sucks. I’ll accept the rain and deal with the consequences of getting wet afterward instead of dealing with them in my mind right now.”
And suddenly, the rain isn’t that bad. In its most basic form, metacognition is very simple; it just means pausing your unconscious thought process for a few seconds and consciously thinking “is there something ‘wrong’ with my thoughts at the moment?” This part requires that you are able to be self-critical, and to not blindly trust your judgement just because it is yours.
Note: Some people, mainly those following Eastern(-inspired) religions, would refer to this as “losing your ego”. I will however avoid such words for the moment, because they mean very different things to different people.
Metacognition as a lifetime approach
Let’s face it. The majority of people are stuck in an unconscious state of being; they mindlessly chatter about worthless stuff, spend most of their free time watching TV or using social media, and never really think about why they do what they do.
That is an awful way to live, at least if you want to achieve something. Eventually it will lead to lack of willpower, stress disorders and probably some kind of depression. With metacognition however, you can avoid this. I will share with you a realization I had while discussing this topic with a friend about a year ago:
Once you know how to step outside of your most basic “state of thinking”, you can step outside of the newly stepped into “state of thinking” as well.
Theoretically, this means that you can think about thinking about thinking ad infinitum. In practice this is not true of course, but as your ability to use metacognition improves, you will be able to go deeper into your brain and also change how your natural thought processes run through neuroplasticity — that is, consciously changing the structure of your brain through controlling your thoughts. You want to program your brain to think in a certain way, which you can do by thinking about metacognition itself — taking another step out of ordinary thinking. You could call that meta-metacognition if you like, but I just think of it as a another level of metacognition.
Metacognition also enables you to evaluate and transform your values. Eventually, if you practice it, you can make sure that your thoughts, words and actions are all aligned; that you have integrity, which is one of the most fundamental and important values.
How to practice metacognition
Because metacognition really is not a tangible skill like playing an instrument, it is somewhat harder to practice. But there are ways of doing it.
Meditation — although you are not supposed to think during meditation, it is a good “exercise” for stepping out of autonomic thinking, the most basic state of thinking.
Evaluating instinctive thoughts – like in the above example of the reaction to rain.
Watching your behavior — why do you always _____ after you _____?
Seeking out the root cause of cognitive dissonance instead of just rationalizing one part or the other.
You should note that metacognition really requires you to get inside your head, which will probably hinder your ability to socialize while practicing it. Don’t read in to your own thoughts while talking to someone. The programming is done when you’re alone, or when actually discussing metacognition with someone.
Metacognition — to think about your own thought process — is a powerful tool which is essential for self-improvement. I do not mean to present metacognition as the new “magic pill” or something like that, because everyone uses metacognition to some extent. The “magic” comes when you become aware of metacognition as a concept, and you learn how to use it consciously.
You already have it in you. Practice it, and you’ll be able to achieve great things.
Do you have any ideas or thoughts regarding metacognition? Do you practice it consciously yourself? Let’s have a discussion in the comment section below!
High school has started for teens all over the country, and parents and teens are grappling with all sorts of issues around playing team sports. I know parents deal with all sorts of questions ranging from "should I call the coach?" to "should I let my kid quit the team?" when the teen is unhappy.
Since school has just started and issues around team sports are bound to crop up, I decided to enlist the help of Dan Madieros in my effort to answer these questions. He has coached boys' and girls' sports for 15+ years. I, on the other hand, have listened to the concerns of parents in my therapy office and when on the bleachers watching my own child play softball.
Today I will focus on the most frequent questions parents have. Feel free to send along any other questions that may come up for you as the season progresses.1. What are team sports good for? Kids learn a number of valuable skills including:
- How to function as a member of a group.
- Realizing that other kids need you and depend on you.
- Good sportsmanship. They learn how to be both good winners AND good losers.
All of these skills are valuable not only when playing sports, but also in any community setting including family, school and work situations. Hey, we all love good team players.2. What does a GOOD coach do?
- A good coach is fair and steers away from simply playing favorites.
- S/he works on teaching players skills rather than simply pointing out their weaknesses.
- A good coach encourages collaboration and discourages bullying and exclusion.
- S/he motivates by enthusiasm and a sense of fun rather than by fear and verbal bullying.
- The less than ideal coach benches the weaker players and does not give them an opportunity to play.
- S/he does not act as a teacher and kids don't learn necessary skills.
- That sort of coach encourages bullying by either modeling bullying or creating an atmosphere of favorites and popularity. We know what that leads to-kids feeling excluded and left out.
- First, go to some games and observe what is going on.
- If the coach is not great, see if you can help your kids learn to deal with the coach effectively, because in life, we all have to learn to deal with difficult people, right?
- If the coach's behavior is so egregious according to you and other parents then you may want to see if whoever the coach is accountable to can address matters. This may be the head of the league or someone in the school athletic department.
- Not so fast here. There are usually at least two coaches and perhaps your child will get along with one better than the other.
- We also don't want to teach our kids that they can leave any situation that is difficult and inadvertently raise avoidant kids.
- Unless the situation is dreadful, I am fully in favor of encouraging your kid to stick it out for the season. They have made a commitment to their team members.
- Please let them be the coach at the game. You can be the coach at home.
- Please don't yell at or criticize the umpires, coaches or kids during the game. This will be very unsettling for the kids and adults.
- Model good sportsmanship. Yes these are competitive sports but it's not always about winning or losing. It's about how you play the game. You've heard that before and with good reason.
Good luck. I hope all of your kids are having fun and learning a the same time.