What is Metacognition? – A Key to Self-Mastery

What is metacognition

Hey…. You are now breathing manually…

And if you don’t stop thinking about it, your nose will soon start to itch… only subtly at first, but it might get worse.

In this series we’re considering the topic of emergence

Emergence is how we develop new abilities in any area of our lives.

Here we’ll consider we’ll be considering a special set of abilities known in psychology as metacognition.

So what is metacognition? How does it help?

And what can I do to develop these skills in my own life?

Swept Away in the Thought-Stream

Consider a raging river full of quick currents and white water.

Now imagine what it feels like to be in that river, getting swept away with all the running rapids.

Our every day thinking habits are a lot like being in that river. Thought currents flow through our minds and our conscious self gets swept along with only limited control.

Don’t take my word for it, try this test:

If you have control of your thoughts, then you should be able to stop them as easily as you think them, right? That’s basically what “control” means -> you can make your thoughts do what you want.

So go ahead and stop reading this, set a timer for 2 minutes, close your eyes, and just stop your stream of thoughts until the timer goes off.

If a thought interrupts you, go ahead and start over as many times as you’d like.

Anyone reading this who’s In The Game or has experimented with meditation will recognize that this task is a lot more difficult than it may seem at first glance.

Sitting On The Bank

If our regular habits of thought are like being swept down the river, metacognition is like getting out of the stream and sitting on the bank.

From this position, thoughts might still be flowing, but the difference is we’re not getting swept away by them.

Instead we can observe them with a certain psychological distance.

Using the tools of metacognition can be like grabbing a raft before jumping back in the currents.

What is Metacognition?

“Meta” means beyond, and “cognition” is a term that refers to all sorts of reasoning, evaluating, solving; things we usually just call thinking.

So metacognition is essentially going “beyond thinking”.

Or perhaps more accurately it’s the ability to get out of the regular stream of thoughts.

Some people describe it as “thinking about thinking” or the ability to reflect on the nature of our own thought processes.

States of Mind

We’ve all had the experience of our moods and attitudes affecting what we think.

When we’re feeling good, it’s like there’s no limit to the potential before us. When we’re down, however, it can be hard to imagine the possibility of things getting better.

In situations where we let our mood direct our thinking, we’re like that person floating down the river. We’re swept away by the currents of thought.

Since the time we were born, this is just how it’s always been. Instincts, emotions, feelings, and moods have always been all around us.

As children we never had the ability to recognize it. But as psychological adults, we now can.

Any time we can take a moment to reflect on how we feel. We can consider if we really want to feel the way we do.

It’s even possible to influence our mood by redirecting our focus. This is how it feels to move out of the stream and over to the banks.

Metacognitive Strategies

Once we know, what is metacognition, the question is how do we use it?

Any time we step back and take a look at “the big picture,” we’re practicing a form of metacognition.

We might consider how The Core Four influences what we’re doing, how we think, and how we perform or learn a given task.

It’s also possible to use thinking tools like Creative Problem Solving to mindfully step outside the whims of our everyday feelings. This is strategy for realizing audacious goals that can only be achieved over time.

The Game is a specifically designed tool that can help us notice the influence of our instincts in this moment. It helps us see thinks more clearly and make the best move.

And Strategic Systems Thinking is about crafting conditions or systems around us that quietly nudge us towards the behaviors and outcomes we desire for ourselves.

But this is just the beginning. Don’t miss the next update here. 

Stories, Questions, or Comments

Can you think of a time you caught yourself being swept away in your own thoughts? How did that turn out for you?

Or perhaps you have a metacognitive strategy or system to help you stay on-point and in The Game?

Share your experiences, stories, or questions in the comments below.

And until next time,

Keep rockin’ it and make every day count.