Metacognition, or simply ‘meta’
Whether we’re driving our cars, reading a book, texting a friend, or eating a pizza, we’re using our brains. Thinking isn’t limited to a classroom, we’re doing it all the time, from everyday experiences and everyone and everything around us – we never stop thinking. Many of our thoughts simply come and go in an instant. However, there are times when we pause and want, or need, to think a little deeper about what we’re thinking.
This type of thinking is called metacognition, or what you know about your own thoughts. Metacognition is a deeper level of thinking that includes your ability to think about your thinking; how you understand, adapt, change, control, and use your thought processes.
The simple definition for metacognition is ‘thinking about thinking’, but it also covers how we regulate our thoughts – and the ability to change them.
This is more than having a simple awareness of our thought processes. It provides us with the ability to alter our thoughts and behaviours and is a critical component to successful creative thinking. It’s about developing our problem-solving abilities, techniques and methods, rather than learning a specific solution to a specific problem.
Metacognition is widely used with children, and something that us older students in life simply didn’t have the pleasure of learning at school. It’s best employed when we’re stuck, frustrated, and need to get unstuck from a problem. And by thinking about our thinking, we increase our chances of moving forward.
We do it most days, without even noticing. We reflect on our own thoughts, gain insights into our feelings, appreciate our needs and behaviours, and learn, manage and adapt to new experiences, challenges and setbacks. We mentally sound ourselves out through our internal talking, and this can be a powerful tool. Metacognitive thinking teaches us about ourselves, helps us create new perspectives and makes room for new and alternative thoughts.
When we have a perception that we’re either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at something, it’s almost impossible for us to change our mindset; either we can do something, or we can’t. Metacognitive thinking changes this for the better.
Here are four questions to help you become more Meta.
Give yourself some space to reflect on your thinking. Ask yourself ‘why do I think like that?’.
Ask yourself to think about your behaviour, and how changing this will help manage difficult situations in a better way.
Encourage yourself to think about how you can use your current understanding to change things in the future, so you can handle things differently next time.
Ask questions to yourself that help you get a better idea of how a thought process works. For example; how will you know when this creative project is finished?
“Did you ever stop to think,
and forget to start again?”Winnie the Pooh
There’s no instant fix with metacognition. When we set out to learn to think about thinking, we need to remember that it’s a process, and we need to accept that we’re only just starting to rewire our brains. There really is an awful lot of work going on in the background of our minds. But if we can tap into just a portion of this we’ll become more aware, refined, deeper and quicker at appreciating why we think like we do.
Maybe it’s not enough to just ‘think about thinking’, how about we start to ‘learn about learning’?Mindstein, 2022