Understanding yourself using metacognitive awareness

The term “metacognition” came from Flavell and was defined as “thoughts about your own thoughts”(1979). Later on, other terms were associated with metacognition such as: self awareness, self reflection, and introspection. When looking at past research, it is clear there were some disagreements about whether it is possible to think, and think about thinking at the same time.

“As for observing… intellectual phenomena while they are taking place, this is clearly impossible. The thinking subject cannot divide himself into two parts, one of which would reason, while the other would observe its reasoning. In this instance, the observing and the observed organ being identical, how would observation take place? The very principle upon which [the introspection] is based, therefore, is invalid” (Dunlosky & Metcalfe, 2009).

Nevertheless, it was found that being aware of your own prefered thinking and learning style was helpful enough. Furthermore, your metacognitive knowledge is known to increase with age automatically. For example, people older than you may not necessarily be smarter than you but they will have a better understanding of what techniques suit themselves better when trying to absorb a piece of information. In addition, with more lived experience they gain more of an understanding of their own thinking habits and eventually gravitate towards other alternate ways of thinking.

You may ask why is this important? Well, if you could be taught how to be aware of your own biases, then this could help you monitor and change your thoughts; therefore allowing you to become a master of yourself.

In my degree, we were taught examples of distorted thinking which include:

  • Catastrophising – magnifying the unpleasantness of an event.
  • All-or-nothing thinking – thinking in absolutes, judging people using general labels and therefore condemning yourself based on a single event.
  • Personalising – taking responsibility and blame for anything unpleasant even for events that have nothing to do with you.
  • Negative Focus – focusing only on the negatives and never seeing the positive aspects of a situation.
  • Jumping to conclusions – making snappy judgements or interpretations about yourself or others with no definite facts.
  • Living by fixed rules – having unrealistic expectations and using the words “should”, “must”, and “can’t”.

It is fair to assume that we all may at one point have been guilty of these distorted thinking habits. Nevertheless, being aware of this and being able to categorise it using these terms above, will improve your metacognitive awareness for these thoughts automatically.

I invite you to go through the week and try and see if you can spot yourself when you start to perform at least one of these distorted thinking habits. Recognise some that are regularly used, and which are often your favourite explanation to use. It is also worth it, if you can try and provide a more rational alternative to this thought process. For example, you can change the irrational thought “people will only recognise me if I am successful” to “some people may recognise my talents when I am successful, however who I am as a person is not defined by only success”.

If you cannot find an alternative, then I recommend you try detaching from the thought. Here is how… if you are having a thought that says: “I will never be good at this” try saying the following before it:

“I am having the thought that I will never be good at this”.

“I am noticing, I am having the thought that I will never be good at this”.

“I am aware, I am noticing, that I am having the thought that I will never be good at this”.

If you repeat these lines before the thought, it reduces it’s power over you. You start to see it for what it actually is, just a thought. We think 20,000 thoughts a day. Not all of these thoughts demand our concern. Therefore, there is no need to control them or stop them. What you resist persists. Observe your thoughts like cars driving past you.

This is where metacognition and mindfulness go hand in hand. If you are unfamiliar with mindfulness, I recommend you refer to my previous blogs.

Important note, do not overdo this exercise otherwise you will go into the pattern of overthinking, and rumination. If you have anxiety then it is best to keep this exercise to a minimum.

I thought I would keep this blog brief, since it would give you more opportunity to focus on and apply what I have taught you today.

I wish you all a good week.

Take care.


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