2 fundamental ways to improve your metacognition skills

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Most people know what they think, but not why they think it.

When you can’t answer why you think a certain way or why you choose to arrive at certain conclusions, your capacity for independent thought suffers.

Metacognition is an awareness and understanding of your own thought processes — “thinking about your thinking”, “knowing about your knowing”, and becoming “aware of your awareness”.

It involves self-regulation, self-monitoring and self-reflection.

Metacognologists are aware of their own strengths and weaknesses.

“More precisely, it refers to the processes used to plan, monitor, and assess one’s understanding and performance,” writes Nancy Chick, Center for Teaching Assistant Director at the Vanderbilt University.

Metacognition was introduced as a concept by John Flavell, who is typically seen as a founding scholar of the field. He defines metacognition as knowledge about cognition and control of cognition.

To improve how you think, Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide recommends you practice metacognition — think about your thinking.
Some scientists argue that the best predictor of good judgment isn’t intelligence or experience; it’s the willingness to engage in introspection.

In his book, “Your Brain at Work” David Rock says, “Without this ability to stand outside your experience, without self-awareness, you would have little ability to moderate and direct your behavior moment to moment.”

He writes, “You need this capacity to free yourself from the automatic flow of experience and to choose where to direct your attention. Without a director, you are a mere automaton, driven by greed, fear, or habit.”

People who practice metacognition are able to think more critically, rationally and productively — they regularly ask, not only what is working, but why they choose specific tools over others and what they can do to improve.

Applying metacognition is all about using the right tools in every situation and modifying your learning strategies and skills based on your awareness of their effectiveness.

An excellent way to start using metacognition consciously is to plan what you want to do, learn, or improve, monitor your how you are making progress, and evaluate your results to better understand how well you performed or what you can improve.

Seek first to overcome meta-ignorance (or ignorance of ignorance)

Our ignorance is invisible to us.

Do you know the gaps in your knowledge? How aware you are of what you know or don’t know.

Most people are unaware of their incompetence,” lacking “insight about deficiencies in their intellectual or emotional skills.

Some people are also not aware of what they don’t know — they tend to unduly overestimate their abilities, which often leads to over-confidence.

This cognitive bias often known as the Dunning-Kruger effect comes from their inability to recognize their blind spots or weaknesses.

There are always known knowns in our assumptions and decision-making processes; the things we know we know. And there are also known unknowns; the things we know we do not know — find those, they the clues that can help you develop metacognition skills.

If you think you already know everything, you are unlikely to seek out ways to improve. In all situations, think through how you could be wrong.

Think about what you don’t know — check your assumptions. Intellectually humility or the ability to recognize that what you believe to be true might be wrong can significantly improve your metacognition skill.

Ask yourself psychologically smart questions

When you ask yourself better and beautiful questions, you are forced to think deeply about your problems, arguments, tasks and the best ways to proceed.

In any decision-making process, first ask yourself: What should I do first? What is the best know or unknown way to approach this problem or learn that skill? What would I do differently next time?

How long will it take me to complete the task or solve that problem? Is there a better way that saves me time? What do I need to effectively tackle that task? Is this similar to a problem I’ve solved in the past? What information is available to me right now? What do the facts or evidence say is the best way forward?

Here are nine simple questions by innerDrive that can help you to effectively solve many problems or get better at metacognition,

  • Before a Task — Is this similar to a previous task? What do I want to achieve? What should I do first?
  • During The Task — Am I on the right track? What can I do differently? Who can I ask for help?
  • After a Task — What worked well? What could I have done better? Can I apply this to other situations?

Making time to think about possible scenarios, what you know or don’t know or better still what can possibly improve your odds of success can improve your critical thinking skills and help you make better choices in life.

Thinking is important in our lives and careers — it’s fundamental to your success. Understanding yourself, your mental frameworks, assumptions and even cognitive biases can save you time, money, and frustration in the future. In every decision-making process, think about your thinking.

This article originally appeared in Medium.