Do you ever find yourself wandering from your train of thought? How about being unable to focus on a task for longer than a few minutes? What about reading two contradicting pieces of information and not being able to determine which is correct?
In the age of constant stimuli, distractions, and information, we often find that our thoughts get away from us. This can often lead to us not being able to focus on what really matters, or struggling to decipher what is actually beneficial to our business.
Luckily, there’s help on the horizon, thanks to the growing body of research in the field of Metacognition. This strategy will help you take your life – and business- to the next level, opening the door to a much more enlightened mindset.
What is Metacognition?
Metacognition – the process of thinking about thinking, or achieving a deeper understanding of one’s own thought process – is a crucial piece of the puzzle when it comes to achieving success. Regardless of your background, industry, targets, or any of the other data that goes along with tracking and measuring performance and goals, understanding the way you (and, by the way, your customers!) think remains one of the most important, yet overlooked, focus areas for way too many young professionals and entrepreneurs today.
How Metacognition Works
Metacognitive analysis is currently a mega-wave in the education industry, with research going back several decades now.
Numerous studies have resulted in reams of data confirming one central tenant of metacognitive analysis:
Those who understand the way they think are generally able to think more critically, more productively, and more beneficially when they apply these metacognitive learnings to everyday, real-world problems.
Tackling Thought From a Mental Framework
How do we begin to think about thinking? The fundamental question of metacognitive analysis presupposes this starting point: We as humans generally lack self-awareness when it comes to our own process of thought. We consider a problem from the point of view of our own biases, preconceived notions, and personal histories without ever questioning those biases, notions or histories objectively. Or, to put it another way:
We know what we think, but not why we think it.
This poses a problem: It reduces our ability to truly problem-solve or think critically. When we can’t answer the question of why we think a certain way, we have no way of measuring the validity of the conclusions we arrive at. In other words, if every thought we have is run through our automatic subjectivity filter, it drastically reduces our capability for truly independent thought!
Thinking About Your Thoughts
Pulling back the shroud surrounding our own individual mental framework will reveal the biases, preconceptions, and personal history that goes into each of our daily decisions. Please don’t think that I’m saying that in order to think better, we have to abandon all of our preconceptions, biases and history! I’m merely suggesting that metacognition must take these things into account in interpreting our mental framework. Whether or not the ladder we’re standing on has metal or wooden rungs doesn’t change the fundamental structure of the ladder, nor its usefulness. The composition of the ladder does, however, take into account the ways in which we use it.
Applying Metacognition To Your Life And Business
To start the application process, you need to understand the two main components of metacognitive practice: Cognitive Knowledge and Cognitive Regulation.
Cognitive knowledge refers to an awareness of our thought process. It means knowing how to choose between mental frameworks, and select which one best fits the given situation.
Cognitive regulation is the practice of setting goals, analyzing frameworks and discarding ineffective ones. Think of this as “trimming the tree” of metacognition; pruning old, dead growth to make way for new frameworks and thought processes that will be more beneficial.
How to Use Metacognition to Achieve Success
Now we arrive at the most important part: The practical, daily skills that you can work on that will open up your own thought processes and mental frameworks for analysis and modification. Here we come to the keys to unlocking your own metacognitive potential.
While there are other concepts that we can label as metacognitive keys, there are five foundational ideas that will help you unlock your metacognitive abilities.
1. Ask Questions
Metacognitive analysis starts with questions. You need to understand the why behind what you’re attempting to learn or consider to further analyze the deeper mental framework you use to approach decision-making. Without a questioning mindset, you hamper your Cognitive Regulation by an overflow of useless information, and you are unable to reduce the information to the truly critical pieces.
2. Practice Teaching Yourself
Self-reflection, self-questioning, and self-explanation are three parts of teaching yourself that will set your mind on the metacognitive track. Fostering these three tools activates more neural pathways by reinforcing the material you learn in a way that makes the most sense to you. In the same way we use rhyming to encourage young children to remember numbers, letters, and shapes, self-explanation activates your mind’s ability to direct knowledge to the appropriate linkage in your mental framework, increasing the likelihood of retention.
3. Think Aloud
Maybe talking to yourself isn’t such a bad idea after all! Studies have shown that verbalization activates more neural networks than reading, or thinking, silently. The more networks you can activate, the more pathways you can connect to the information you’re learning, the better! So talk to yourself every once in awhile!
4. Write It Down
… or record it, or make flash cards. Knowing the limits of your own memory bank, and having a system in place to transfer information out of your mind and into another format is critical to metacognitive practice.
First, your brain can’t hold everything you ever hear, read, or see. Second, recording information in another medium reinforces your self-reflection, self-questioning, and self-explanation. Studies show that students who attempt to write down verbatim what a teacher is saying may succeed, if they are quick typists, but they do not assimilate the information in the same way as students who summarize, reword, and take notes in their own voice.
5. Take A Minute to Comprehend
Whatever your form of self-reflection and self-explanation, it’s wasted if you don’t apply the effort to comprehend what you’re learning. Too many people view comprehension as some higher cognitive function that requires deep concentration and focus.
The reality is that comprehension of learned material can be as simple as reframing the sentence or the subject in a way that makes sense to you. True, that may require concentration and focus for some topics, but it may come easy to someone who already has a firm background in whatever topic is being learned. Amplification of existing information takes much less time to comprehend than totally new information.
Apply Metacognition to Your Business Mindset
In the end, the ability to accurately assess your own mental framework, and regulate that framework to put it to best use is the basis of metacognition. The most successful thinkers know what they think, and they also know why they think it in that way. They can harness their own metacognitive abilities to make sense of exceedingly complex information, process it faster, and begin acting on it with a rapidity that stuns others.
Assimilating and applying knowledge in the most effective way for YOU is a skill that will instantly set you above and apart from others who lack the ability to question their own mental frameworks.
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