I got several responses to my previous post about the practice of metacognition from readers asking me about how to apply this to daily life. So, in this post, I’ll do exactly that. Since we have a better understanding of the benefits of metacognition (if you don’t, please go read my previous post!), let’s look at the ways we can bring metacognition into our daily habits.
Exploring the Two Facets of Metacognitive Practice
To begin, there are two sides to metacognitive theory that we need to lay out to understand how to apply this practice to our thinking on a daily basis.
Cognitive Knowledge — 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 — 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.
Developing Metacognitive Skills
Now we arrive at the meat of this post: 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.
- 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 parse down the information to the truly critical pieces.
- 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.
- 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!
- Write It Down — Or record it, or make flash cards; but 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 for two reasons: first, because your brain can’t hold everything you ever hear, read, or see. More importantly, because 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.
- 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.
Conclusion: What Are You Waiting For?
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.