GUEST POST: The Power of Metacognition in Everyday Life

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GUEST POST: The Power of Metacognition in Everyday Life

The inner voice and inner ear may be central to consciousness (2). The point is that talking to yourself is a powerful tool for successful living. I have previously described how to use your inner voice in order to practice metacognitive quality-control of your reading and self-regulation of your learning. You can learn how to carry out this activity simply by holding an inner dialogue as you consume academic content. As you read or consume academic content, ask yourself questions such as these:

  • Does this remind me of anything in another unrelated domain of knowledge?

  • Can I think of anything else I know that contradicts this concept?

  • What other things that I already know support the veracity of this concept?

  • Can I think of any practical examples of this?

  • Is this the first time that I’ve come across this nugget of knowledge?

  • Where else have I come across this idea?

  • Who else has tried to teach me this before?

  • How certain am I that this is true and correct?

  • Does this relate to anything else that I already know?

  • Where else in life can I find an example of this?

  • What other related concepts come to mind?

  • How difficult was it for me to grasp this?

  • If this is a WHAT, then can I explain the WHY?

  • How can this information be applied in my life?

  • Why is this important to know?

  • What else do I know about this topic?

  • What else would I like to learn about this subject?

  • Do I fully understand this?

  • Can I break this down into smaller parts?

  • How would I explain this to a child?

  • How does this fit in with the rest of what I know about this subject?

  • Is this information reliable?

  • Is this totally believable?

  • What, if anything, surprises me about this?

  • Is this easy to grasp?

  • Do I find this interesting and why?

  • How can I apply this in the real world?

  • Why is this important to know?

  • Am I curious to learn more about this?

  • What else might I want to learn more about because of this?

  • What does this mean to me?

  • Do I need to consult another source to better understand this?

  • What questions does this raise for me?

  • Does this have any broader implications?

  • Why is this important?

  • What other ways could I express this concept?

  • Does this bring any examples to mind?

  • Would I like to be able to remember this forever?

  • Should I consult another source?

  • How would I succinctly summarize this?

It’s widely accepted that metacognition has a central role in achieving academic success. But what role does it have in everyday life?

Every goal we pursue in life requires thought and planning behavior. To the degree that we can bring the skill of metacognition to bear, we can quality-control our thinking and planning in order to optimize our outcomes.

Many of us don’t purposely use our inner voice or ear to hold rational and reflective inner dialogues. It’s very easy to use them simply to fret, worry, levy blame, relive the past, and complain about our life circumstances. But there are many more useful activities that we can exercise in order to achieve more successful lives. Let me give you a couple of examples.

We can live more successfully by employing metacognition to properly assess for truthiness. Truth must be based on real rather than alternative facts. While we have become a highly polarized society, everyone still needs to embrace reality in order to live successful lives. But how do we test for the truth? Unfortunately, almost everyone falls victim to one of the most pernicious of the cognitive biases, confirmation bias. This is the bias where once we adopt an opinion, we lose the mental agility to change our minds. Instead, we search the world for data and in fact, we tend to interpret all future data in a manner that confirms what we already believe, silently ignoring anything that refutes our existing beliefs. So, how can you employ some metacognition to avoid this trap? We need to ask ourselves “What would this belief look like if it were untrue?”, “How can I disprove this opinion?” and “Could those folks with the opposite opinion actually be right?” We need to approach our opinions with vigilance and test them against the real world. It’s easy to have an opinion but the most successful people know how to reassess their beliefs. They are able to test their opinions without preconception and change their views when the real world shows them that they are wrong. Learn to develop a falsification bias! Hold metacognitive dialogues and challenge your thinking and beliefs.

This final example somewhat conflates cognition and metacognition. But I think that it is a story worth telling. We sometimes need to invent a solution for a serious everyday life problem. A tool that some of the greatest scientists and philosophers have utilized, throughout history, is the thought experiment.

One of my favorite examples of a thought experiment is the story of “Houston. We have a problem!” in Apollo 13. If you saw the movie version [please watch this short video to refresh your memory] you may recall that the astronauts experienced an oxygen tank failure because of an explosion during a routine stirring operation. They soon were running out of life-sustaining oxygen needed for breathing and the generation of electrical power. A NASA team on the ground used an 8-step approach that saved the lives of the astronauts.

  1. Define the problem

  2. Determine goals/objectives

  3. Generate an array of alternative solutions

  4. Evaluate the possible consequences of each solution

  5. Use this analysis to choose one or more courses of action

  6. Plan the implementation

  7. Implement with full commitment

  8. Adapt as needed based upon incoming data

While the experiment was actually carried out in the physical world by a team, this story demonstrates how a thought experiment can be used to solve a real-world problem.