Having good metacognition – the ability to think about our own thoughts – is key to success in many aspects of life. Fortunately, there are things we can all do to get to know ourselves better
AS YOUR eyes skip across the words on this page, it is likely that you are not only reading, but also thinking about yourself reading. Are the words clear? Can you concentrate? Do you have time to read this article now or are you feeling rushed?
Psychologists have a term for this kind of awareness of our own minds: metacognition – literally, the ability to think about our own thinking. Being able to turn our thoughts on ourselves is a defining feature of being human. But we often overlook the power it has in shaping our lives, both for good and ill. The importance of good self-awareness can seem less obvious than, say, the ability to make mathematical calculations, or remember facts. Instead, for most of us, metacognition is like the conductor of an orchestra, occasionally intervening to nudge the players in the right (or wrong) direction.
Now, research from my lab and others is pulling back the veil on self-awareness, giving us a new-found respect for the power of the reflective mind. We have found ways to measure it, and can even watch it in action using brain scanners. What we have discovered is already suggesting a rethink in our understanding of conditions like dementia, but it has implications for us all. Boosting self-awareness can improve our decisions, open our eyes to fake news and help us think clearly under pressure. Just as a good conductor can make the difference between a routine rehearsal and a world-class performance, the subtle influence of metacognition can make the difference between failure and success in many aspects of life.
We rely …