What is Metacognition?
I’m frequently asked to define metacognition and metacognitive training, which I guess is fair since I do metacognitive training as part of my executive function coaching. The problem is that it’s really hard to define in a way that provides any real meaning. (“Thinking about thinking” only makes sense once you already understand what metacognition is...an idea that is pretty, well, meta.)
Metacognition is one of those things that’s easier to describe in terms of its opposite. You know those days when you’ve driven to work and don’t remember a single thing about how you’ve gotten there? No meta-awareness. Just “read” a whole chapter and cannot repeat a single concept? No metacognition there either. Does your kid approach homework by opening whatever book is closest rather than by thinking when assignments are due or by using *any* other strategy? You knew that one already.
Metacognition is the opposite of bumping through life. It means turning on the light switch to the rarely used or never used parts of the brain that plan, organize, and strategize (and becoming very aware we are doing so). It means knowing what we know and knowing what we don’t know. And yes, this can be taught.
Simple meditation exercises use the power of observation to strengthen metacognition. If we can engage in brief but regular walks while abandoning electronics and ignoring our inner monologues, simply walking and paying close attention to visual detail can increase mental control and clarity that can be extended over other circumstances. Additionally, executive function training, which combines more extensive metacognitive training with behavioral strategies, can help children and adults improve academic and occupational issues.