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Growing on the Go: Using Metacognition as a Growth Strategy

TIGNUM Thoughts

April 3rd, 2021

Insights from the author

By Brian Wade

One of the most common challenges we hear from our clients is the tempo of their day-to-day. For many of us, our days feel like a never-ending series of meetings, presentations, and administrative work, all of which are book-ended with our personal life and responsibilities. When we feel like our lives are moving this fast, it can be difficult to imagine having time for personal and professional growth. The traditional method of learning and growing is achieved when we're given time to step away, calm our minds, and reflect. But what if we don’t have the luxury of having that time away to absorb our learnings and reset ourselves? In our world, we have to maximize our learning potential and grow on the go.

Over the years, there has been an abundance of research on how to increase our learning potential and how to best grow ourselves - from newer concepts like fixed and growth mindsets by Carol Dweck to the traditional Bloom’s Taxonomy. One area of research that continues to prove as a premier way to enhance learning, growth, and ultimately, performance is metacognition. Metacognition simply means ‘thinking about your thinking’. The strategy involves bringing awareness to what you are thinking before, during, and after a performance. It’s been shown to increase the adaptability of behaviors and cognitive flexibility, improving future performance on similar tasks. Personally, I love metacognition. It fits perfectly within a high-speed lifestyle because it mainly involves simply asking yourself some questions as you move throughout your day.

However, in order to be successful in using metacognition as a growth strategy, we must also practice vulnerability. Metacognition enhances our ability to expand our knowledge and potential, but only if we allow ourselves to first recognize our limitations in that knowledge. The second key driver of using metacognition is the practice of curiosity. Once we’ve realized that our knowledge is incomplete and we have gaps in our abilities, we have to start asking the right questions to close these gaps. Too often our questions focus on either the outcomes or actions of the performance, but metacognition questions are more focused on what we were thinking and processing before, during, and after our task. By enhancing our awareness of how we process or think about something, we unlock our growth potential, changing strategies, emotions, and behaviors.

Metacognition specifically helps us grow in the planning (pre-work), monitoring (during), and evaluating (reflection) phases of performance. By segmenting an event into these three time periods, we give ourselves more opportunity to find growth potential and ask more questions instead of looking at the performance as a whole. So, how do we use this strategy of metacognition? Here are some examples of questions to ask yourself, or even your team, when engaging in a meeting, workshop, or other performance.

Planning or Pre-Phase:

  • What do I already know about this topic?
  • What questions could I ask to help me learn about this event?
  • What is the leader’s goal in having me do this task?
  • Is there an experience I can draw upon to help me in this situation?
  • Based on my current understanding, how should I use my time, and what will my strategies be?
  • How am I going to monitor my progress on this project?

Monitoring or During-Phase:

  • What insights or lightbulbs am I having?
  • What am I still most confused about?
  • What other resources could I be using? How would I use them, and what would I gain?
  • What could I be doing differently to address any challenges or confusion?
  • What can I do to increase my interest/energy/focus?

Evaluation or Post/Reflection-Phase:

  • What did I learn today that is in conflict with my prior knowledge?
  • What did I find most interesting?
  • Did I use all resources available to me? If not, why?
  • What were the strengths and/or flaws of my approach today?
  • What confusions do I still need to clarify, and whom do I need to ask?
  • If a colleague were to have this task, what would advice would I give them?
  • If I had assigned this task, how could I have communicated intent or direction more clearly?

Not every question needs to be asked, nor is every question relevant to what you’re doing. But asking yourself metacognitive questions like those shown above does help you grow on the go. They may provide a quick insight into a new way of doing something, a different behavior to take, or even offer a shift in emotions and mindset. These questions can help break up the monotony of repetitive tasks and provide an infusion of energy into a stagnant project. Ultimately though, these questions promote growth by expanding your awareness and thinking about your team’s performance.

As always, we would love to hear what you think.

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