There is a strong evidence base highlighting the impact that developing a capacity to think about our thoughts has on our mental health and also our capacity to learn and develop, but little in the way of how this skill can be taught. Here are some practical ideas for those in teaching, leadership or supervisory roles that are interested in the role they can play in helping others develop this skill.
1. Find a way of describing what meta cognition is, the difference it can make and that this is a skill that can be developed. Perhaps suggesting that it is a “tool to help you drive your brain”, or that the brain is like a muscle that can be developed. Highlight that people are not born as clever, stupid or average as you might think and that what really drives success is effort. For more information take a look at Anders Ericsson’s work. His book “Peak” is a good place to start.
2. Draw attention to effort not ability. As soon as we say things like “you are a born mathematician” we make the person think that their success in that area is caused by factors beyond their control, their innate predisposition. There are a number of problems with this…they may think that if they fail at a task then someone else is to blame, that the more effort they apply the less able they are. They may even feel acute embarrassment if they get something wrong and crushed by the experience and from there on in withdraw from learning to protect their ego rather than view it as an opportunity to learn. For more information take a look at Carol Dweck’s work on Mindsets.
3. Encourage accurate beliefs about ability. This does not mean telling people they can achieve anything they want to. I know that I am never going to win at Wimbledon no matter how much effort I apply as I am about 20 years too late in starting and I don’t have the physical characteristics needed. However, what I do know is that I could, with effort and coaching, do better in my club’s local league.Meta cognition is having accurate beliefs about oneself so reflecting on what it possible is an important aspect of target setting.
4. Help develop an awareness of the mind/body connection in order to build self-regulation skills. Notice when the body is responding to something in an unhelpful way because it is feeling threatened rather than stretched. Meta cognition has long been recognised by those working in mental health, as a key skill that helps keep emotions in check. Once we pick up on those early clues that we are feeling stressed we can take the action we need to harness emotions.