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Mental Models - Metacognition 🧠
Barely a mental model, in some ways just a simple word.
But this special word underpins the use of all of the models.
What is metacognition?
Metacognition is an awareness of your own thought processes.
Or if you like a more formal definition:
Knowing, perceiving, and/or attending to your own mental states; or knowing, perceiving, and/or attending to the fact that you have certain mental states.
Some like to say that metacognition is thinking about thinking.
Why is this interesting?
Metacognition is about awareness of your mind. It’s a good core starting point for a few related concepts.
To add another layer, Daniel Kahneman explains about two systems in the mind, calling them system 1 and system 2:
System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.
System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.
Metacognition could include knowledge of these two systems. Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow is a long but great read, and goes into much more detail on these systems.
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I think metacognition is most interesting in terms of how it might help us become less reactive. It reminds me of the ideas of cause and effect and stimulus and response. I’ve read about the idea of recognizing that there can be a gap between a stimulus - some change in your environment - and your reaction or response to that stimulus.
Sometimes it’s talked about as reacting vs. responding. Meaning that reacting is your impulsive immediate reaction, and responding is a more calculated response. I’ll leave you with Victor Frankl’s more poetic way of saying it:
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Want to go deeper?
💎 I like this one from Lao Tzu
Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
📖 Thinking Fast & Slow is worth reading, and re-reading.
📖 A truly epic tale: Victor Frankl’s must read book Man’s Search For Meaning.
🧘 Yes another reason to carve out that time to meditate! Meditation trains metacognition.
🔖 A nice simple primer on stimulus vs response.
“What you wind up seeing is basically if you are not listening to a certain style of music by the time you’re 28 or so, 95 percent chance you’re never going to. By age 35, if you’re not eating sushi, 95 percent chance you never will. In other words, these windows of openness to novelty close. But then as a biologist, the thing that floored me is: you take a lab rat and you look at when in its life it’s willing to try a novel type of food, and it’s the exact same curve! The equivalent of 10-year-old lab rats hate broccoli as much as 10-year-old humans do. And late adolescence, early adulthood, there’s this sudden craving for novelty. And that’s when primates pick up and leave their home troops and transfer into new ones. And then by the time you’re a middle-aged adult rat, you’re never going to try anything new for the rest of your life. It’s the exact same curve, which fascinated me."
⏯ I liked this longer advice from The Growth Equation blog:
Reacting is quick. Responding is slower. Responding creates more space between an event and what you do (or don’t do) with it. In that space, you give immediate emotions some room to breathe, better understand what is happening, make a plan using the most evolved part of your brain, then go forward accordingly.
Responding is harder than reacting. It takes more time and effort. It often requires letting a strong itch—the yearning to immediately do something, anything, about whatever just happened—be there without scratching it. But, like most things that require effort, responding also tends to be advantageous. You rarely regret deliberately responding to a challenging situation. You often regret automatically reacting to one.