By Kendall Zwang
Two goldfish are swimming together in a fishbowl. One fish swims up to the other fish and says, “Ah, the water is warm today.” The other fish responds, “Yes, quite …” The fish then exclaims, “Wait! We’re in WATER?!”
The purpose of this short anecdote is simple: It demonstrates our ability to be self-aware, better known as metacognition. Metacognition is the process used to plan, monitor and assess your understanding and performance. It is used while thinking and learning and while understanding yourself as a thinker and learner. Basically, metacognition is thinking about thinking.
Often, we find ourselves to be the “other” fish in the bowl. We forget about the water all around us as we’re trapped in our hum-drum, daily routines. This is where metacognition comes into play. If we allow ourselves to reimagine our lives with a greater sense of awareness, our daily tasks become more meaningful, profound and productive.
Picture this: You’re stuck in what seems to be the worst rush-hour traffic of your life. Bumper to bumper. Car horns blaring. Endless rows of cars. Total frustration. The occasional annoyed sigh. “How can there be this many people on the road? I have somewhere important to be.”
Instead of dwelling on the obvious – you’re not going to get to crash on your couch in your pajamas any time soon – try to think about and approach the horrific traffic in a different way. Take a second to think about the things you haven’t had the time to do lately. Put on that new podcast your friend has been nagging you to listen to. Give your parents who haven’t heard from you in a month a call. Look around at the people in the cars next to you; they all have stories and families and also can’t wait to get home to their comfy couches.
It’s important to take a step back from our ego and superiority complex. Once you can accomplish this, you might not find yourself in many more frustrating situations. The ability to think about thinking is not only helpful in stressful situations like the above described, it’s useful in just about every moment of our lives.
This concept was originally introduced to me in my media strategies class. My professor challenged us to start thinking about media and research in new ways. The fact that a whole hour and a half lecture was structured around metacognition made me understand its importance. I took this new style of thinking with me into our first assignment and saw it make a huge difference in the quality of my work.
Metacognition gives us the power to change our attitudes and perspectives when conducting any task. If you can think around the task rather than simply about it, you will find more meaning in your work. Instead of thinking of what you have to do, think how you will get it done. This applies to the work piled up on your desk, the long list of chores waiting for you at home and that hobby you really want to improve upon.
Finding this “how” will produce more effective employees, and frankly, way better humans. Everyone has the power to think on a higher level, and once you get there, all of our work and lives will carry more breadth and meaning.
For more reading on metacognition, click here.