Metacognition: It’s Not Just for Kids!
“What are you thinking about right now?” the teacher asked the daydreaming student.
“I don’t know,” came the honest response.
The teacher inquired further, “Well, you have to be thinking about something.”
“No, not really,” the student replied.
Teachers sometimes refer to this mental state as la-la land. This often happens to me when I go on a walk, especially if I’m by myself. There have been times when I have walked for half of an hour just gawking around and suddenly realize that I haven’t really entertained any thoughts in my mind at all! Literally nothing. I presume this is okay. There are times when it’s important for us to shut our minds down and rest. Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder if we shouldn’t spend more time actually thinking about our thinking.
In education circles metacognition is a term we often use for “thinking about our thinking.” Most describe metacognitive processes as opportunities for self-questioning, reflection, thinking out loud, planning, evaluation, and being aware of our strengths and weaknesses. I’m sure we can all agree that these thought processes are not just for kids. However, if you are like me, you’re often so busy doing what you have to do that taking time to purposefully think about our thinking is extremely challenging.
Why is it so important to think about our thinking? The Bible tells us our thoughts control our life (Proverbs 4:23). Everything we say, everything we do, and everything we feel starts in our thoughts. Have you ever said to yourself, “Why did I say that?” or “Why did I do that?” I know I have. We have all acted impulsively, sometimes not even being aware of our thoughts. Paying attention to our thinking can help us recognize and identify the accuracy and validity of our thoughts. Are our thoughts pure? Are they accurate? Are we focusing on the right things? What should we be thinking about?
“Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Philippians 4:8
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2
It is obvious from these Scriptures that our thought life should be a priority. What can we do to be more engaged with our thought life? How can we be more cognizant of what we are actually pondering? Let’s turn the tables and apply three metacognitive strategies we teach our students to our own lives.
I know it sounds weird to plan for thinking! We have all heard the phrase, “Garbage in, garbage out.” I would contend that the opposite is also true – “Purity in, purity out.” The first step is to take inventory of your day. We have to analyze what we are putting into our lives. Are we setting time aside to be in the Word of God and engage with Him in prayer? This must be priority number one.
If the answer to this questions is yes, then the follow up question is this: How do we carry what we have learned into our thoughts throughout the day? I can remember for years having my quiet time in the morning, but then once I got to work, my spiritual thoughts seldom returned. This still happens from time to time if I don’t plan to think about my thinking.
There are many ways to plan, and the method we choose will vary depending on our personalities and work styles. Here are four simple strategies I employ to help me plan my thinking.
I journal my thoughts during my quiet time.
I write down key thoughts or Scriptures on sticky notes and strategically placing them where I know I’m going to see them during the day.
When God lays something on my heart to do, I actually put it on my calendar and schedule it so I don’t forget.
If I’m struggling with negative thoughts, I will Google a verse to help me; every time the negative thought returns, I replace the thought with that Scripture (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).
I told my daughter recently that I was going to turn the TV off in the evenings and read. Although some mindless leisure activity is good for me (like watching HGTV), I am feeling a necessity for more balance. I need to better plan for what my mind is taking in. So I decided to take a more active role in feeding my thoughts with things of the Spirit. While Bible study is always good, there are also many great Bible-based resources available to us (e.g., books, podcasts, sermons, blogs, music). What is feeding your thoughts? Friends? Work? TV? Social media? Is it time to get a plan?
You would never walk into a classroom on Monday morning without lesson plans. In the same vein, we don’t want to begin our days without a plan for how we are going to think about our Savior throughout the course of the day.
Self-questioning is another beneficial metacognitive strategy for students. It works for adults, too! I am not talking about questioning yourself as in self-doubt. Self-questioning as a strategy helps us think more deeply about our Christian walk. It challenges us to take inventory of what we are learning and how we can grow. Self-questioning forces us to think about our thinking!
So, what questions should we be asking ourselves? While I feel many questions can arise from our quiet time, here are a few generic questions we all could ask ourselves to help guide our thinking.
· Am I growing spiritually? If so, how is God changing me? If not, why not?
· Is my life bearing fruit?
· How is God using me to serve others?
· How does my life reflect Christ?
· Am I controlling my thoughts? Are my thoughts aligned with God’s Word?
I’m not sure self-questioning comes naturally to most of us. This may be a strategy we have to purposefully develop. One caveat – we need to make sure we’re asking the right questions. Good self-questioning will help us grow in our faith and draw near to the Lord (Hebrews 11:6).
3. UNDERSTANDING OUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
Another metacognitive strategy is being aware of our own strengths and weaknesses. For students, knowing their strengths and weaknesses enables them to become more independent. They learn how to leverage their strengths as well as develop their weaknesses. The same can be true for us, but I wonder how many of us really stop and think about our strengths and weaknesses. Some may shy away from acknowledging areas of strength for fear of becoming prideful. Others may find it hard to admit weaknesses. It can be difficult to be transparent. However, as believers, understanding our strengths and weaknesses can result in victory for us.
When we think about our strengths and weaknesses in terms of our identify in Christ, EVERYTHING changes! Notice the prepositions in the following verses (emphasis added).
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5
I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13
Knowing and embracing our identity in Christ should change how we understand our strengths and weaknesses. Our strengths are not a result of our own efforts but are God-ordained. Our weaknesses become opportunities for God to demonstrate His power through us. In Christ, our strengths are magnified! In Christ, our weaknesses are made strong!
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:9
If you haven’t taken a moment to think about and understand your own strengths and weaknesses, now is the time. Knowing our own strengths and weaknesses gives us a better understanding of how God created us to function and allows us to embrace becoming all He created us to be!
Metacognition. Thinking about our thinking isn’t just for kids! Joan of Arc was quoted as saying, “All battles are first won or lost in the mind.” If this is true, let’s get a plan as it relates to our thoughts, ask ourselves questions, and seek to understand our strengths and weaknesses.
The next you find yourself in la-la land, take a moment and think about your thinking!