Thinking thoughtfully

Chen’s findings build on the richness of metacognition research – which is our awareness and understanding of our thought processes (or, more quickly “thinking thinking”.) Effective strategies can include monitoring your progress towards achieving your goal, identifying your mistakes and areas for improvement those challenges.

Suppose you are a student learning French. Metacognition will help you see that something like self-examination is a better way to learn new words than just read a list of words. You may find it difficult to follow the dialogue and decide to spend more time watching French movies to improve your listening ear (rather than saying, don’t devote yourself to grammar). You can also set up more complex challenges – such as initiating more and more difficult conversations with locals – to improve your conversations.

The use of metacognitive techniques is not just a reflection of a person’s raw intelligence. “These approaches define success even after controlling the IQ outcome,” explains Jean-Louis Berger, of the Swiss Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training in Lausanne, whose research examines various ways to measure appreciation. The importance of recognition in different fields – but Chen wondered if there might be other common patterns in different domains. Do some people just tend to use metacognitive techniques for any purpose they intend to achieve? And if so, can we teach more people to think strategically that way?

To find out, Chen and his team of investigators compiled a list of questions to test the concept used, and you can try it out below. Just rate the following statements on a scale 1 (never) to 5 (always):

When you cling to something, you often ask yourself: “What can I do to help myself?”
Whenever you feel like you are not progressing, you often ask yourself: “Is there a better way to do this?”
Whenever you feel overwhelmed with something, how often do you ask yourself: ‘How can I do this better?’
At times when you feel challenged, you often ask yourself: “What can I do to get better at this?”
When struggling with something, you often ask yourself: “What can I do to help myself?”
Whenever something seems hard, you often ask yourself: “What can I do to get better at this?”
The higher the score, the more likely you are to have a strategic idea.

In the first test, Chen’s team asked a group of 365 students to complete the scale by mid-autumn semester. As a result, their scores predicted their use of various learning strategies (of the type described above) in the next term, which, in turn, predicted their grades in various categories.

To determine whether the strategic mindset influenced influence in the pursuit of goals in various fields, Chen’s team then evaluated another group of 356 participants pursuing an educational or professional challenge (such as learning a new computer language) and a health or fitness goal (such as weight loss). Once again, mindfulness strategies effectively predicted participants’ use of metacognitive strategies – such as continuous, systematic monitoring of progress – and, as a result, their overall chances of achieving both types of goals. Some people seem to be very concerned about changing and improving the way they work in any job they do – and it makes a huge difference to their overall success in seemingly unrelated areas. In their last experiment, researchers tested the ability of well-meaning people to do well – and if that was the case, it could change people’s behavior as they faced a new challenge.

Participants first read an article outlining the basic concept of the strategic mindset, which was to be summarized in a potential post on social media. After that, they are led to a laboratory full of seemingly endless eggs. Their job was the kind of thing you could learn on the first day of cooking school: distinguishing whites from extracts as cleanly and efficiently as possible. If any snare came into the white bin, they were punished.

While that may sound like a great choice, it was chosen correctly because of its surprise value. “We were looking for a job that was unusual and challenging for many participants, that had clear performance metrics, and could be achieved in a variety of ways,” explained Chen. There was no “clear” answer – participants could sift the egg with your fingers or make a small hole in the shell and allow a white drip, for example – so they needed to find the best procedure that worked for them. “People have a lot of creativity when it comes to finding different ways to do the job well,” Chen said.

Certainly, participants who read the article about strategic mindset tackle the exercise by wanting to know and show more – they make ample opportunity to explore different approaches and change their behavior appropriately. As a result, they outnumbered the ruling party by vital genes.

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