Harnessing the Power of Metacognition in Fragile Times

By Art Costa, Bena Kallick, and Allison Zmuda

As we are increasingly inundated with “great ideas,” free offers to use subscriptions to new tools, and mixed messages at the local, state, and national levels, how do we keep our head above water? We are getting seasick and need to find some moments of safe harbor. This post focuses on how we can recognize, control, and shift our thinking to create a little bit of peace, clarity, and connectedness.

We especially liked this initial comment in a Harvard Business Review article:

“We are dealing with two contagions — the virus itself and the emotions it generates. Negative emotions are every bit as contagious as the virus, and they’re also toxic. Fatigue, fear, and panic undermine our ability to think clearly and creatively, manage our relationships effectively, focus attention on the right priorities, and make smart, informed choices.”

We are constantly reminded of our own fragility and the smallest hiccup can send us in a tailspin. Because we know the power of metacognition, how do we gain better control over the way we respond?

Metacognitive Strategies to Help Shift the Mindset: “If you are not aware of it you can’t change it.”

When you use a strategy to help shift your perspective, be consciously aware by naming the habit. As a result, you will metacognitively become aware of the benefit and value of using the habit which increases the likelihood of transfer to new situations.

  • Recognizing the social need for interaction.
    • Name it: Thinking Interdependently
    • Reflective questions to shift my thinking: How might I connect with others in a safe and thoughtful way? What ideas can we experience together? Games we can play? Lessons we can teach one another?
  • Recognizing your emotions, feelings, physical state, and mindset.
    • Name it: Thinking about Your Thinking
    • Label and express those emotions, e.g., “I’m exhausted” “I’m upset.”
    • Breathe (inhale for 3 exhale for 6) and find ways to let go of the negative feelings.
    • Take control over your thinking and consciously make the shift so as to maintain effort/presence/focus.
    • Remind yourself about how you have managed those emotions in the past.
    • Think positively: seek positive side effects in the crisis. For example, the price of gasoline has gone down; there is less pollution because of limited traffic; you have more time to catch up on reading, hobbies, passion projects.
  • Surfacing other’s emotions—helping them become more aware of how they are feeling.
    • Name it: Listening with Understanding and Empathy
    • Reflective questions to shape your thinking: How can I affirm and show that I understand how the other person is feeling? Might I paraphrase to show understanding and then name the feeling state that I am observing. For example, “as you describe this situation, you are feeling angry about it…”
  • Laughter brings relief.
    • Name it: Finding Humor
    • Ideas to shift my thinking: Start a humor group in which you exchange fun cartoons and jokes. They do not have to be just about COVID 19. Having a little fun can break the tension .
    • Reading to shed more light on humor in crisis.
    • In case you need a laugh…

Share your ways of using the Habits of Mind to empower your own thinking as well as how to influence the thinking of others with whom you are interacting. Make a comment below or reach out to us directly.

See more posts from Art Costa, Bena Kallick and Allison Zmuda.

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If you are already using Habits of Mind as part of your daily practice and are committed to nurturing the growth of the dispositions in others, you can pursue becoming an individual practitioner certified by the Institute for Habits of Mind (IHOM).

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