attentional focus cognitive readiness Nov 29, 2023

Charlie had his typical Monday morning, two reoccurring meetings back-to-back.

The first was his department’s update meeting. Plenty of words, lots of talking, and a big spreadsheet lighting the room from the projector. After that, on to the second meeting for one of his ongoing projects. Here diagrams, flowcharts, and data filled the room from different monitors, printouts, and whiteboards.

Later in the week, Patty sent Charlie an email thanking him for getting the information she requested, in the department meeting, to her on time. It was an off the cuff request, but it was no sweat.

Frank came up to Charlie at his desk. It was Thursday afternoon, and he wanted to know where Charlie’s report was. A report that was due Wednesday. Frank had reminded him about it in that second, project meeting. Charlie couldn’t remember being reminded.

Charlie had most of the report complete, but it was late to Frank, so he rushed to send it over Friday morning. At lunch that day, he couldn’t let go of the fact that he forgot and didn’t get that report out on time. He also thought about Patty’s thank you email. How was it so easy to remember Patty’s random request but forget Frank’s deliberate reminder?

What happened?
Charlie kept thinking…

He was and was not practicing metacognition
Metacognition is understanding how you think, more commonly referred to as thinking about thinking.

This often involves a conscious attempt to control. This is a really important aspect of attentional focus and will be useful for the other cognitive readiness sub-categories, like self-regulation. The better you understand how you think and process within the other categories, the better you’ll be at controlling them and in turn improving and adjusting your thoughts and actions.

Many researchers describe metacognition as having two basic components: a knowledge component and a regulatory component.

Experts possess more knowledge that is better organized and integrated than novices, but they also have highly developed metacognitive skills. They are more aware of themselves as learners and regularly reflect to understand why their chosen strategy is working or not working.

What does the practice look like?
If you notice yourself having an inner dialogue about your thinking, prompting you to evaluate your learning or problem-solving, you’re experiencing metacognition. This skill helps you think better, make sound decisions, and solve problems more effectively.

Examples of metacognitive activities include planning how to approach a task, using appropriate skills and strategies to solve problems, monitoring your comprehension, self-assessing and self-correcting, evaluating progress, and becoming aware of distracting stimuli.

Is it working?
Only you can determine if it’s working for you or not, but here are a few clues to look for as you practice:

- Are you adjusting the way information is processed? If someone is delivering information in a less than desirable way, are you able to convert the information into the form you prefer? If you’re visual, are you drawing diagrams or adding images to your notes? If you prefer to read and write, are you writing out descriptions to images or videos?

- Are you remembering more, being less forgetful, or needing fewer reminders?

- Are you able to flow more effectively from one topic to the next? Can you go from one meeting to the next without them blurring together, for example?

As mentioned above, metacognition is about self-regulation and has a self-reflection element to it too. You can be confident that you are practicing if you take time to reflect and are controlling the inputs and outputs to your liking.

Can you share this with others?
What if you’re a leader and want to use metacognition to help your teammates?

Aside from the obvious of sharing this article and information like it, you can understand that every individual has their own way of thinking. Acknowledge this and begin to add multiple ways of delivering information to your team.

Start with the four learning styles. The learning styles are: Visual, Audio, Words (reading & writing), and Kinesthetic (doing). Add as many of these to your meetings and interactions as you can to allow each individual to pick up on their preferred style.

Charlie was and was not practicing metacognition. He was when he sat down for lunch and tried to figure out how he could have forgotten the report. He was not because he had forgotten the report in the first place.

That’s where Charlie grew. Through his reflection, he began to understand that the meetings were different, that he had a preferred way to obtain information, and that he could make some adjustments to his notes for the second, visually delivered meeting.

See, Charlie preferred reading information. The big spreadsheet from his department meeting was, for him, easy to absorb. He wasn’t distracted, he was able to remember the information, and if someone added something verbally, his mind was calm enough to pay attention and remember that too.

Initially, Charlie couldn’t calm his mind in the project meeting. There was too much going on with monitors displaying up to the minute data, printouts with processes and goals, and whiteboards with colorful notes and action items. But as he practiced metacognition, he was able to stabilize the stimuli, sift through the noise, and write down the important information so he could read it after the meeting.

If this is something you want to try out, start small, but start by reflecting on when you’re able to bring in a lot of information in a positive way verses when things are chaotic and a losing battle for you. Then reflect on what is going on with the positive situations verses the chaotic ones. After that, see if there are paths from the positives that you can take to help you understand your way of thinking.

References: [46] [47]

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