Here's how metacognition can make your life better

by Nina Post

Metacognition is usually defined as "thinking about thinking," or "judgments about thinking." To be more specific, metacognitive competence includes planning, monitoring, evaluating, goal-setting, and strategy adjustment.

Metacogntive competency can lead to greater well-being, especially when combined with the pursuit of long-term goals. How does metacognition work with psetting out your goal strategy? You can define your goal in the planning phase, adapt your strategies and identify weaknesses in the monitoring phase, and assess your progress toward the goal in the evaluation phase.

Accomplishing your goals makes you pretty happy - it brings positive affect to your life. Recent studies have found a significant positive relationship between goal-striving and metacognition. Metacognition can help with your selection of goals by identifying your problem or purpose, the kind of goal that can address it, and your plan to accomplish that goal.

Improving your metacognition facilitates a growth mindset and boosts self-efficacy, or your belief in your capabilities. Continuously challenging yourself to learn new things and develop new skills will train your metacognition and contribute to your happiness and satisfaction in life. You can read more about developing mental strategies in the excellent book Mastermind.

Being metacognitive means acting with more self-awareness, which according to another study may be the link to eudaimonic well-being. Self-awareness helps you create a strategy to respond to obstacles and plan how you think and respond. Awareness is a part of self-control, and self-control is invaluably important for well-being.

You can engage in deliberate practice to train your metacognition, and make adjustments as you observe and evaluate your own process of learning and deducing. For instance, what time is better for certain tasks? Do you tend to retain more information if you take hand-written notes? Does explaining a newly-learned process to someone else help you internalize the process and enable you to recall the steps more readily in the future? If you're studying for a particularly challenging test, are you getting better at knowing what questions you won't realistically get right and should just skip to make more time for the ones you're more confident with?

To recap: training in metacognition can improve your intrinsic motivation and your long-term goal strategy, help you control your thoughts, and make your life better.

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Why a one-person company is a lot like a helicopter

by Nina Post

My knowledge of helicopters is limited to what I researched for one of my books, along with 80s TV (The A-Team; my husband loved Airwolf).

But I liked this metaphor of the relationship between the helicopter pilot and the air traffic controller to show what's like working as a one-person team. Let's hope I don't torture it *too* much. (If anything, you'll learn more about helicopters.)

Helicopters present a particular challenge to controllers. The advantage to working with helicopters is the flexibility, but there's also an unpredictability that requires a unique combination of skills for the controller. The unpredictability of external factors affects you much more as one person, and it requires skills that those working with the fixed-wing don't need.

Last week on the blog, I talked about boosting the efficacy of teams. A larger company is a large team (which has teams within those). It can be likened to a fixed-wing aircraft, which takes longer to get moving because there are many more people involved and it takes a lot more coordination to do even one simple thing. That's the inefficiency of working in a large team. Once you add even one more person, everything gets more difficult to coordinate and make happen.

As I can continue to treat this metaphor like Tim Roth in Reservoir Dogs, here are a few things to keep in mind as a one-person company: 

Clarify your destination and the route you're going to take to get there.

Even a basic plan is good. A fixed-wing aircraft operates in a more fixed path, especially when departing the runway, e.g., launching a new product, which requires a lot of energy, people, and sign-offs. When you're one person running a business, getting that many resources together just to leave the runway isn't your concern.

But even though I wrote about how to boost your team's efficacy, the truth is, it's an ideal. It's possible, but unlikely. Most teams are grossly inefficient, and people's flaws typically become more overt and problematic over time. Exceptions to this are rare. They might have built in the values, rules, and system from the very beginning and adapt to new variables. Or their magic is strong enough to overcome the personality conflicts and inefficiency. But most likely, a large team is stumbling all over itself and can barely get through one step of a huge process. This can be to your advantage.  

However, even though your company has agility and autonomy, it can't go in multiple directions at the same time. Usually you have your head down, frantically trying to keep afloat. But it's worth revisiting your plan and see if you might need to modify it from time to time.  

Pick up a little speed to outrun turbulence

A fixed-wing aircraft prefers to take off into the wind so they can use it to climb faster, and it isn't affected by the wind while taxiing because its wheels provide control.

Wind affects helicopters, too. Use "translational lift" to pick up speed and get into calmer air. At a slow speed, the downwash of the main rotor creates turbulence, and as it moves faster, the helicopter can outrun the turbulence and more efficiently generate lift.

When there's turbulence, you can't just sit around and wait. Sometimes things start to close in on you and you can't keep moving slowly--you have to do something to move faster and out of the way. It's times like these when you can't underestimate yourself and what you have the energy and wherewithal to do.

Any given level of turbulence affects you more, but on the flip side, you can pick up speed and push through the turbulence if you just make up your mind about where you're heading and put your resources (time, energy, skills; "blood, toil, tears, and sweat") into that.

At the pilot's own risk

Helicopters can only get clearance from the controller when taking off from what's called a movement area -- taxiways and runways. If a chopper takes off in a non-movement area, the controller can't clear it for takeoff. It's at the pilot's own risk. Sound familiar?

As an example, if a helicopter wants to depart from an FBO ramp, like a hospital helipad on airport space, the departure (or landing) risk would have to be on the pilot. The pilot is solely responsible for avoiding any obstacles in his departure area. That's sort of like the risk dynamic of a one-person company: you're in control, but can't hide behind bureaucracy if things don't go your way. You own the risks, but also the rewards.

Land and Hold Short

In a Land and Hold Short (LAHSO) operation, the controller directs the helicopter to land on a specific part of the runway, especially if the runway intersects another runway. It's not dissimilar from seeing a market opportunity, pivoting towards it, and getting your product into the hands of customers at just the right time.

Even a smaller helicopter can wield strong outwash vortices similar to the wing tip vortices of a larger fixed wing aircraft. That downwash can rock a Cessna, easy. Being the little guy doesn't mean the bigger company is automatically going to win. Don't underestimate your ability to win if a fixed-wing gets too close.

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Rotary revelations: managing helicopter operations around fixed-wing aircraft demands a little finesse and a lot of clarity on the part of pilots and controllers
Tarrance Kramer, IFR. 33.1 (Jan. 2017)


How a good team functions - 7 ways to boost your collective efficacy

by Nina Post

What's collective efficacy? It's a trust among team members who want to achieve common goals.

Here are 7 tips for increasing the collective efficacy of your team:

1. Follow a set of core values. Teams fall apart because of personality conflict, discipline problems, lack of cohesion, and poor motivation. I'm not talking about the core values of your team or company as they relate to the customer, but how your values relate to and resonate with the team. Values are in actions and behavior.

Aside from "don't hire assholes," when you become aware of any of those conflicts, tackle it aggressively from the beginning (in a good way), because once it gets to be a pattern, it's really hard to get people to change their behavior. A bad sign in a team is when people, whether managers or co-workers, aren't responsive to one another's requests.

2. Instill and encourage a culture in which people show one another appreciation, acknowledgment, and respect as individuals and professionals. Promote an environment where people communicate regularly and are responsive to one another.  

There's a basic social contract among co-workers, and if people start ignoring that - not responding, not communicating - it can go downhill fast. I can almost guarantee you that if this is a problem, you won't achieve as much as you otherwise could. It's like an anvil on the motivation and efficacy of your team.

3. Use techniques of transformational leaders to create high levels of self-determined motivation in team members. Give them opportunities for higher skill and challenge.

4. Use techniques of transactional leaders by setting clear expectations and goals, or making sure those are set for the team. This goes back to core values, too.

5. Have your team spend more time together so they can build Transactive Memory Systems, or “shared systems for encoding, storing, and retrieving information.” If your team works remotely, it's good for them to get together when they can, even if it's just once a year. If you're in the same city, it's good to have everyone meet once a week to build that interpersonal dynamic (and TMS) that you don't necessarily get otherwise.

With a Differentiated TMS, people hold different (though possibly complementary) knowledge, whereas with an integrated TMS, people hold similar knowledge. For better collaboration and helping, you want an Integrated TMS.

6. Make your team more of a distributed cognitive system ("The Borg don't ingest food. Their implants can synthesize any organic molecules their biological tissues require. What they need is energy.")

To do this, take an extended cognition perspective and use a variety of visual representations.

External cognition posits that the brain relies on the external environment, especially for complex tasks. (I'm a huge proponent of taking notes by hand - I think it allows for much better retention and recall of information - and this is one example of external cognition.)

Boundary objects as visualization tools act as a bridge to communication and collaboration. These can be concept maps, charts, prototypes, project management tools, etc. Using these tools increases the sharing of information among people in the team and supports problem solving.

7. Use the Resonance Performance Model (RPM), a tool that covers the following four components: (a) The Way You Want to Feel, (b) Preparation, (c) Obstacles, and (d) Revisit The Way You Want to Feel.

If the team is procrastinating (or you are), try boosting your self-regulation with a pre-planned strategy and self-talk.

Pay attention to your internal responses as a part of self-regulation—it gives you a greater sense of control over how you perceive and handle obstacles. Plan a reference point of a desired way to feel when working with your team, and a way you don’t want to feel (when responding to obstacles).

I hope your team isn't dysfunctional, and instead, that it functions more like the Chicago Bulls from 1991-1993.

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Determinants of Prosocial Behavior in Included Versus Excluded Contexts
Personality and Social Psychology

An Investigation Into the Coaching Approach of a Successful World Class Soccer Coach: Anson Dorrance
International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching

Taking positive psychology beyond the individual
Positive Psychology: Harnessing the Power of Happiness, Mindfulness, and Personal Strength

Technology as Teammate: Examining the Role of External Cognition in Support of Team Cognitive Processes

A view from the inside: an in-depth look at a female university student's experience with a feel-based intervention to enhance self-confidence and self-talk
The Qualitative Report

With a little help from your friend
Journal of Social and Personal Relationships


How to Use Social Comparison to Your Advantage

According to the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal, “social comparisons occur automatically and unconsciously” and “appear to be unavoidable.”


I wasn't too surprised, either.

The psychologist who first wrote about social comparison theory in 1954 believed that comparing ourselves to others was a drive almost as powerful as thirst or hunger.

(Or for human blood!)

Sure, you can indulge in some downward social comparisons, which can be helpful, though we don’t like to admit it. Or you can minimize or remove some of the triggers—social media, podcasts, etc. But there are ways we can use social comparison to our advantage, just like we can use our anxiety for energy.  

Here are five ways to use social comparison for self-improvement:

  1. Try the adaptive technique of comparing even more through an upward social comparison—when you actively compare yourself on the other person’s strengths, not weaknesses.

  2. Let social comparison motivate you to put more time and effort into mastery goals, not performance goals. Focus on temporal comparison: compare yourself today to where you were a year or two ago, and envision yourself in the future having achieved the goals that are under your control. Let social comparison spur you on to make a solid plan for the year. Because you can spin your wheels and feel like a failure, or you can figure out your plan and take an action on it now.

  3. Think of your achievements or strengths in a part of your life that’s not directly connected to the comparison source.  According to the theory of self-affirmation, you can restore your overall feeling of self-worth by affirming positive aspects of yourself in other domains.

  4. Ask yourself the following questions: Is this something you actually want? Does it fall within your definition of meaningful success? Is it actually within your control to achieve something similar? Are there any habits in your life you should change to achieve a similar goal, and do you have a plan for achieving similar goals? Is there a small action you can take right now? And what can you reduce or eliminate from your schedule to streamline your life?

  5. Practice mindfulness. Accept the present moment and the feelings caused by social comparison without any judgment.

Try to get in the habit of responding to social comparison triggers with those tactics, and see if it doesn’t affect you less over time—and allow you use it to your benefit.

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Compensating for Failure Through Social Comparison
Wood, Giordano-Beech, Ducharme. University of Waterloo

Worrying about what others think: A social-comparison concern intervention in small learning groups
Micari, Pazos. Active Learning in Higher Education

Social Comparison: Why, With Whom, and With What Effect?
Suls, Martin, and Wheeler. University of Iowa and Macquarie University


5 tips for creating your self-talk strategy

Our minds can be like malfunctioning iPods. Sometimes you leave the repeat function on, and the mean stuff you say to yourself loops over and over again. Or you’re on a playlist that contains a bunch of short files: one that tells you you’re an idiot, one that reminds you of something annoying someone said to you, and one that reminds you to worry about what people think of you and what you’re doing.

If that were an iPod, you would say, wow, these songs are terrible — why am I listening to this shit? You’d get rid of the files and replace them with something that makes you feel better, makes you feel strong and confident, makes you learn something.

But it’s not an iPod. This metaphor may come as a shock, but it’s your mind I’m talking about.

What can you do? The good news is, you can make a point to counter those thoughts with positive, useful ones—and even use a strategy to help direct your thoughts and plan how you want to feel.

It’s well-worth it: self-talk is a useful self-regulation strategy for managing cognitive processes and emotions, increasing performance, and facilitating learning.

One of the functions of self-talk is criticizing yourself. Those files suck; replace them with other files you’ve listened to many, many times, like “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” and “Lovefool”.

Another function of self-talk is self-reinforcement, or talking to yourself about positive daily events. (Yes, that’s possible.)

And another very important function of self-talk is self-management, which is when you regulate and direct your daily behavior with a strategy or instructions for what to do or say.

So here are five tips for creating a strategy to manage and prepare your self-talk:

  1. After you wake up, ask how you want yourself to feel that day. It’s not easy to remember to do this, but it definitely helps. Depending on what you have on your schedule, do you want to feel capable? Confident? Calm? Focused?

  2. Think about the feelings that often trigger your self-criticism. Do you tend to be frustrated, angry, disheartened, discouraged, unmotivated? Is your self-talk the most critical when you’re comparing yourself to others? Do you tend to let situational things get to you, or are you especially susceptible to letting other people’s moods affect you? These are obstacles you should prepare to encounter and have a strategy for handling.

  3. Pick a feeling that counters those states (cheerful, calm, confident, focused, motivated) and think about how you can prepare to feel that way. Is there a trigger phrase or keyword you can use? For example, if skiing the International Run at Snoqualmie made you feel incredibly capable, focused, and confident, then you could say “International Run” to yourself to trigger that feeling. If kayaking the San Juan Islands makes you feel calm, then use a keyword for that (like “Doe Island”).

    Photo by Carina Tysvær at Unsplash

  4. Make a list of actions you believe would be the most influential in helping you attain the feeling you want. It could be learning and doing research, working efficiently, doing focused and uninterrupted work, listening to calming music, going for a run, or monitoring your inner dialogue and your beliefs in your abilities.

  5. Drawing from the lists above, identify a few times when you felt negative emotions and were engaging in a lot of critical self-talk, but overcame those obstacles to accomplish something important or meaningful. This could be a work project, a presentation that went great, a challenging hobby, a big move. Give it a short and pithy name and use it a touchstone for when you need it most.

For that last tip, it could be a situation where you felt a lot of doubt about your ability to pull off a huge project, and were simultaneously trying to get it done while balancing work responsibilities. You had no feedback along the way, no idea where to even start, and a ton to learn—but you took it one step at a time and made progress. And now you know you can tackle a similar or even bigger project. Use that as a trigger with a descriptive keyword when faced with a similar challenge in the future.

Creating awareness of your self-talk, having a strategy for responding to obstacles, and applying tactics in the moment is a skill you learn how to apply over time, so just keep working on it!

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A group resonance intervention with a volleyball team: An exploration of the process between a consultant, coach, and athletes. Callary, B., & Durand-Bush, N. Athletic Insight.

The Development and Initial Evaluation of Two Promising Mental Preparatory Methods in a Sample of Female Cross Country Runners. Donohue, Barnhart, Covassin, Carpin and Korb. Journal of Sport Behavior.

A view from the inside: an in-depth look at a female university student's experience with a feel-based intervention to enhance self-confidence and self-talk. Guerin, Arcand, and Durand-Bush. The Qualitative Report.