Metacognition – A Key Executive Function Skill
Generally, when we think about executive function skills, things like planning, organizing and prioritizing come to mind. But metacognition, or self-awareness, is also a key executive functioning skill. For those with ADHD, it usually develops fully in the late twenties. It refers to processes related to understanding your thinking and thought processes to improve learning and performance.
In a sense, it’s a way to think about your thinking that underlies all the other executive function skills. Metacognitive thinking, along with self-regulation, helps you choose, monitor, and evaluate how you approach a task, measure your progress, and determine how close you are to achieving your goal. It helps you transfer learning and information to other contexts and tasks by being more aware of strengths and challenges.
Metacognition also governs behavioral output and is linked to emotional control. It is believed to be governed by the right per-frontal cortex has been linked with brain structures that govern memory, attention, and self-monitoring.
This self-awareness can be a challenge for individuals with ADHD. But it can be improved with practice.
Metacognitive thinking processes can be applied throughout the execution of a task. They can help you learn and adjust as you go. Throughout you can ask yourself questions that help you move forward. For example:
- Before getting started – Look ahead to what is in front of you and ask yourself questions like: What is the goal of this assignment? Do I have what I need to work on this task? What are the sequence of steps are involved?
- During the task – Notice your progress and ask: How is my plan working? Am I making progress? Do I need to make any adjustments? Where do I need help? Who will I ask for assistance? What do I know about this topic/situation/problem already that could assist me here? Where can I find the information I need?
- After the task is done – Consider the process as well as what you accomplished. What did you do well? What could you have done differently?
This type of thinking can work in any situation you encounter in your daily life. You establish a valuable feedback loop when you practice asking yourself open-ended, non-judgmental questions questions which foster self-reflection. You can avoid any self-critical negativity by reframing self-evaluation from good / bad to working / not working. This helps reinforce a growth mindset and bolsters personal resilience.
Other factors that can amplify the power of metacognitive thinking include:
- Honesty and self-acceptance – Self-awareness starts with taking an inventory of your strengths and challenges: who you are and aren’t, what you are likely to do or not, how you work versus how you wish you worked. You may not like everything about yourself, but when you accept who you are, how you think, and the way you do things, you are more likely to get things done.
- Self-compassion – Developing kindness towards yourself requires empathy, forgiveness, patience, and repetition. It means quieting (or least making friends with) the self-critical aspect of yourself. You stop fighting with yourself and start embracing and soothing yourself instead.
- Mindfulness – Mindfulness helps you focus more attention on what is happening around you at the moment so you can participate more fully. Rather than focusing on what other people are thinking about you, you engage in present conversation and avoid the distracting rumination about their possible judgments.
Metacognitive thinking, combined with these additonal factors, is a powerful tool that can help improve every aspect of your life. It allows you to acknowledge problems without falling into a failure mentality, helplessness, and low self-worth. In addition to improving efficiency in problem-solving and task completion, they help build resilience and nurture self-reliance.