The Odd Art of Thinking About What to Think About

My son was born last week.

He is a delicious, healthy bundle of love, and we spend pretty much all of our time together.

A good chunk of that time involves round the clock nursing. Think 30 minute sessions, 10-12 times per day, which translates into roughly 5-7 hours over a 24 hour period.

That’s a lot of time to be sitting.

I worried in my post last week about falling deeper into my already addictive relationship with my iPhone. I’m the type to hit refresh on my Facebook and Instagram feed for no good reason, which is why it seemed like a good idea to use this time to practice more mindfulness and work on things like gratitude, visualization, creative thought, and meditation. Things that provide so many health, work, and life benefits.

time allocation

Enhancing Metacognition

The thing is, when I’m sitting alone with my thoughts, I feel like I need to think about what to think about: Think about 10 things to be grateful for. Think about ways to end the next chapter of your story. Visualize what you want from this blog a year from now.

It’s feels like homework and right now, I don’t have the energy or patience to do homework.

There’s a word for this process of thinking about thinking. It’s called metacognition, and it has to do with having knowledge and control over your own cognition, specifically around learning, focus, memory, study skills, and problem solving.

Think of metacognition as mind management 101.

It requires a certain level of self awareness of our capabilities, and how we learn and process information. By understanding our own metacognitive processes and practicing strategies to improve them, we can maximize our potential to think, learn, and work.

I finally asked myself where my approach to “thinking” might be flawed:

  • Why do I keep getting so distracted?
  • What kind of things do I think about that get me off track?
  • When do I do my best thinking?
  • How can I make my thinking time more pleasant?

It was a simple exercise that made me realize how much I had overestimated my “mind control” skills. Meditation practice and my recent “no complaining challenge” have certainly strengthened my ability to focus and direct my thoughts, but by no means do I have mastery over my mind. I’d like to get to a point where I can think about (or not think about) certain things on demand, but for now, I have to cut myself some slack.

Quiet time with my baby should be mentally relaxing, not taxing.

Which means that I can let my mind wander without restraint, so long as the thoughts don’t turn destructive.

I can think about one or two things to be grateful for, not ten or fifteen.

I can ask myself specific questions like what’s an entertaining way to conclude this blog post?

I can practice testing reality in hopes of inducing a lucid dream (because where lucid dreaming = awareness of dreaming, metacognition = awareness of thinking, and scientists believe that the two are closely related) .

I can simply sit and meditate, which I do so well these days.

And, yes, I can treat myself to some screen time too.

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