Okay, so we started this idea of turning toward ourselves in Step 2: Taking 100% Responsibility. Let’s go a little deeper with it now. Turning toward ourselves is simple but not easy. It involves the super-power/ inner resource of METACOGNITION! I love that word! Let’s get Mr. Webster in here to help us define the word, and we’ll jump off from there:
Metacognition /met-uh-kog-nish-uhn/ - higher-order thinking that enables understanding, analysis, and control of one’s cognitive processes.
Thank you, sir! Now, let’s dissect and analyze the hell out of the definition. Clearly, I know how to have a good time!
“Higher-order thinking,” he says: So metacognition is a special kind of thinking. It’s higher than our everyday random incessant chatter in the sense that it is more like observing than thinking. And what makes it so unique is its ability to observe context. Context is all the pieces and parts, past and present, woven together to create a certain experience plus the meaning we derive from that experience. It is the objective perspective of our subjective experience. This means it’s not caught up in it but rather standing just outside of it. It is a mental process with a clear panoramic view.
Our beliefs, thoughts, judgments about our thoughts, feelings, feelings about our feelings, mental meandering, remembering, and all the rest of our “lower-level” thinking are all biased. They tend to be narrowly focused on past interpretations that we deem “right” and project them into the past, present, and future. They tend to be constricted, limited, and oh-so sticky because they are circular and self-affirming. Help! We’re drowning in a mental whirlpool of our own making! Enter our hero… dun, dun, tee, dun METACOGNITION!
Metacognition arrives and says, of course you feel like A because you believe B and think C. Your inner experience makes perfect sense. There, there! (my hero tends to be quite tender and motherly). It affirms how I feel, first and foremost. Then after the validation works its softening magic, I can explore, question, and disentangle myself from the true source of my discomfort, or how I might be blaming circumstances, or clinging to happiness. Suddenly, instead of being ensnared in a reality of my own making, there is a me separate from my thoughts.
You see, when we were young we were dependent on our parents for, well, everything. It would have been unbearable to think they were anything but capable, generous, and loving people. We didn’t just need this perspective for the warm fuzzies it gave us (because frankly, it didn’t always), but for our very survival. So when we got hurt and our attachment to our source of survival felt threatened, we came up with a brilliant alternative assumption: “it must be something about me.” Maybe we were too loud or needed too much or got too angry or any number of things. We decided right then and there that we could be who they needed us to be to get the love we needed from them. And BAMMM! We severed our connection to our sweet, authentic, sometimes loud little selves to survive in this wild world.
And survive we did! So brilliant! However, that same brilliance does not work now that we are adults striving to survive and thrive. To thrive, we have to feel capable, worthy and loved. This is a sneak peek into Step 4. For now, let’s just say that the “higher perspective” comes from within us. Still, it’s a part of us that often gets crowded out by the volume of our thoughts and emotions, especially when we are triggered.
The next part of metacognition’s definition is that it “enables understanding, analysis, and control of one’s cognitive processes.” So not only does metacognition help us see differently, that difference brings clarity, wisdom, and dominion. In other words, we develop the mental strength and resilience to question and choose our thoughts. Seriously? Can we do that? Anyone who has ever attempted to meditate can attest to how impossible that seems. The undisciplined mind flip-flops, zig-zags, and grabs hold of us for its own joy ride even as we’re trying to stay focused on the quiet consistency of our breath. It can feel like trying to wrestle a banana away from a troop of monkeys.
If this has been your experience of meditation, congratulations! You’ve entered the first stages of mental awareness. If you gave up at this point, as I did in my early days, it’s time to try again. Please remember, meditation isn’t just about feeling good, and it’s also not a battlefield. It’s a mental discipline. Can you imagine the first few days of trying to train wild monkeys? Chaos!!! You might think it’s a stupid idea and give up. But compassionate, consistent, and intentional effort would eventually pay off. If you give up in the early days, the wild monkeys will stay wild. For wild monkeys, that is probably a good thing, but for our minds, it’s crazy-making as we continually repeat ineffective and harmful patterns in our relationships and lives.
In summary, Step 3: Turning Toward Ourselves means becoming self-aware. Rather than constantly commenting, opinionating, analyzing, and trying to control the things outside of ourselves, we take an about-face and turn toward ourselves. We do this by developing the inner resource of metacognition. How do we do that? By practicing meditation consistently. You okay? I just felt the disappointment as you read that. Just like we can’t hope to get the body stronger by thinking about lifting weights, we can’t get mentally stronger without actually doing the mental exercise of meditation.
Rumor has it that my newsletters are already too long for your busy lives. So I will create a separate video to further discuss meditation (coming soon!). For those of you with the extra time and interest, perhaps it will convince you to give it another go or deepen your current commitment to it. The more your mental chatter tries to convince you that meditation isn’t an option, the more you probably need it. Don’t worry. It’s just scared of being tamed. It’s been the boss a long time, and like our politicians, it doesn’t like to give up power willingly.
Here is a link to guided meditations. Especially if you’re new or struggling, you shouldn’t go it alone.
Up next… Step 4: Tenderly sit with our sadness, grief, and powerlessness.