METACOGNITION

The more you want to avoid thinking about something, the more you fail to do so. The more you want to avoid anxiety, the more you will get entangled in it. The more you will think of sleeping, the more you will be away from sleep. Don’t worry, everyone does the same. Our brain is an excellent supervisor. It is always eager to see if the progress is satisfactory. Whenever it follows a path, it keeps in handy an alternate path. Because of this alternate follow-up path, we can’t avoid what we wish to avoid. The insomniac’s brain keeps on checking if it has fallen asleep or not. Viktor Frankl said, the fear of sleeplessness results in a ‘hyper-intention’ to fall asleep. This hyper-intention incapacitates one’s ability to sleep. It is a kind of fear. To overcome this fear, Frankl advised, the person should not try to sleep, but rather try to do just the opposite, that is, to stay awake, as long as possible. In other words, “the hyper-intention to fall asleep, arising from the anticipatory anxiety of not being able to do so, must be replaced by the paradoxical intention not to fall asleep, which will soon be followed by sleep.”

Frankl writes about a young boy who can’t get rid of his stammering in spite of best efforts. One day, the boy was travelling in a bus without a proper ticket. Hoping the conductor would let him off, pitying his stammering, the boy tried to stammer, but he couldn’t. At that moment, he found himself free of speech problems. This shows that our tendency to behave in undesirable ways increases when we take important decisions.

Different situations need different kinds of thoughts to arrive at the solution. One doesn’t expect a universal solution, even for similar situations. The ‘art of self-overhearing’, some psychologists believe, is one way to make good decisions. This ‘art’ requires one’s ‘willingness to engage in introspection’, when one is confronted with an uncertain situation. Such situations don’t give enough time for ‘doing maths’ or ‘thinking’. Decisions in such situations depend upon one’s emotions, instincts, and mental shortcuts. “People who are more rational don’t perceive emotion less, they just regulate it better,” believe some psychologists. Acting irrationally in some situations can be helpful.

Our brain not only thinks, it constantly keeps tabs on ‘how we think’. ‘How we think and what we think’ is due to our metacognitive abilities. This mental ability helps us to reconcile with the fact that we can be biased and, therefore, can go wrong. Metacognition gives us an opportunity to avoid blunders.