Thinking About Our Thinking – Metacognitive Processes: Perceive and Overcome

By: Phoenix48

Twelve-steppers emphasize we must act our way into new thinking. Evangelical Christians preach thinking our way into new behavior. Who is right? The answer, unsurprisingly, is both. Metacognitive processes refer to the cognitive activities that we use to monitor, control, and regulate our thinking. It is thinking as an action – in regard to our thinking.

Metacognitive Processes Allow Us to Perceive and Change

These processes include learning, problem-solving, planning, self-reflection, self-evaluation, and adjustment. Psychologist John Flavell first used the term “metacognition” to describe the processes that we use to monitor and control our cognition. Metacognitive processes are important for learning and problem-solving, as they allow us to reflect on our own thinking and adjust our cognition strategies to be more effective in meeting life’s challenges.

Metacognitive processes refer to thinking about our thinking. That is, they are cognitive processes that monitor, control, and regulate other cognitive processes. Metacognitive processes play a crucial role in self-awareness and adjustment of our thinking and behavior. The following is a summary of the six key metacognitive processes:

Metacognitive Processes

  1. Metacognitive Awareness: This involves understanding and being aware of our cognitive processes, such as knowing what we know and what we don’t know. It also includes recognizing when we’re having difficulty with a task and need to employ specific strategies.
  2. Metacognitive Control: The ability to regulate and adjust our cognitive strategies based on situational demands. For example, if we realize we’re not understanding a complex topic, we might decide to slow down, take notes, or seek additional resources.
  3. Metacognitive Monitoring: This process involves constantly assessing our understanding and performance. It’s like a mental checklist to determine if our approach is effective or if we need to make changes.
  4. Metacognitive Planning: Metacognition also includes the ability to plan and set goals for our cognitive processes. For instance, in the process of studying for a college degree, we might select electives based on relevance, interest, and difficulty. We might set goals for how much effort we want to exert for each elective and how much time we’ll spend on each class.
  5. Metacognitive Evaluation: After completing a task, we evaluate our performance and outcomes. This helps in recognizing areas of improvement and learning from our experiences.
  6. Metacognitive Regulation: Metacognition allows us to regulate our cognitive processes by adjusting strategies, attention, and effort. If we’re distracted, we make an active effort to refocus our attention.
Metacognition is a Holistic Concept

The concepts listed above are aspects of the holistic concept of metacognition. They are not hard-and-fast rules but approaches; as such, many of the specifics of these processes overlap. The details of these concepts will be explained more thoroughly below and it will become clear that they are not necessarily separate and distinct. These metacognitive processes are essential for effective learning, problem-solving, decision-making, and overall cognitive performance. They are often taught and developed as part of a curriculum for improving learning skills.

Metacognitive Strategies

Each of the metacognitive processes references strategies to accomplish the aims of a particular process. These are strategies to maximize our cognitive skills, such as awareness, learning, problem-solving, decision-making, and goal-setting. The goal-setting and decision-making posts on this site provide strategies for those cognitive skills. However, one of the most effective strategies for improving cognition is to be a seeker. That is, we must embrace awareness and learning as one of our primary life goals. It is the attitude that nothing gets in the way of our personal development; not a job, not a romantic partner, not a sports or social club. Our actualization comes first, not because we’re selfish but because it is in the best interests of everyone whose lives we touch, including our own.

Learning Strategy Example
  • Use your syllabus as a roadmap
  • Summon your prior knowledge
  • Think aloud
  • Ask yourself questions
  • Use writing
  • Organize your thoughts
  • Take notes from memory
  • Review your exams
  • Take a time-out
  • Test yourself
  • Figure out how you learn

You can learn more about this particular metacognitive learning strategy here.

There are many different approaches to learning, as there are for all cognitive processes. Find ones that work for you.

You can learn more about metacognitive strategies here.

Metacognitive Awareness

Metacognitive awareness refers to the conscious awareness and control that we have over our cognitive processes, such as memory, comprehension, problem-solving, and decision-making. In addition, it involves the ability to monitor, plan, regulate, and evaluate our cognitive activities. Metacognitive awareness has three components: Metacognitive knowledge, control, and experience.

Metacognitive Knowledge

Metacognitive Knowledge involves understanding the strategies and techniques used in learning and problem-solving. It includes awareness of our strengths and weaknesses in these areas.

  • Declarative Knowledge: Declarative metacognitive knowledge involves understanding what cognitive strategies are and being able to describe them. This component includes knowing about different learning and problem-solving strategies, as well as recognizing the conditions under which these strategies are most effective. Declarative knowledge is like knowing the “what” of metacognition.
  • Procedural Knowledge: Procedural metacognitive knowledge goes beyond knowing about cognitive strategies. It involves understanding how to use these strategies effectively. This component includes knowing how to plan, monitor, evaluate, and regulate one’s cognitive activities. Procedural knowledge is like knowing the “how” of metacognition.
  • Conditional Knowledge: Conditional metacognitive knowledge is the awareness of “when” and “why” to use specific cognitive strategies. It involves recognizing the conditions and contexts under which certain strategies are most appropriate. This component allows individuals to adapt their thinking and learning strategies to different situations.

Metacognitive Control

Strategies used to manage our cognitive processes effectively. They include planning, monitoring, evaluating, and adjusting one’s thinking as needed. Metacognitive control is detailed in the next section.

Metacognitive Experience

This component relates to the feelings, judgments, knowledge, skills, and understanding that individuals develop about their cognitive processes. It involves cognitive improvement as a result of self-assessment and adjustment regarding the effectiveness of one’s cognitive strategies.

Development of Metacognitive Awareness:

Metacognitive awareness typically develops over time through education and experience. Teachers and educators often play a crucial role in fostering metacognitive awareness in students by encouraging the use of effective learning strategies.

Additionally, asking questions, setting goals, and evaluating learning experiences promote the development of metacognitive awareness. Journaling regularly about your thinking processes in pursuit of daily tasks, trials, triumphs, and failures is a surefire way to increase awareness.

Many people find mindfulness meditation to be a valuable strategy to increase awareness. This type of meditation is simple: take a good seat, pay attention to the breath, and when your attention wanders, return. You can read an article on effective mindfulness meditation here.


Metacognitive awareness promotes reflection, self-assessment, and the use of appropriate cognitive strategies. Developing metacognitive awareness can have a significant impact on education and success in all areas. Developing self-awareness is key to personal transformation.

Metacognitive Control

Metacognitive control refers to the strategies and techniques we use to monitor, plan, adjust, and regulate our cognitive activities effectively. Overview of metacognitive control:


Effective metacognitive control begins with planning. We need to set clear goals and objectives for improving our cognitive skills, meaning our learning, problem-solving, and decision-making. Planning involves deciding what strategies and approaches to use and how to allocate our time and effort to improve our mental skills. Note that we are referencing planning here in regard to our thinking and cognition. Metacognitive planning (as described below in its own section), refers to planning, setting, and achieving goals in a more general sense.


Monitoring our thinking and behavior is essential. Metacognitive control allows us to assess how well we are performing relative to our goals. We observe our progress and outcomes, seeking to identify shortfalls between our current performance and our intended objectives. This monitoring is comprehensive in that it includes monitoring our thinking and performance in daily activities as well as when pursuing either cognitive goals or more general goals. Metacognitive monitoring is detailed in the next section.


Evaluation is assessing the effectiveness of the strategies and techniques being used. We consider whether their cognitive approaches are leading to the desired outcomes. We also reflect on the quality of our understanding, problem-solving, or decision-making processes.

Regulation and Adjustment

Based on the monitoring and evaluation of their cognitive activities, we may need to make adjustments. That is, modifying our strategies, shifting focus, or trying different approaches to improve our performance. Regulation and adjustment ensure that we stay on track and work toward achieving our goals.

Development of Metacognitive Control:

Metacognitive control skills develop with education and guidance from teachers and mentors. Mentors in particular can foster the development of these skills by encouraging self-assessment, reflection, and the use of effective cognitive strategies. Practice and feedback are crucial for honing metacognitive control abilities.


Metacognitive control is the cognitive process that allows us to plan, monitor, evaluate, regulate, and adjust our cognitive activities effectively. It is essential for enhancing learning, problem-solving, and decision-making and plays a significant role in self-regulation and personal development. Consequently, developing metacognitive control results in improved performance and more successful outcomes in practically all areas of life.

Metacognitive Brain
This is your brain on metacognition

Metacognitive Monitoring

Metacognitive monitoring is perhaps the most important specific aspect of metacognition. It is the ability to monitor and evaluate our thinking, understanding, and problem-solving as we engage in various activities. Metacognitive monitoring is the process of assessing and supervising our thinking both reflectively and in the moment. It involves being aware of our thinking, feelings, understanding, and problem-solving strategies as we use them to complete tasks and achieve goals. This awareness allows us to evaluate the effectiveness of our thinking and actions.

Additionally, metacognitive monitoring is closely associated with the concept of Observing Ego, which is a form of self-awareness that allows individuals to detach themselves from their immediate experience and view themselves from a more objective standpoint.

Here’s a detailed overview of metacognitive monitoring:

Awareness of Cognitive Processes

This involves being conscious of our thinking, including how we process information, make decisions, and solve problems. It also means being aware of our emotional state and beliefs and triggers that have the potential to ignite our emotions. It includes an awareness of our intuitive tendencies, biases, and defense mechanisms.


Based on our awareness, metacognitive monitoring enables us to regulate or adjust our cognitive processes. This might involve changing strategies, allocating more or less time to a task, or seeking additional information or assistance. It could also mean taking responsibility for our emotions and proactively taking action to resolve conflicts constructively.


Asking ourselves questions about our thought processes can help us assess our understanding and progress. For example, “Do I understand this concept? What am I confused about?” or “What am I really upset about? What led to these feelings?”


Taking time to reflect on our thinking, actions, feelings, and outcomes can provide insights into our cognitive processes. We can consider what worked well, what didn’t, and what you can do differently next time. Journaling is an effective tool for self-reflection.


Regularly evaluating our performance against specific criteria or goals can help us gauge our progress. This involves setting benchmarks or standards for success.

Comparing Strategies

Comparing different problem-solving or decision-making strategies can help us determine which one is more effective in a particular context.

Feedback Seeking

Actively seeking feedback from peers, teachers, mentors, or experts can provide external perspectives on our cognitive processes and help us make improvements.

Development of Metacognitive Monitoring

Developing effective metacognitive monitoring skills requires practice and self-awareness. Key to development is the recognition that the primary requirement of metacognitive monitoring is objectivity. Therefore, we must be able to monitor and reflect upon our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors without judgment or attachment. In this sense, the ability to look at ourselves honestly is paramount – and entwined with the development of observing ego and intuition, which is part of our Decision-Making toolset.

Strategies to enhance metacognitive monitoring:
  • Reflect regularly on your thinking processes and the outcomes of your actions.
  • Develop a routine incorporating self-assessment and self-reflection as part of your learning and problem-solving efforts. Self-assessment often takes the form of journaling and meditation.
  • Seek feedback from peers, mentors, or experts to gain different perspectives on your cognitive processes.
  • Set specific goals and benchmarks for your tasks or learning objectives and regularly evaluate your progress toward them.
  • In real-time, metacognitive monitoring is the “observing ego” that allows us to view ourselves, our thinking, our behavior, and our reactions objectively.
  • Develop the ability to take a “step back” to reflect and consider our decisions carefully before executing.
  • Metacognitive monitoring and observing ego allow us to see other points of view.
  • Without metacognitive monitoring and observing ego, we are unable to see the world objectively, and we can feel “acted upon” and fall into victim-thinking.
  • Critically reading books with mature themes and immersing ourselves in films allows us to step out of our shoes to experience the emotions and human challenges of another. This allows us to practice detaching from the subjective experience of our own lives to look at ourselves objectively.
The Hidden Value of the Suspension of Disbelief

Quality mature books and films allow for the “suspension of disbelief”, which is a willingness to play along with an obvious fiction. The ability to step out of our shoes to experience the human condition in all its glory and folly is under-appreciated and is foundational to the human learning experience traditionally transmitted by mythology and storytelling. In fact, the measure of our capacity to suspend disbelief is, counterintuitively, proportional to our grounding in reality, self-awareness, and ability to understand the world and our place in it. It assists us in our capacity to be “right-sized”:

“Our sense of reality appears to rest, curiously enough, on our willingness to be taken in by the staged illusion of reality.” “But a complete indifference..” “announces the collapse of even the very idea of reality, dependent at every point on the distinction between nature and artifice, reality and illusion. This indifference betrays the erosion of the capacity to take any interest in anything outside the self.” –Christopher Lasch

Metacognitive monitoring serves as one of the inoculators against narcissism and victimhood by allowing us to look at ourselves objectively and grounding us in reality. It forces us to evaluate ourselves and our progress by objective standards as opposed to subjective standards heavily influenced by emotions and the opinions of others that we have internalized. This grounding is connected to the concept of “suspension of disbelief”. An inability to suspend disbelief is associated with narcissistic traits. However, this complex topic is beyond the scope of this post and a further discussion of these concepts will be covered in the narcissism posts (coming soon).


Metacognitive monitoring is a cognitive process that involves assessing and supervising our thinking, execution of behavior, and reaction to events. It is a vital component of metacognition. Monitoring is arguably the most important aspect of metacognition in that it enables change, personal growth, and actualization; without the ability to look honestly at ourselves, change is impossible. It grounds us in reality and moves us away from victimhood and narcissism.

Metacognitive Planning

Metacognitive planning is a cognitive process that involves thinking about and organizing our cognitive activities and strategies to achieve a specific goal or complete a task effectively. It involves setting goals, identifying the steps necessary to achieve them, and selecting appropriate strategies and resources. This topic, including suggested strategies, is covered in detail in the Goal-Setting post.

The following is a summary of planning and goal-setting from a metacognitive viewpoint:

Components of Metacognitive Planning

  • Setting Goals: The first step in metacognitive planning is to clearly define the objectives or goals of the task. This step helps us understand what we are trying to achieve and why.
  • Task Analysis: After setting goals, we break the task into smaller, manageable objectives. They identify the specific steps or sub-tasks required to reach the overall goal. This step helps in organizing and prioritizing activities.
  • Strategy Selection: Once the task is analyzed, we consider which cognitive strategies or techniques are best suited to complete each objective. These strategies can include problem-solving approaches, information gathering, education, or creative thinking methods.
  • Resource Allocation: In this step, we decide what resources we need to carry out our plan effectively. Resources can include time, materials, information, and support from others.
  • Monitoring and Evaluation: During the execution of the plan, we continually assess their progress and the effectiveness of their chosen strategies and make adjustments as required.

The Post-Mortem

After completing the task, we reflect on our performance, considering what worked well, what could have been done differently, and what they have learned from the experience. It is an inductive assessment in that we seek to learn how to apply lessons from the details and outcomes specific to this particular project to other projects. In business, the reflection phase of a completed project is often referred to as the “post-mortem”. It is where the team evaluates all the choices made, both good and bad, and determines what lessons should be learned and applied to future projects. Thus, this reflective process helps improve future planning and decision-making.

Metacognitive Planning Summary:

Metacognitive planning is a cognitive process that involves setting goals, analyzing tasks, selecting strategies, allocating resources, monitoring progress, and reflecting on our performance to improve outcomes. As a result, it is a skill that, while particularly valuable professionally, is important to achievement in all aspects of life, from learning and problem-solving to decision-making and goal achievement.

Metacognitive Evaluation

Metacognitive evaluation involves assessing and judging the effectiveness of our thinking, learning, problem-solving, and decision-making strategies in pursuit of a goal, task, or project. It is a crucial step in the metacognitive process, as it allows us to reflect on our cognitive performance and make adjustments for future projects. Metacognitive evaluation is a deductive assessment in that it is a generalized evaluation of how our overall thinking brought about the specific outcome of a project. This self-assessment is essential for learning from experience and improving future endeavors. Here is an overview of metacognitive evaluation:

Components of Metacognitive Evaluation

  • Reflection: The foundation of metacognitive evaluation is self-reflection. We examine our cognitive processes, plans, thoughts, actions, and the results of our efforts. We take the time to properly consider our decisions before committing.
  • Judgment: After reflecting on our cognitive performance, we make judgments about the effectiveness of our planning and decision strategies and the quality of the resulting outcomes. These judgments can be positive or critical.
  • Adjustment: Based on the judgments made, we may choose to adjust or modify our cognitive strategies for future tasks or goals. This involves selecting different approaches, changes to our planning process, seeking additional education, or allocating more resources.
  • Self-Questioning: Where we ask ourselves questions about our cognitive processes and outcomes, such as “Where did we plan well in this project? What obstacles did we miss? How well did we adjust when we encountered problems? What bad choices did we make?”
  • Feedback Seeking: Seeking feedback from peers, teachers, or mentors can provide external perspectives on performance and guide improvements.
  • Comparison: Comparing our cognitive processes and outcomes with those of others or with established standards helps us assess our effectiveness.
  • Learning Improvement: Metacognitive evaluation allows us to recognize what is working well in our learning strategies and identify areas that need improvement. It contributes to more effective learning.
  • Problem-Solving Enhancement: In problem-solving tasks, evaluation helps us recognize errors or suboptimal strategies, leading to adjustments for better solutions.
  • Decision Making: Metacognitive evaluation aids in assessing the quality of decisions and understanding potential biases and blind spots, leading to more informed choices.
  • Continuous Improvement: Metacognitive evaluation opens the door to committing to continuous improvement in various aspects of life, including education, work, and personal development.
Developing Metacognitive Evaluation:

Developing effective metacognitive evaluation skills requires practice, self-awareness, and a commitment to learning from experiences Here are some strategies to enhance metacognitive evaluation:

  • Regularly reflect on your cognitive processes and outcomes, both during and after tasks or activities.
  • Seek feedback from diverse sources to gain different perspectives.
  • Keep a journal or log of your cognitive processes in regard to a project to track your progress over time.

Metacognitive evaluation is a cognitive process that involves reflecting on and assessing our planning and outcomes. It is a crucial step in the metacognitive cycle that supports learning, problem-solving, and decision-making by facilitating self-awareness and continuous improvement.

Metacognitive Regulation

Bringing It All Together

Metacognitive regulation could be described as the integration of all of the above. It is the process of actively monitoring and controlling one’s cognitive processes, strategies, and behaviors both to establish cognitive goals and to ensure that we align with them. Therefore, it involves setting goals, selecting appropriate strategies, allocating resources, monitoring progress, and executing necessary adjustments. Also, it includes cutting our losses and starting over, if necessary.

Components of Metacognitive Regulation

  • Goal Setting: The first step in metacognitive regulation is setting clear and specific goals or objectives for a task or learning activity. Goals provide a clear target for cognitive efforts.
  • Strategy Selection: Once goals are defined, individuals select appropriate cognitive strategies or approaches to achieve those goals. This involves choosing the most effective methods for solving problems, learning, or making decisions.
  • Resource Allocation: Metacognitive regulation involves determining the resources required to complete the task, including time, effort, materials, and support from others. Efficient allocation of resources is essential for successful cognitive activities.
  • Monitoring: We continuously monitor our progress and cognitive activities to ensure we are on track to achieve our goals. This monitoring involves self-assessment and reflection.
  • Adjustment: When monitoring reveals that goals are not being met or that strategies are ineffective, metacognitive regulation allows for the adjustment of strategies, resource allocation, or even the revision of goals. The revision of goals could be altering our goals, eliminating one goal and altering another, starting a new goal, or, in the extreme, canceling our project in favor of another.

Metacognitive Regulation Strategies

  • Planning: Developing a plan or outline for a task, including specific steps, timelines, and resources, helps ensure that cognitive activities are well-organized and goal-directed.
  • Self-Monitoring: Continuously assessing one’s own performance during a task allows for real-time adjustments. We can recognize when we are off track and make corrections.
  • Self-Questioning: Asking ourselves questions during a task, such as “Is this strategy effective?” or “Am I making progress toward my goal?” prompts metacognitive reflection and adjustment.
  • Time Management: Efficiently managing time and allocating it to different aspects of a task is crucial.
  • Feedback Seeking: Seeking feedback from others provides valuable input for adjusting strategies and improving performance.
Importance of Metacognitive Regulation:
  • Effective Learning: Metacognitive regulation helps us set clear goals, select appropriate study strategies, and adapt our approach to different subjects or tasks, leading to more efficient learning.
  • Problem-Solving: In problem-solving tasks, it enables individuals to adjust strategies as needed to find solutions and overcome obstacles.
  • Decision Making: It aids in making informed decisions by ensuring that individuals consider relevant information, think critically, and assess the quality of their choices.
  • Self-Regulation: Metacognitive regulation is a core component of self-regulated learning, where individuals take responsibility for their learning and adjust their strategies based on their own assessments.
Development of Metacognitive Regulation:

Developing effective metacognitive regulation skills requires practice, self-awareness, and a willingness to adjust strategies based on feedback and experience. Here are some strategies to enhance metacognitive regulation:

  • Set clear goals for your tasks or learning objectives.
  • Develop effective planning and time management skills.
  • Continuously monitor cognitive processes and assess whether they are aligned with your goals.
  • Be open to feedback to gain insights into your strategies and performance.

Metacognitive regulation is a cognitive process that involves actively managing and controlling our cognitive activities and strategies to plan and achieve specific goals, improve performance, and adapt to different situations. It is where we put all the pieces together to apply ourselves toward the improvement of our cognition. It is using our consciousness to improve our awareness and effectiveness. Metacognitive regulation is one of the keys to transformation.

Metacognitive Processes Summary

The processes discussed in this post are windows offering different points of view into metacognition. Every process is an approach to thinking about our cognition; the way we think. And not just about thinking itself, but about the way we remember things, process information, and make decisions. By thinking purposefully about our cognitive processes, we can begin to choose strategies that work for us and train ourselves to think more effectively and realize a higher level of awareness.

What are you thinking about right now? Maybe you’re thinking about all of the things you just learned. Perhaps you are thinking about what you want to learn from here moving forward. Are you estimating how much information from this post you are going to remember? Or what strategies you can use to remember this information?

Then you are on your way.

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