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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Monday Metacognition #1

8:03 AM Posted by Tiffany Taft ,
Metacognition:  The act of thinking about ones own thinking.  Sounds pretty simple, doesn't it?  But how often are we truly aware of our thought processes versus setting ourselves on autopilot and going along for the ride?  The human brain is only quiet for a few seconds at a time.  It is always processing information, moving memories into long-term storage, scanning the environment for threats, and testing what we see or hear against our own experiences and biases.

It's usually during periods of down time, like when we're trying to fall asleep, when we become very aware of the thoughts that are streaming through our head, often just beyond our awareness.  Our thinking becomes automatic, which is a good thing most of the time.  But sometimes automatic thinking can be negative and wreak havoc on your life.

Today marks our first entry into our soon-to-be-award-winning series about Metacognition, where we'll discuss why we think the way we do, common thinking traps that most people fall into from time to time, and how we think affects how we feel and how we behave.

I should add a caveat that we are much more likely to remember the times when we were accurate in our thinking that when we were wrong.  This is what keeps the thinking traps going.  I'm going to remember the 1 or 2 times I was right, gosh darn it, and ignore the 87 times I was inaccurate.  It's normal and self-preserving to do so.  This is why Metacognition is harder than it sounds!

Disclaimer - Yes, today is Tuesday.  I can only blame myself and an old laptop that was almost victim to being thrown out of a 2nd story window for the delay. 

First up:  Mind Reading

People often joke with me about my training and my ability to read people's minds because I'm a psychologist.  Could you imagine?  All I can think about is Mel Gibson in "What Women Want" and, well, I'd rather not think about that.  However, one of the common thinking traps people fall into is Mind Reading.  

How might this play out for people with a chronic illness?  I often hear from clients that they are concerned about what another person thinks about their condition or its symptoms.  I remember a client with IBS who was so afraid to go to parties at her friends' apartments because of the chance that she may have to use the bathroom, which would lead to a series of events that would cause people at the party to think badly about her.  They would KNOW she was in the bathroom, going #2, and they would think she was a freak because it took her so long.  Or gross.  Or unattractive.  Her use of Mind Reading (along with other traps that we'll get into later on) led her to turn down invitations over and over again, which led to social isolation and depression.  Even though she couldn't tell me one time that someone actually said something negative to her, she was convinced that they thought it.

Think about times you were convinced that someone in your life was thinking a certain way about you.  Were your thoughts accurate?  What problems did Mind Reading cause?

Next Week: Dichotomous Thinking