The Scientific Way To Organize Your Thoughts And Get More Done

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Metacognition is the awareness and understanding of your own thinking and thought processes with the goal of improving learning and performance. Put simply, metacognition is about how to organize your thoughts, and much more.

What are your thoughts and ideas? Metacognition allows you to connect the dots, see the big picture, self-evaluate and monitor, which ultimately helps you with performance and task completion.

This self-awareness can improve time management, planning, focus, and other skills that challenge many people, especially kids and adults with ADHD.

With practice and time, you'll get the hang of the skills needed to apply metacognition and improve problem-solving when it comes to thought organization.

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Learn how to organize your thoughts with metacognition. 

Metacognition is a process related to self-awareness and is considered a key Executive Function (EF) skill because it governs behavioral output and is tied to emotional control.

It also influences your ability for self-regulation and assessment and allows you to better achieve specific goals, learn what worked well (and what didn’t), and then apply that learning to future tasks.

Knowing how to organize your thoughts makes everything you do that much more efficient. 

It's the last EF skill and thought organization model to fully coalesce in the mid to late 20s.

Researchers at the University College of London found that subjects with better metacognition had more grey matter in the anterior right prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain found to be smaller in folks with ADHD.

So, people with ADHD may require a bit more time and effort to strengthen their metacognitive skills

Metacognitive thinking, along with self-regulation, helps you choose, monitor, and evaluate how you approach a task, measure progress, and how close you are to achieving (or not) your final goal.

It helps you transfer learning and information to different contexts and tasks by being more aware of strengths and challenges.

For example, if you're writing a report for school or work, metacognition increases your awareness of your progress, possible distractions, and the need for more efficiency so you can make different choices.

If, upon self-reflection, you notice it was way too noisy in the coffee shop to concentrate on your writing, you can move to a quieter space to finish your work more productively.

When your next writing project rolls around, you'll already know that you get better results in a quiet environment. You'll skip the cafe and head straight to your bedroom or a nearby library.

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The goal is to observe your abilities, improve your strategies, and organize your mind to accomplish various tasks and projects.

By assessing goals and outcomes, you’re better equipped to shift efforts and strategies. You can then develop, find, and allocate resources to optimize performance.

The more experience you have in managing your thinking, the easier it’ll get.

Metacognitive processes can be applied at any point throughout the execution of a task. Therefore, you are learning and adjusting along the way.

Beforehand: Look ahead to what's in front of you. What's the goal of this assignment? Do you have what you need to work on this task? What is your first step? Second step?

During: Notice your progress. How is your plan working? Are you making progress? Do you need to make any adjustments? Where do you need help? Who will you ask for assistance? 

What do you know about this topic/situation/problem already that could assist you? Where can you find the information you need?

Afterward: Consider the process as well as the accomplishment. What did you do well? What could you have done differently? 

In addition to task completion, metacognitive thinking can be applied to social interactions.

You create a valuable feedback loop when you practice asking yourself open-ended questions which foster self-reflection:

"How am I doing?"

"What’s helped me before that I could apply to this situation?"

"What is the impact of my words or behaviors on others?"

"What are their faces or bodies showing me?"

Another way to keep track of your thoughts and increase self-awareness is to notice your body sensations.

Are you starting to feel anxious or tense? Is it time to shift gears in order to feel more relaxed?

To avoid negativity, reframe self-evaluation from good/bad to working/not working to reinforce a growth mindset and bolster resilience. It's very important that you don't use self-evaluation as a pathway for self-criticism.

For metacognitive abilities to be useful, they have to be neutral. Instead of asking "Why can't I do this differently?" ask "How can I do this differently and what support do I need to make this happen?'

Metacognitive thinking is a powerful tool that allows you to acknowledge problems without succumbing to failure mentality or difficulties and giving up.

It’s a way to focus on continued learning, improving efficiency in problem-solving, and identifying tools and resources needed for support. If you're looking for the best strategies for how to organize your thoughts, tools like metacognition should be a the top of the list. 

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Sharon Saline, Psy.D., is an international lecturer and workshop facilitator and has focused her work on ADHD, anxiety, learning differences, and mental health challenges and their impact on school and family dynamics for over 30 years. For more information, visit her website.

This article was originally published at Reprinted with permission from the author.