Metacognition & Self Awareness

Every morning, I wake up before dawn and head downstairs to the kitchen. My cat pads along behind me. I grind coffee beans and press them into a half-caff double shot of espresso. I stir in frothed-up Silk Original Creamer, then carry my mug up to my study.

The cat and I settle into the lounge chair by the window and I click open a Pilot Vanishing Point fountain pen (the same one Neil Gaiman uses). As I open my Firma-Flex notebook, I say “Alexa, Good Morning.”

“Good morning, Diana. Today is Thursday, November 3rd. The time is 5:15am. The weather today is 52 degrees with some sun. [pause] One hour … starting now.”

I begin writing. I don’t have an agenda, I just show up and keep my hand moving. My journal creates a feedback loop – I think and engage my thinking; investigate, question, explore. Insights arise that I would never otherwise grok. This daily practice reveals patterns in my thinking that aren’t always pretty or wholly rational, my thoughts can be repetitive, resentful and “stuck in the mud”.

If I were forced to recommend only one practice for improving thinking, I’d pick this one. But 5:00am journaling doesn’t work for everyone. At different stages of my life, different self awareness practices have worked — meditation, yoga, therapy and long hikes in the wilderness for example. Gandhi spun thread. When cultivating self awareness, what matters is practice, not the framework you use to implement it.

Why does this subject matter to people who build technology? You can not improve your thinking if you aren’t aware of your thinking. What we think is what we build. Everything in production mirrors our thinking, at one point in time. If we want to change what we deploy, we first need to change how we think.

Changing what we think begins with practicing metacognition and self awareness.

Metacognition is “awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes.” Thinking is an activity you can observe. Our thoughts are far less under our control than we might imagine. Changing our thought patterns is not about willpower, it is about insight: the capacity to gain an accurate and intuitive understanding of our experiences.

Self awareness is observing our most intimate system – ourselves. Thinking is a whole body experience involving emotions, sensations, our past wounds, future plans, cultural conditioning and physical health. Our thoughts trigger actions and actions trigger more thoughts. Different actions arise from different thoughts (and vice versa).

Strong self awareness enables us to objectively interpret thoughts, feelings, experiences. As a result, we make better choices and take more effective actions. Strengthening objective interpretation is a foundation on which we build better decision making, together.

There is nearly-endless, often-fascinating mind science to explore here. I encourage you to go easy on the theory. Look at and understand your mind, patterns and processes. It’s easy to get swept up in the interesting ideas. It’s difficult to become aware of what you think, feel and experience.

Atomic Habits

by James Clear

We can’t change our habits without cultivating self awareness. This book takes a nonlinear approach, yet it’s straightforward and practical. The author encourages us to begin by measuring.

You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.”

— James Clear

Tim Ferriss and Brené Brown on Developing Self-Awareness

Tim Ferriss speaks openly about recognizing the need to cultivate his self awareness … and taking the first step out of “win win win go go go” into a deeper practice.

The Self Awareness Journey Podcast

hosted by JJ Parker and Melissa Albers

One of the hosts owns a tech company and the other is a leadership coach. There are currently 128 episodes to choose from, so start with one that appeals to you.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Course

created by Jon Kabat-Zinn

An 8-week deep dive into foundational skills for cultivating self awareness. This practice is especially helpful in calming your own reactions. There is a lot of panic is systems work, we can all improve our effectiveness with these practices.

If you have a Masterclass subscription, you can get a taste here.

Self-awareness is a trait – or maybe ‘practice’ is the more accurate way to put it – that everyone can always improve at. It is part emotional intelligence, part perceptiveness, part critical thinking. It means knowing your weaknesses, of course, but it also means knowing your strengths and what motivates you.

– Neil Blumenthal, Co-Founder of Warby Parker

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November 29 – 30, 2022

YOW! London 2022

Internationally-recognized speakers, including some mentioned in this edition, explore emerging technologies and technology-agnostic best practices in the software industry.

You can attend in person or online.

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