7205089854_40be838aaa_zThere’s even a fancy word for it: metacognition. While this may seem like an impressive, big word to throw around and a minor, inconsequential concept in the grind of everyday life, I have come to believe that metacognition is an essential part of the foundation for a happy life.

It is taught by many philosophies, and I’ve come to understand that it’s not the actual circumstances in life that are the source of happiness or sadness or any emotion for that matter.  It’s my thoughts about what happens that determines my experience of anything in life.  What I say to myself about others, about myself, and about the events happening around me is the source of my emotions and make up my reality on a daily basis.  Becoming aware of my thoughts, working with them, and consciously choosing my subsequent mindset, beliefs, and behavior has drastically changed my world for the better, — but I haven’t quite reached monk status yet.

Learning to Respond Rather Than React

My instinctual, knee-jerk responses still exist, but they are not near as compelling as they used to be.  I’ve learned that my initial feelings in any situation are not good or bad.  They just are, and I cannot control them.  No one can.   For years, I had the pattern of dramatically reacting to these feelings down all too well.  Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, calls this “getting hooked.”

Learning to respond rather than react changed my life.  Instead of unconsciously acting on my impulses, feelings, and thoughts, the trick is to become aware of them, observe them without judgment, sit with them, work with them, and think about them.  Metacognition. I’ve learned to turn them all around and look at them from every angle. You might want to try on a different perspective, even an opposing one.  You don’t have to buy into it permanently.  Just try it out.  Explore your thoughts and feelings about it.  Dig into them.  Where do they come from?  What in your past might make you react this way?  Are you reacting to the present situation or just playing out a pattern from your past?

I have learned many tools to work with thoughts and emotions. Here are some of them below.

The Work

Byron Katie’s The Work is phenomenal for doing this.  The Work consists of four questions and a turnaround. The questions are:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without the thought?

After you’ve analyzed a situation with the four questions, you turn it around.  Each turn around is an opportunity to experience the opposite of your original statement. She says the turnarounds are the prescriptions for happiness.

Jeffrey Schwartz’ Four Rs

Jeffrey Schwartz’ four-step therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder works for changing any thought patterns, I have found.  His four-step therapy is outlined in his book Brain Lock and has become an established treatment for OCD. The four steps are: relabel; reattribute; refocus and revalue.  When I was originally learning to change my whole way of being, I had reminders of the four steps posted everywhere — on my refrigerator, in my meditation corner, on my bathroom mirror and even on the dashboard of my car. Now, I know the steps by heart and just run through them when a challenging issue arises.

The Emotional Guidance Scale

Abraham-Hicks has an emotional guidance scale which ranges from Joy/Appreciation/Empowered/Freedom/Love being at the top as the best with Fear/Grief/Depression/Despair/Powerlessness at the very bottom.  The idea is to determine where you are on the emotional scale about something and, then, choose a thought that is higher on the scale promoting better feelings and more of a sense of peace.  It does not work to try to go from the bottom all the way to the top instantly.  It feels totally bogus, and it is.  The idea is to choose something believable which makes you feel a little bit better which takes you a few notches up the scale.  From there, you reach for better thoughts and feelings and keep moving up the scale. I just use the basic concept without referring to the chart.


I find that meditation is a good time for metacognition and using these tools.  When something is troubling me, I take it “to the cushion.”  While I do have some meditation sessions which are mostly free from thoughts, a meditation session, for me, is whatever I need it to be that day.  If I need to work on some issue and thoughts do come up, I find that it is a good time for me to process them.

The point of these tools and is that, in working with the thoughts, I consciously choose how to feel, think, behave, and proceed in any situation.  This process puts me in control of my life.  I do not have control of what happens around me and never will, but I can control my inner world. Metacognition allows me to actively exercise this power every day. For me, it is the secret to peace and happiness.

These practices, over time and with repetition through experience-dependent neuroplasticity will actually, physically change the brain so that this kind of thinking and reacting becomes much easier and even the default, instinctual mode.

Rick Hanson, in his book Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time says:

The details are complex, but the key point is simple: how you use your mind changes your brain –  for better or worse.”

image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/amira_a/

Share this article!


  1. Judy M. Hampton Reply

    Wow ! You have written what I think is the best blog ever. What a testament to how you got where you are today and how you have moved forward with your life and your own happiness.

    Again, I’m so proud of you and pleased to be your Mom.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Wow! Thanks for saying it is the best blog ever. The better it gets, the better it gets, huh? The better I get, the better I get! 🙂

      • Lana Cavassa Reply

        Thanks for all your post. I love reading all the information. So nice to have read the admiration from your Mom too!! Hope you have a wonderful Christmas and much Health in 2012! Keep it up, you are changing lives!
        Lana Cavassa
        Atlanta, Georgia

        • Debbie Hampton Reply

          Thanks so much, Lana, for the kind words of support!

  2. What a cool stocking full of oughta reads! I didn’t know any of them except The Work. Metacognition’s a good term too. I believe I understood the concept back when I was a nerdpole and called it “concentric multiboxes”, imagining the process as containers within containers, all inside the mind.

    The metacog motif I’ve been meditating over the past couple decades is trying to perceive the energy of self prior to its expression through nerve tissue. Are we energy with intent before it traverses the brain or only after? That’s been a useful unsolvable for me, since there are so many reasons either one could be true.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      You, a “nerdpole?!” Funny! Metacognition is a relatively new term to me. I guess, because I know all of this stuff like the back of my hand, I assume it is old news to everyone else also. Glad to be able to share it.

      You lost me on your metacog motif. Let me know when you figure that one out. It should give you something to chew on for a good while! 🙂

  3. What a great insightful article. I tend to use metacognition during my morning meditation and during my breaks at my job so that I can maintain a good balance through out the day.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Abimael, thank you for the kind words about the blog and good for you for practicing thinking about thinking. It becomes a way of life, a way of being, doesn’t it? I think, it is really just another word for mindfulness. I, too, try to work it into little pauses throughout the day.

  4. Loved all the resources and how they’re now part of your journey. Here’s my own favorite one from Ann Weiser Cornell’s Inter Relationship Focus (via Eugene Gendlin) and linked in many ways to Richard Schwartz’s Internal Family Systems identifying our own exiles, firefighters, managers and how to integrate them post trauma dissociation recovery. All sisters to your resources and all with something useful to offer those of us determined to be all we can be–no matter what. Love your blog and what it’s meant to me this year. http://www.focusingresources.com/_private_/e_course/GBE_Days1-5.pdf

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Oh! Pam, thank you for sharing. I am not familiar with those you mentioned. I can’t wait to check them out. I never can have too many resources in my tool box! I think, among the myriad of helpful things out there, everyone has to find what speaks to their heart and works for them. Some that are so powerful for others are not for me and vice versa. It is about finding what works for you and using it, every day!

      So glad you find the blog helpful and thank you for reading. It makes all the challenges of my journey more meaningful to be able to share the hard won wisdom gained from them!

  5. Fi Templeton Reply

    Thank you for the wonderful insights you offer here Debbie…..I’ve realised how much meta cognition is my friend just now thanks to your succinct summation.
    By being mindful of just how those pesky thoughts are getting in my way, I really feel I’m getting somewhere in changing them to what I want so I can finally grow…..hallelujah!
    Bring on the New Year, woo,hoo!!!!

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Fi, glad you liked it. I was trying to summarize the general atrategy and tools for what, I believe, will help one to produce healthy mind and happy life. It does require work, diligent practice, everyday, but, with determination, a better life and mind are entirely possible! The best part is that anyone can make it happen for themselves. Blessings to you!

  6. Lana Cavassa Reply

    Keep up the good work. You are changing lives!
    Lana Cavassa
    Atlanta, Georgia

  7. Pingback: How To Make Friends With Your Mind - The best brain possible

  8. Carson Burke Reply

    I want to thank you for your reference to The Work of Byron Katie. Her method of inquiry has been truly life changing for me. Your blog is a great resource and a wonderful distillation of both ancient and modern methods for exploring the philosophy of mind. Keep posting!

    • Carson,

      Thank you for your message. Byron Katie’s “The Work” also changed my whole way of thinking. I still get out the work sheets today. I’ve been trying to teach my son. Are you familiar with Pema Chodron? I also found her writings and philosophies life-altering.

  9. Pingback: Here's the Science Behind Why You Can't Believe Everything You Think - The Best Brain Possible

Write A Comment