Cognitive Development, Cognitive Enablers, Emotional Intelligence

Self-Awareness, Emotional Intelligence, and Metacognition

Full self-awareness encompasses the abstract enablers of emotional intelligence, and metacognition. Although there is a great deal of overlap between emotional intelligence and metacognition, there are distinctive aspects that we can tease apart.

The primary difference between emotional intelligence and metacognition is the direction of the focus. Cognition (thinking) and emotions are closely intertwined, but some aspects of them are separable. Self-awareness is recognized as the central aspect of emotional intelligence because emotional intelligence requires the ability to recognize, monitor, and control our internal states. Self-awareness is at the heart of metacognition, the ability to monitor, understand and control our most powerful cognitive abilities. We are well aware that emotional intelligence is a desirable abstract enabler in today’s world. Because of the close interconnectedness between them, understanding how to develop one of these abstract enablers will impact the other.

I have previously written about the benefits of metacognition. What I haven’t touched on is the financial success that can accompany increasing self-awareness. In a study by Green Peak, it was found that self-awareness was the single largest predictor of overall success in the 72 executives at the companies that they studied (all with revenues between $50 million and $5 billion). Self-awareness encompasses both abstract emotional and cognitive enablers. Developing emotional intelligence and metacognition brings financial success.

How could we have thought otherwise? Being aware of, developing, control of, and understand our thinking and emotional processes makes us acutely aware of both our (and others) strengths and weaknesses. These mental processes are among the most abstract conceptualizations that we have ever come up with. We may raise our eyebrows at that, but most of us never do more than live on the surface of these abstract worlds. In fact, amongst most of the population, any talk of developing these attributes often leads to some level of disdain – getting in touch with our inner-selves.

As I alluded to above, because thinking and emotions are so closely intertwined, any attempt to develop either metacognition or emotional intelligence is going to result in the development of the other. The results of developing these in tandem bring about both a powerful abstract cognitive enabler as well as a powerful abstract emotional enabler.

For many years it was thought that thinking and emotions were antagonists. Being emotional clouds thinking and clear thinking requires the suppression of emotions. Nothing can be further from the truth. These two aspects of our selves, working in tandem and under control, allow us to reach our real and full potential. Working towards developing a full self-awareness that includes both metacognition and emotional intelligence brings out the very best that we can be.

So, how do we develop these abstract enablers and make them a part of what we are?

Firstly, we have to realize that developing these enablers is the work of a lifetime. We can have more or less of these enablers, but, as the pinnacle of human development, there is no end of how much more we can develop. Not just a pushover a three or four-year degree (don’t get me started on that one), but a sustained climb.

Secondly, we have to commit ourselves to work. If these intertwined enablers are to be developed, it requires effort. If any pinnacle is to be ascended, work and sustained effort are needed.

In the age we live in, there has somehow arisen the idea that big pharma and high tech should have developed something that can do all the work for us. Some tools have been developed, but the effective tools simply help us focus on the building blocks that we need as we make the journey. They are not helicopters that somehow lift you up and drop you at the top.

There are plenty of sham claims that some snake oil/tech app will take all the work out of unleashing your full potential, but to develop real abstract enablers takes real effort. Just because we can build a magnificent building today with 85 workers over a four year period that would have taken 300 workers 85 years to do 500 years ago, we have not developed anything like that for developing abstract cognitive or emotional enablers. We still think using the exact same biological processes that Socrates did.

The third thing we need to do is define what it is that we are trying to develop and find out what it takes to develop each of the component parts and envelope these developed components into the emergent enablers.

A great deal has been written about what we need to work on to develop the parts and a great deal has been written about how to bring these parts together. There is an entire suite of abstract cognitive enablers: advanced rational and logical reasoning, hypothetico deductive reasoning, complex inductive reasoning, creativity, and critical thinking. There are a number of components of emotional intelligence as well: self-awareness (which I would argue encompasses emotional intelligence), self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill. From these two lists, we can see that there is a fair degree of overlap in the components themselves.

And finally, something closely related to the first and second points, we need to work in a methodological way to master these skills across a lifetime.

  • Taking time each day to think about what you are doing – with intention – to increase your skills. After all, as Alice’s exchange with The Cheshire Cat goes:

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.

Alice: I don’t much care where.

The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.

  • If you want to acquire these two highest order abstract enablers, you have to be progressing with intention.
  • Seek out and learn how to process knowledge using the rules of rational thinking, argument, and logic. Practice the more difficult methods of reasoning by considering real evidence for arguments (see differing perspectives below).
  • Develop your awareness of what you know and what you don’t know – my Cognaware app again. Cognaware won’t imbue you with full self-awareness, but it will increase your ability to recognize where you are in reality, knowing what you know and knowing what you don’t know.
  • Develop the skill of critical analysis so that you can really consider the strengths and weaknesses of arguments and evidence. Learn to understand statistical (Nooooo…) outcomes and research methodologies so that you can read and understand research findings as a way to evaluate the veracity of what others are saying. You don’t need any real level of expertise, but being able to pick out the most obvious problems with “evidence” (sampling methods, effect sizes, study type, funding agencies…) will allow you to properly weigh other’s arguments.
  • Develop creativity. We are all born with creative talents, we just learn how to suppress them in order to do well (conform) in society and “live up to expectations (always other’s). Move away from always seeking confirmation and convergence in thinking. Seriously consider other perspectives as possible alternatives. And, drop the idea that creativity means music and art. Inventing the telephone was an act of brilliant creativity.
  • Mindfulness is a good way to develop both metacognition and emotional intelligence.
  • Record your progress. Like Alice and The Cheshire Cat, how do you know whether you are getting anywhere? You need to know where you were and where you are.
  • Seek out learning and really listen to others. Don’t just listen for things that confirm your beliefs (confirmation bias). Listen to learn and:
  • Consider different perspectives. If you really listen to others, you can gain different perspectives.
  • And, finally, use others. Not as a means to an end, as stepping stools along the way, but as colleagues who can help lift each other so that we can all gain greater heights. We accomplish much more when we cooperate than when we compete. Pushing others down in order to rise is not a sign of competence. It is a sign of incompetence and insecurity. If we work together to accomplish something without the need to dominate others, we will gain, not only self-awareness but other-awareness as well. Other-awareness is one of the hallmarks of great leadership and is a solid foundation stone for long-lasting success.

This is a daunting list, but then the pinnacle we are climbing is a daunting climb. That is why it is a lifetime’s work.

It is a difficult journey and most people who embark never get to the top. In fact, I doubt that anyone has ever arrived at the top. However, the higher you get, the more you can be.

And, there is one solid guarantee that I can give you. If you don’t start, you will never get anywhere.


Photo: Crowsnest Mountain by Steven Earle

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