Cultivating metacognition—becoming aware of and examining your own thinking—is key to changing your response to stressful events and modifying a person’s behaviors. Metacognition includes knowing when and in what context to use particular strategies for learning and problem-solving, as well as how and why to use these strategies.
Metacognitive skills are essential to building resilience. If we find ourselves responding with anxiety to a situation such as an encounter with a hostile co-worker, metacognition helps us assess what we know about the situation, plan for our next encounter and develop strategies for a more effective outcome. If those strategies don’t work, we assess what we’ve learned, try to determine why they were ineffective, and adapt them into new ones for the next encounter.
The human capacity to recover from negative experiences and learn from them–what we commonly call resilience–requires not just self-awareness but the ability to develop our metacognitive skills on an ongoing basis.
“The understanding, like the eye, whilst it makes us see and perceive all other things, takes no notice of itself: and it requires art and pains to set it at a distance and make it its own object…”
— John Locke
Recognizing these negative automatic thoughts and learning to evaluate them are key to the process of CBT, as its goal is to empower a person to routinely and capably substitute more realistic conclusions for those thoughts—and ultimately change their behavior.
Originally developed as a therapy for depression, decades of research have resulted in ample evidence for the effectiveness of CBT in treating a variety of medical disorders such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and social phobias. It is also commonly used in schools, vocational programs, prisons and other contexts that provide support for human growth and development.
- Beck, Aaron T., A. John Rush, Brian F. Shaw, and Gary Emery. Cognitive Therapy of Depression. New York: The Guilford Press, 1979.
- Beck, Judith S. Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond. 2nd Ed. New York: The Guilford Press, 2011.
- Butler, Andrew. Jason Chapman, Evan Forman, and Aaron Beck. “The Empirical Status of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-Analyses.” Clinical Psychology Review 26, (2006): 17–31. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2005.07.003
- Meichenbaum, Donald. “Teaching Thinking: A Cognitive-Behavioral Perspective.” In Thinking and Learning Skills, Vol. 2: Research and Open Questions. Edited by S.F. Chipman, J.W. Segal, and R. Glaser. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1985.