Thinking about thinking about thinking...

What you thinkin' about?
Take a moment and pause. Chill out. Reflect on yourself.

Think about your thinking. Don't balk - this isn't some new age non-sense. You will not be exposed to Tarot cards. This is really important: how you think defines who you are and what you do.

Pop-quiz! Is your thinking effective? Does the way you think promote progress toward your goals? Does your thinking improve your mood or make you feel anxious or depressed? How often do you think about the feelings of others, walk around in their shoes, empathize? Are you open-minded? Could you be more open-minded? Be honest... (the answer is "yes", by the way. No, I know and I don't care. The answer is "yes".) Finally, and most importantly: do you think you can change the way you think?

Here at The Happy Homunculus, we will be tackling these questions, and many more, with the ultimate goal of improving the way we think. Of course, this goal is built on the presumption that we can change the way we think and, thankfully, evidence is piling up that this is possible. And changing the way we think is simple (but maybe not easy). We can get better at thinking the same way we get better at anything else: through practice!

These concepts are the domain of a scientific and philosophical discipline referred to as metacognition: psycho-jargon for thinking about thinking. The prefix meta is used in this context to mean "about itself" and cognition is, simply, thinking. Thus, metacognition translates to thinking about itself (meaning thinking), or thinking about thinking. Whew!

Metacognition is an umbrella term that can apply to a bevy of topics that include learning, memory, emotions, social interactions, self-control, anxiety, etc. Essentially, anything that is essential to being a functioning, happy, calm, fun, caring and smart person. Metacognition as a science or discipline hopes to study how we think in order to find and apply the thinking strategies that are the "best" and cut out those that run counter to our hopes, dreams, and ambitions.

A tenet of The Happy Homunculus is that bad thinking - poor cognition - is a major, and often under-appreciated, contributor to most of our individual problems (at least in the industrialized world). Modern life challenges us with incredible complexities in terms of learning, planning, working with diverse people, managing stress, and resisting temptations. Our attitudes and assumptions about each of these aspects of our lives will profoundly affect how we behave in the heat of the moment. How you behave in the heat of the moment defines how you perform. Add up all your hot moments, you get your life.

A very recent study examined the relationship between self-control (which is a hallmark of meta-cognitive-ninja skillz) and a number of life outcomes including health and wealth. In this case, 1000 individuals were measured for self-control as children and were tracked through the age of 32:
"[W]e show that childhood self-control predicts physical health, substance dependence, personal finances, and criminal offending outcomes, following a gradient of self-control [...] In another cohort of 500 sibling-pairs, the sibling with lower self-control had poorer outcomes, despite shared family background."
Cool! And, there are lot's of other studies that observe similar relationships. However, these findings shouldn't be that surprising. It seems intuitive that if we have better self-control, we can do more things that we couldn't otherwise do: exercise, save money, eat right, etc. So, in order to do all these hard things that are "good for us", we must develop strategies for regulating our thinking to promote self-control. Figuring out how to do that is what The Happy Homunculus lives for! Hopefully, these discussions will be valuable to you as well, dear reader.

Finally, you may be wondering: what the hell is a "homunculus"? You can learn more here, but for now, just think of it as that little voice inside your head...

Until next time, keep thinkin'!

The Homunculus

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