By: Magnus Dalier
Meta-cognition is a major contributor to self-knowledge and an underappreciated tool for improving thought efficiency. One could argue that thinking about thinking, meta-cognition, is one form of overthinking, however, one can strengthen their arguments and improve emotion regulation through meta-cognition. Emotion regulation refers to how we let our emotions occupy our attention and influence our cognition and behavior. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, meditation, and neurofeedback training are several strategies for improving emotion regulation and reducing counterproductive overthinking. Through observing their thoughts and feelings, people gain self-knowledge that enables them to redirect their attention and think more constructively when they catch themselves falling into harmful thought patterns. Overthinking clouds the mind, but overthinking is not synonymous with anxiety. Although anxiety may manifest in excessive thoughts, the nature of those all-too-frequent thoughts distinguish overthinking from anxiety. In order to reduce the likelihood that overthinking will become anxiety, people should learn how to quiet their mind and focus. Improved focus can help people regulate the influence of stress on their thoughts, actions, and even their self-esteem.
In cognitive-behavioral therapy, therapists will often mirror the patient’s linguistic, cognitive, and behavioral tendencies in an effort to make their patient more self-aware such that they may better control themselves. Once the patient begins to catch themselves falling into the patterns reflected to them by their therapist, the patient can further their self-knowledge and begin to redirect their attention and focus. For the patient to become the master of their own mind, they must first be meta-cognitive to recognize when negative thought patterns arise before they can regulate them. Productive meta-cognition, however, requires good focus and efficient working memory.
Meditation is one way to improve focus. One study by Basso and colleagues (2019) revealed that individuals who practiced mindfulness meditation, continuously redirecting attention to their present sensory experience, saw significant improvements in attention and working memory. Another study illuminated improvements in adolescents’ working memory for those who practiced seated meditation (Quach, 2006). Thus, meditation may improve focus but may not directly treat anxiety itself.
Part 2 of this series will illuminate how neurofeedback can promote meta-cognition, as well as discuss how to apply improved meta-cognition to reducing anxiety.
Basso, J. C., McHale, A., Ende, V., Oberlin, D. J., & Suzuki, W. A. (2019). Brief, daily meditation enhances attention, memory, mood, and emotional regulation in non-experienced meditators. Behavioural Brain Research, 356, 208-220.
Quach, D. (2016). Differential effects of sitting meditation and hatha yoga on working memory, stress, and mindfulness among adolescents in a school setting. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering. ProQuest Information & Learning. Retrieved from