It’s a bit like being in two places at the same time. Imagine a basketball game in a sports hall, where you play along and in the same time you watch yourself while playing from the stands.
Meditation makes us aware of our inner dialogue and it leads to metacognition. This way we learn to really drag our thoughts in the light of our conscious awareness and to differentiate useful from useless thoughts. We learn to recognize useful thoughts as useful – and useless thoughts as useless. This actually should go without saying, but often it does not: If you have not watched your thoughts before, you will probably wonder about how many useless, harmful, negative and often self-accusing thoughts you think.
Metacognition causes neuroplasticity
Psychology says that metacognition can create new neural connections through internal communication between the neural networks. Good metacognition, therefore, strengthens our ability to improve the internal communication of our brain and organism.
Active internal communication
Why do we need that? Because our brains are actually made up of many, many different neural networks that often have different intentions. A classic example is to resist a fresh, seductive chocolate cupcake. Here, our intention to live and eat healthy conflicts with our overwhelming desire to eat something delicious. Furthermore, driven by our unconscious – to save energy for bad times.
This is not rocket science, but easy to explain. We observe our minds in action and practice certain behaviors again and again. Similar to a muscle training in the gym, the brain can be trained. It literally changes in its structure and density.
How to develop new abilities for effective self-control
This leads us to the understanding that we can use our mind as an effective tool for self-control. Now, we can implement a “mind-bouncer”, where we were previously defenceless exposed to the mercy of uninvited guests – in form of thoughts or external emotional triggers.
The true secret of metacognition
The true secret of metacognition is to exploit the small gap between the moment a thought arises and the moment our brain connects that thought with an emotion. Once this emotion has emerged, especially if it is a negative emotion, we get carried away much too often. In many times we even suspect what is going to happen – but we can’t stop the moving train anymore.
Mindfulness gets you into the gap
However, if you can gain that millisecond of time and get into that gap, you are able to replace the bad thought – the useless thought – with a better one. Now, you can freely choose how to react, where previously your reaction evolved automatically, often unfortunately not to your favour. You are now even able to detach from according emotions. Your stress response will be neutralized and your brain rewires your neural network, provided this situation repeats more often. Neuroplasticity is just like training muscles in the gym.
This is a fundamental effect of meditation practice that lets us regain inner freedom to a far extent. By practicing to observe your thoughts when they arise, you will discover the gap sooner or later.
In this way, meditation becomes an effective mental training for self-control. Self-control is a form of deliberate control in which an intention (cognitive preference) is shielded against competing impulses, needs, and desires from the self (emotional preferences).
Self-control through metacognition is like a bouncer, an inner boss, because all thoughts that are not directly helpful for you and your intentions – are redirected or dissmissed.
Meditation is MINDHACK No. 1