When I was in graduate school, I designed and implemented a study on teaching students about metacognition, or in layman’s terms, teaching students how to think about their thinking. After nearly two decades of school in one form or another, I had learned through trial and error how to monitor my own thinking and learning, but I believed (and still do) that teaching students to do this from a young age can pay huge dividends throughout their school careers and beyond.
To me, metacognition is one particular form of self-reflection, and I have come to realize as an adult that self-reflection is a life skill that too few people possess or at least use on a regular basis. No matter our chosen profession, no matter where we are on our career path, we all need to self-reflect on a consistent basis. We all need to apply to ourselves and our endeavors the basic concept we learned as college freshmen in that oh-so-stimulating-course Economics 101: the cost-benefit analysis, or if you like to see the glass half full, the benefit-cost analysis.
The eternal optimist may have more trouble with cost-benefit analyses than the pragmatist or the pessimist. Optimists, of course, always look for the good, for the beneficial. This is a worthy character trait; we all need those people in our lives who lift us up. Yet an optimist who forever closes their eyes to problems is a risky and dangerous person as far as I am concerned. Small, fixable problems that go unseen by the optimist who only measures things based on the beneficial qualities they possess become large, intractable problems over time. So optimists, more than even pragmatists and pessimists, need to learn the art of self-reflection. Pragmatists and pessimists need to learn this art as well, but I do believe it comes more naturally to them (too naturally, for the pessimist perhaps).
Self-reflection is actually not all about the self, despite the name. Self-reflection involves thinking about how one’s words and actions affect others, too. What turned out to be of great benefit to you or to some around you, may have cost others a great deal. In school environments, those costs are important because school cultures operate not around single individuals or small groups but around the community as a whole.
Teaching young people to self-reflect is not easy, for as a friend and colleague of mine says, teenagers often come down with severe cases of ITB, or irrational teenage behavior. More often than not, those teenagers catch this “disease” by failing to think about others first. Fortunately, the disease is curable, but only if we teach young people the art of self-reflection. Otherwise, we are likely to end up with a much worse and far less treatable disease called IAB, irrational adult behavior.