Networking. Collaborating. Sharing. Discussing. Debating.

They’re all important parts of growing not just as a business, but as a person. But they’re not enough.

As entrepreneurs and business leaders, our minds are constantly flooded with ideas that need nurturing, and problems that need solving, alongside the concerns of the every day. There’s always work to be done, but little time to reflect on it, let alone put it out of our mind altogether.

Often, that’s a result of feeling like every moment not spent doing is a wasted moment. But I think there’s more to it than that.

I think there’s a fear that stops people taking some time to be alone with their thoughts.

Whether it’s because we’re scared of what we might discover in those moments of contemplation, or scared of what others might say when we choose solitude over a social gathering, the stigma that comes from being alone is stopping many of us from tapping into our full potential.

And, obviously, that’s a real problem.

Over the last decade, extensive research has been undertaken that proves being alone and reflecting on who we are and what we’ve accomplished is just as critical to success as working hard and engaging with others. The truth is, to be a fully-formed social animal capable of excellence, we must sometimes liberate ourselves from the world around us, and focus on that which lies inside.

It is through this solitude that we develop one of our most exciting mental tools: metacognition – the ability to think about our thoughts.

In a report entitled “The Relation Between Intellectual and Metacognitive Skills from a Developmental Perspective”researchers from The Netherlands revealed that metacognition is critical to amplifying a person’s intelligence and ability to deliver results.

When studying the performance ability of students in the fourth grade, they discovered those who presented metacognitive ability performed 54% better than their peers. Though this divide narrowed as students aged, the research proved that “metacognitive skillfulness is a general, person-related characteristic across age groups, rather than being domain-specific. Moreover, metacognitive skills appear to develop and to contribute to learning performance, partly independent of intelligence”.

In short, the more time you take to focus and reflect, the more mentally agile and capable you will become.

While metacognitive skills can be taught, they, like all skills, ultimately rely on the individual’s willingness to practice. And that means taking the time to stop and think. Alone.

“People tend to engage quite automatically with thinking about the minds of other people”, says Harvard University’s Bethany Burum.

“We’re multitasking when we’re with other people in a way that we’re not when we just have an experience by ourselves.”

Burum demonstrated this by placing two subjects in a room, and letting them talk with each other before setting them on a computerised memory test. Each subject saw the same images, but Burum would occasionally announce that she was showing the subjects different pictures.

It was these pictures the subjects remembered most clearly when they reconvened a few days later.

Why? Because when they were told they were seeing an image their fellow subject wasn’t, they assumed they had sole responsibility, and made a heightened attempt to shut out every distraction – Burum’s voice, the subject sitting across from them, the hum of the computer – and concentrate on their goal.

As a business leader, it’s important to recognise that what matters most is you, and the people that work with and for you. Sometimes, you must turn off the computer and switch off the phone in order to rediscover your reason, fine-point your focus, and then take a break to make sure you don’t become overwhelmed and burn up. Encourage colleagues and employees to do the same.

Apart, you will become better, together.

Discover how to train your metacognitive ability
by watching the video below.


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