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Use Uncertainty as a Tool to Spark Your Cognition at Work

Use Uncertainty as a Tool to Spark Your Cognition at Work

For many of us, our routines give us a sense of purpose. We define ourselves by our personal relationships and our professions. During a period of uncertainty and upheaval, it can feel as though that definition has been washed away.

However, there is a tremendous opportunity during this tumultuous, emotional moment for metacognitive growth -- or in simpler terms, improving how you think. Through careful introspection and evaluation, individuals can identify areas for change, which is powerful knowledge that you can use for professional development and determining career growth.

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This kind of internal query during downtime is particularly advised, as it is emulated by elite decision-makers. Very often, these decision-makers are faced with moments of disappointment and “worst-case scenarios.” The leaders who triumph over these moments analyze and view external forces strategically and respectfully. Internal forces are viewed with a critical lens; a laser focus on what can be improved directly within one’s control.

Adopting similar kinds of reflective exercise as elite decision-makers is the ideal way to use downtime to supercharge your skills prior to your next role. It starts with approaching processing information with a sense of curiosity.

One of the most powerful choices is to journal about recent events, such as the pandemic, and reflect on the experience. What has changed? What aspects of this situation were within your control? What aspects were not? Who, in your situation, did well and what did they do differently? What could you have done differently, regardless of the situation? Will your company transform as a result of the pandemic and what role will you play?

This can be a difficult series of questions to answer. However, when facing any kind of worst-case scenario, they are the questions we must ask ourselves in order to do better next time. The answers should focus internally, rather than externally, to create a space for metacognitive growth.

“Metacognitive thinking” or “metacognition” is a critical component of our thinking that evokes productive self awareness. Ask yourself: What is within my control that I could do to reposition myself for the future? On the job, if we’re surrounded by the best managers and peers, we receive valuable feedback that can get lost in the rush of deadlines and meetings. Away from the job, either on vacation or during a period of career transition, we have an opportunity to take the time to mentally compile this feedback, compare it to previous roles and data points, and benchmark it against our most recent experience.

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There are also certain activities that can spark aspects of your cognition, making metacognitive reflection easier to tackle. You could try jumping into a daily curiosity practice of asking questions. Through reading more of your particular style of “cognitive candy” (articles that make you say “really?! I have to find out more!”), you can create a powerful metacognitive pattern of inquisition. This kind of easy activity sparks curiosity, which helps greatly with metacognitive reflection.

Another activity to consider is bringing in a new element into your life. Whether that’s playing the violin, starting to learn a new language, or just going to a different park for a walk -- you’ll be prompting your metacognition to think more broadly, expanding your theories about your job and yourself. Engaging with anything new, even something as minor as trying out a new pair of shoes, can improve and train your initiative, helping you feel more comfortable in beginning your metacognitive reflection.

One silver lining to the pandemic, if any, is the large-scale transference of interesting in-person classes and courses to virtual platforms. You can learn anything -- from bread making to yoga to knitting -- and get an instant boost for your cognition. Expanding your knowledge and skill-sets in any area will also help boost your confidence.

Metacognitive reflective exercises can help you solidify your experiences into an arc of growth and opportunities seized. Even better, the activities you might have tried along the way create the backdrop of an individual that is engaged and inquisitive about the world, while being self-aware and confident. Who wouldn’t want to work with someone like that?

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Akhila Satish is a CEO, board director, and entrepreneur empowering companies to build sustainable businesses that benefit both shareholders and stakeholders. She is a trusted advisor to fellow CEOs and founders who call her their “go-to” for guidance on the challenges of running a business. She is an expert in the science behind decision-making and uses that insight to lead boards and businesses towards proactive execution. As a director, she brings a highly collaborative and solutions-oriented approach to governance and is immensely valuable to boards looking to accelerate growth, scale, and product-market fit.

Robert (Bob) Riney is the President of Healthcare Operations and Chief Operating Officer of Henry Ford Health System headquartered in Detroit MI. Bob oversees all hospital, ambulatory, and retail operations in this full continuum of care delivery system with annual revenues of $7 billion and 33,000 team members. He also sits on numerous Boards, including being the current Chair of the Nemours Foundation Board and Board member of the Michigan Hospital Association, the Hudson Webber Foundation, and the Detroit Zoological Society.

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