Some educators and psychologists list metacognition as an executive function. Others do not. Some of those who consider it an executive function describe it as one of the most important of the executive functions, since success in many other executive functions is more likely if metacognition is strong.

So, what is metacognition? Most simply it can be described as “thinking about your thinking.” Folks with ADHD have brains that are busy, too busy much of the time – even when they need to slow down for sleep. So why is it helpful to encourage yet another process of thinking to add to the mix?

Metacognition can be thought of as thinking on a different level from all those racing thoughts that seem to demand our attention. Some metaphors might help:

Imagine yourself looking out a third-story window at activity on the street below. The activity below represents your brain and its noisy thoughts. The view out the third-story window is like using your metacognition – getting a broad overview, a more detached picture. Using your metacognition offers a chance to pause, consider, and choose – to respond rather than react.

Or here’s another metaphor:  think of your busy brain as a movie with you heavily involved in every scene up on the screen. Your metacognition is like another part of you sitting in the theater watching the movie from a few rows back. You are observing what’s going on on the screen, but you are at a distance from it. You are able to notice what you want to engage with and what you think might not serve you well.

For most of us, an important key to using our metacognition is pausing, and pausing often involves taking a deep breath, or two, or three. That pause permits us to take a step back from the movie screen or the busy street so we can get a more detached overview. From that perspective we have an opportunity to choose what we do next.

There’s a lot of difference between responding and reacting. A response is usually a choice and comes from a place of relative calm. A reaction usually is more like your knee responding to the doctor’s little hammer, and can often be the cause of regret.

See what happens when you pause and take a mental step back to give yourself a chance to use your metacognition. You might like how that works for you!


Linda Swanson is an ADHD Coach in Warrenton, Virginia. She and her husband, Neil, are partners at Free To Be Coaching, LLC, where they coach in person or by phone, Skype, or FaceTime. They coach students from middle school through college as well as adults of all ages, and they also facilitate two support groups for parents of children with ADHD. Linda and Neil are both graduates of the ADD Coach Academy and are credentialed by the International Coach Federation and the Professional Association of ADHD Coaches. Linda can be reached at or (703) 508-4774. 

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