That’s why you make the time to read — articles, and books, on a variety of topics. You want to fill your mind with fascinating fodder so you can be a brilliant writer and ever-more-interesting person, day by day.
But have you ever cogitated on HOW you learn things, and how you can become more efficient and effective at it?
Metacognition refers to the concept of thinking about thinking. And it’s necessary for everyone who wants to learn and grow to do some metacogitating every once in a while.
In other words, learners need to take a step back and consider HOW they are learning, not just WHAT they are learning, and find ways to improve the process.
At least, you need to do this if you want to reach the pinnacle of your potential.
To help you with that, I’ve rounded up a handful (literally, a handful — 5 fingers, 5 recommendations) of titles that have been helpful in my own learning journey 😉
Without further ado, here are the 5 best metacognition books to make you smarter:
Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin
In Talent is Overrated, Colvin argues that anyone can be “great” at what they do, not just the so-called “talented.” Because talent 1) may not actually exist, and 2) even if it does, its effects are negligible.
Using research by another author on this list, plus several memorable and fascinating examples from real life (Beatles, anyone?), Colvin makes the case that even if talent does exist, what really helps superstars become what they are is not an inborn “gift,” but what they do with what they have.
In other words, hard work is more important than natural affinity. But it’s not merely hard work that Colvin promotes. It’s deliberate practice, the act of honing your skills over time, with extreme focus and quality feedback.
Talent is Overrated was the first book on metacognition that I recall reading. Or perhaps it was the first book that actually made an impression on me and (at the risk of sounding cliched), changed my life.
Today, I agree with 70–80% of Colvin’s ideas. Certainly, hard work done right (ie, the “smart” way) is more valuable than any inborn ability, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that what we are born with doesn’t matter. And perhaps what we call “talent” is not so much a natural affinity/ability, but a natural liking for something — a liking so bone-deep that we don’t want to give up, no matter what.
Either way, if you’re interested in metacognition, learning, and talent, give this book a try! You won’t regret it 🙂
Peak by Anders Ericsson
Swedish psychologist Anders Ericsson dedicated his career to studying top performers in high-skill domains (medicine, music, chess, sports), summarizing his findings on how experts achieve superior levels of performance in Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.
Published five years ago, Peak begins by debunking the myth that perfect pitch (a rare musical ability to recognize the name of a note without referring to an instrument) is not, in fact, completely inborn. Rather, children are able to learn the skill, so long as they are trained before they turn five.
In other words, when it comes to talents, or “gifts”:
“The ability to develop [the gift] is the gift.”
We all have the gift of growth and adaptability, even adults. Emerging science shows that our brains are more flexible than we think. If that is the case, what could you do if you learned to train your brain the right way? The limits may be much, much farther away than you think.
In Peak, Ericsson primarily focuses on purposeful (deliberate) practice, which requires well-defined goals, focus, feedback, and a few other ingredients I will leave you to discover when you read this book.
On the flip side, Ericsson debunks popular myths about gaining skills, such as the idea that your abilities are fixed, that you will get better if you stick to something for a long time, and that it only takes “effort” to improve.
If you have a particular skill (writing? art? something else?) that you REALLY want to perfect, this book lays the theoretical foundation to help you get a running start.
The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
If, after reading the first two books, you want to dig deeper into the concept of deliberate practice (specifically, how do you DO it?) you’ll need The Talent Code.
In preparation for this book, bestselling author and journalist Daniel Coyle traveled around the world, visiting institutions renowned for turning out performers at the top of their craft. After living with and studying these elite training schools and the top performers they produced, Coyle recognized patterns underlying all of these pursuits.
He gathered his insights into this book, discussing the connection between skill development and the underlying neurobiological mechanisms that support that skill development. In other words, your understanding of certain bio processes (specifically, myelination) can help you design a practice system to reach the top of your game.
Coyle’s Talent Code is not only informative, but inspiring and extremely well-written. He uses fascinating examples and illustrations for his points, from Brazilian soccer training to the self-training of the Bronte sisters, and summarizes his findings at the end by giving readers a case study of how he applied the principles he learned to his local Little League team.
The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle
If you’ve read The Talent Code, or now, you’ll also want to pick up The Little Book of Talent. This follow up tome summarizes the concepts from the first book, but in a more succinct, practical way.
Because, let’s face it, most people who read good books forget 90% of it within a few days. And there are so many great ideas within The Talent Code that it would be a pity to forget to apply them in your life.
That’s why Coyle decided to extract the most important and practical tidbits on deliberate practice and success into this small book, designed to be portable enough to carry with you as a reminder.
Whether or not you actually decide to buy a copy to keep with you at all times, you’ll definitely want to refresh your understanding of skill development, deliberate practice, and “talent formation,” browsing through the 52 tips (organized in three sections) in this little book.
I actually discovered this book before I heard of its predecessor, and I’m glad I did. (I’m glad I stumbled on Daniel Coyle’s work, in general). Coyle is a fantastic writer, conveying ideas effortlessly (which is not ACTUALLY effortless) and he’s worth studying for that reason, even if you aren’t particularly interested in metacognition.
The Art of Learning by Joshua Waitzkin
To cap off this month’s recommendations, pick up The Art of Learning, a memoir/learning handbook by chess and tai-chi prodigy, Joshua Waitzkin
At age seven, Waitzkin began studying chess. At age 11, he played against world champion Gary Kasparov, and the game resulted in a draw. At age 16 he became an International Master. But sometime after that, he quit chess completely and turned to an entirely new field: Tai Chi.
While these two pursuits may seem quite different on the surface, Waitzkin shows how the same principles of practice and learning underlying both. That is, if you want to become a master at the craft, of course.
The Art of Learning is part memoir, part instructional book filled with life lessons learned through years of discipline and hard work. Waitzkin reflects on topics ranging from characteristics great teachers that mediocre teachers don’t use, to how to “lose to win,” to the two approaches to learning, and more.
If you want to hear the real-life story of a man who reached the top of not one, but two unusual pursuits, and see how the principles and lessons he’s learned apply to your own life, this book is for you.
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