Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Metacognitive Funk

I am in a metacognitive funk, and oddly enough, I feel pretty good about it.

I've lived long enough to realize that life is about ebb and flow, ups and downs, answers and confusion, order and chaos, concentration and distraction, process and product, focus and funk. In other words, life is dynamic, and we have to take time to process, reflect, and think before we can feel good about moving forward to do what we need to do. Funks are, in fact, natural, normal, and necessary.

Our modern lifestyle forces us to move from one crisis to the next, one appointment to the next, one duty to the next without taking time to reflect about WHY we're doing this or IF we should be doing this at all.

Perhaps we should be doing that.

But how in the world do we figure that out? The study of how we think is called metacognition, and though I'm no expert in the subject, I do spend an inordinate amount of time wondering how people think, why they think the way they do, and what a difference that makes in their happiness.

In a recent conversation, a friend confessed that she didn't feel like a grown-up. She thought she would be something easily labeled by this time in her life, most likely a professor, that would signal to the world and to herself that she was a grown-up. Instead, she feels like a youngster pretending to be a mommy, wife, teacher, lay minister, volunteer, and so forth. She feels a push toward a particular path but a part of her doesn't want to go down that road. She feels like she's moving from one obligation to the next, putting out fires, doing only what is in front of her at any given moment. Where's the focus, the career, the grown-up?

Oh, how I relate to her feelings! She and I (and perhaps you, too) need to take a little time to contemplate the choices we make and move more deliberately. Living in a state of constant distraction isn't healthy, and it's certainly NOT a recipe for happiness.

We all have to do things we don't necessarily want to do. I didn't want to be a stay-at-home mom, partly because I always saw myself as a career-oriented intellectual who could never be satisfied with diapers and laundry, but mainly because I have several examples in my life of women who are stay-at-home moms and are much better at it than I will ever be. Oh how I hate being a loser! These other mommies' houses are always neat and tidy, their floors always clean, their laudry ironed and put away, their kitchens immaculate, their basements completely lacking in cobwebs and chaos. Their children never look shaggy or disheveled, never lack for meaningful activities, and never, ever spend all day in their pajamas.

I, on the other hand, sit here in my breakfast room sipping tea and watching the morning sun as it beautifully backlights the layer of dust (artfully rearranged by some small hand) on my 54" television screen. My boys needed haircuts three weeks ago and spent all day Sunday in their jammies for no better reason than their mother wasn't paying attention. 

My grandmother would be so disappointed.

A few months ago, I started noticing the symptoms of metacognitive funk and made the conscious decision to roll with it until some new project presented itself. This funk, I believe, began toward the end of Stephen Ministry training. I had no big project to start, no new class to take its place. Of course, my SM commitment involves regular continuing education and peer supervision, but the newness of it has worn off and left me looking for the next shiny object to chase.

At first, I considered going back to teaching college English. That impulse, appealing as it was, passed rather quickly, for a number of very good reasons. Employment outside the home holds pitfalls for me as a mom. I tend to obsess about doing a good job for anyone who is paying me real money to work, and teaching holds far too many opportunities for obsessive overdrive. Know thyself. I do. In a few years, when both boys can stay at home alone, this option will be more realistic.

No, clearly I need to stay at home and keep my primary focus on the kids. Mom is my job title, and it's a 24/7 gig with a wacky schedule and unpredictable periods of down time that scream for meaningful occupation outside these four walls of domestic bliss.

You're reading one of those occupations. Questioning my Intelligence was born of a desire to write my way out of an existential crisis, and here, almost three years later, I find myself still in that same existential crisis. Instead of seeing my lack of progress as a failure, I choose to see it as a life lesson. Perhaps, if you're the sort of person who tends toward metacognitive reflection, existential crisis is a normal state of being. By embracing the crisis, owning it, and using it in positive ways, I'll figure out what I'm supposed to do next.

And then after that.

And then after that.

Frankly, this metacognitive funk feels like the healthiest thing that has ever happened in my brain, but then, crazy people always think they are perfectly sane, so perhaps I ought not to feel so confident about it.

I doubt my funk will last much longer because, between you and me, I know exactly what I'm supposed to do next. George, God, and the yearning of my heart all tell me the same thing. I'm just scared. I might fail. I'll definitely have to face down that evil voice from my childhood that tells me I'm not good enough, not smart enough, not up to standard. My house will definitely get messier. I'll have to quit doing some of the things I am doing now that I enjoy, or at least scale back on them. It feels scary and huge and weird to start a new chapter. But the next shiny thing to grab my attention is already sparkling right in front of me.

I just need to work up the courage to pick it up and run with it.

Please share stories of your own metacognitive funks...or tell how the rat race keeps you from taking time to reflect and direct your life in ways that might make you happier. What shiny, sparkling worthwhile things are you running with right now? Is there something you should run with but are afraid or reluctant to start? 


  1. Oh my goodness, why oh why couldn't we PCS close to you! So often I when I visit, you have written, much more eloquently then I could have, the thoughts pressing on my heart, or like today, I went the route of posting an Anita Renfroe video instead of trying to explain it all myself.

    Thank you. And may the next chapter be a blessing to you and your family, and I can't wait to hear about it!

  2. Jiminy crickets, what is going on!? You have me intrigued and alarmed all at once.

  3. DO NOT BE ALARMED! Intrigued is quite okay. ;)

    But it's nothing cosmic, at least to anyone outside my brain. I'm not running off to live on a kibbutz in Alabama and pick cotton and sing Kumbaya while meditating on the Kama Sutra, or anything weird like that.

    Come to think of it, that could be sorta fun, actually!

    I'm just not quite ready to say it out loud as that will make it real.

  4. I sometimes find that these metacognitive funks are not all that good for me. I size the, what should be a worthwhile thing, up from all angles. I know it will be worthwhile going down that path but I have to face it head on, ask myself all the 'what if' questions and come up with the plans B, C and D but by this time the worthwhile something has taken on such gigantic proportions I just know it will all come crashing down and I'd best run and hide under the bed for the duration :) Finally, usually after a little push from my DH or DDs who know me as well as I know myself I set forth and then realise phew that mountain wasn't as difficult to climb after all and isn't this great BUT that mental trip to the foothills is sooo difficult.

  5. Oh how I would love to do an "Eat, Pray, Love" sabbatical from my many roles right now to indulge in a metacognitive funk. I feel like a kid in grown up's shoes, running around putting out grown up fires. At the same time, I am tossing pennies in the fountain of youth, fighting growing up with all my might. But, it's been a long cold winter. I'm looking forward to camping season with lazy days spent doing nothing but reading in my beach chair with a constant beverage in my hand. I guess being a grown up does have it's perks.

  6. Lynn, where would the fun be without the melodrama? *wink*

  7. You have the words... and I know you can.

  8. Thank you, Linda. From the bottom of my heart.

  9. I say... go for it.
    What will not kill you will make you stronger.
    Embrace the new sparkly thingy and go on, it may be the best decision you ever made without really knowing it was the best.
    Enjoy your new journey and let the adventure begin. Marilyn in Magnolia, TX

  10. Melodramatic Susan? Moi? Never! LOL


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!