Acknowledge Your Thinking and Learning Filter

Leverage the power of now.



“How do you know what you know, and how did you come to know it?” Mary F. Heller posed this question in 1986 when discussing metacognition. Metacognition is simply defined as being self-aware of how you think and operate. If we were all “self-aware,” would it not make for a better thinking and learning experience?

Self-awareness will aid in adjusting your thinking and learning filter (TLF). As we engage in the thinking and learning process, we digest information in a way that develops perspective. As a result, our beliefs are formed. Our approach to problem solving is defined. Over time, we become creatures of habit and our actions or reactions are integrated into our identities. For example, have you ever been called predictable?

Perspectives and beliefs comprise our situational knowledge. Situational knowledge is knowledge acquired on a case-by-case basis, formed as a result of the experiences encountered. Our TLF influences situational knowledge. I think of the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” TLFs have the capacity to become less flexible as we grow in age and/or our experiences.

Metacognition is the antidote to breaking a habit. For example, I have the habit of watching television while completing course work. I use television as white noise to help me concentrate. Although I claim that television is not a distraction to my work, it takes me considerable time to write one paragraph. Being a very reflective person cued me in on the amount of time it takes me to produce when the television isn’t on. I also noticed my focus was dedicated solely on writing. Now, this all sounds like common sense, but the point is that collecting data on myself led to this discovery.

Self-reflection is the tool for discovering your TLF. A trick I use is to incorporate Sakichi Toyoda’s 5 Whys technique into my reflection process to understand my TLF on a case-by-case basis. For example, let’s use my writing issue. I will break it down step-by-step to illustrate when it became a problem and how the 5 Whys helped in finding an answer.

Writing While Watching Television

1. I became aware that it was a problem because I always underestimated the amount of time it would take to complete a writing assignment. I would say something like, “I have a two-page article review to complete. That shouldn’t take more than an hour.” Four-to-five hours later, it would be complete. This was too common to ignore.

2. I asked the first Why. Why does it take me so long to complete a small writing project? A lot of my revisions took place while writing as opposed to waiting until end. I’d work for perfection on the first try, avoiding the opportunity to make it an iterative process. I never have a rough draft. Also, I took a large amount of detail I took to make sure my references and citations were correct. I also read and reread my paper for errors and other things to make sure it was a quality paper.

3. I asked the second Why. Why do I make all revisions instead of working for a first draft? I want to finish my paper quickly. I do not give myself enough time to thoroughly plan my paper, so while writing, I revise continuously. The structure of my paper comes together during this process.

4. I asked the third Why. Why do I want to finish my paper quickly? I feel like my most of my time surrounds homework assignments. It takes me away from indulging in my hobbies.

5. I asked the fourth Why. Why does homework take me away from my hobbies? I have two hobbies: gaming and watching television. I love role playing games (RPGs) such as anything in the Final Fantasy series. In order to keep up with the storyline in RPGs, you must keep playing. The same is true with television series. Nothing is worst than having to binge watch a show after missing multiple seasons. I’m going through that with The Walking Dead. Since both hobbies require that level of focus, it became less of a priority when I focus on my homework.

6. I ask the final Why. Why do my hobbies require so much focus? I enjoy a great story and want to make sure I don’t miss anything like twist endings, dialog that is integral to the story, etc.

Summary of the 5 Whys Example

With that final why, I feel as though my claim of being able to watch TV and write papers was debunked. I realized that my process for watching television was to rewind to catch missing parts of the show, fast forward through commercials, and do other things necessary to progress and understand the show…while simultaneously writing papers. But the point is, I did these things more than I realized. In the end, I was very aware of what I watched during shows. How is that possible unless the paper actually became less than a priority during those times. I tested this theory this semester and received accolades about how much my academic writing quality improved.


Self-reflect about your TLF. You will learn more about your thought process and will be able to answer Heller’s question, “How do you know what you know, and how did you come to know it?” When you acknowledge your TLF, you will not only become aware of how you think and learn, but why certain things elicit certain emotions. Then, we can rephrase Heller’s question to fit emotional contexts, “Why do you feel the way that you do, and what makes you so sure that you feel this way?

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