Why I’m Obsessed with Metacognition

Last summer, I was listening to a podcast that was discussing metacognition – the notion of thinking about what you’re thinking about. Here’s the formal definition for my fellow Webster nerds:

Not sure yet how I feel to admit this, but I haven’t been able to stop analyzing my thoughts since. Not every single thought, of course, just the big ones that make me stop and say: “Wait. Is that really true for me?”. I was probably doing it subconsciously before, but now I have a word for it: metacognition. It helps me shift my perspective when I need a fresh look at a tough or undesirable situation.

Here are a few recent examples of what’s rattled my brain…

First thought: “Holy crap. I can’t believe I have to leave the house for work every day in the middle of a pandemic.”

Next thought: “Wow. I love the quiet time I get in the car driving to work every day. The traffic is manageable, and thank God I haven’t gotten sick this whole time.”

First thought: “I left my blog alone for a month. How on earth will I get back into the groove of writing.”

Next thought: “I left my blog alone for a month because my day job got a lot more interesting, and I’m up for a promotion. I have so many new stories to tell about faith, women in engineering, and self-worth.”

First thought: “Ugh. I only worked out twice this week. I’m behind on my goals and feel exhausted.”

Next thought: “It’s time to reassess my goals this week and back off where I need to. On the plus side, finishing The Glass Castle and a couple Grey’s Anatomy episodes felt AWESOME.”

This week, I also finished the book The Dance of Anger by Harriett Lerner. It has completely changed my perspective on anger. It is going to take a LOT of unlearning, but I am amazed at how differently I see anger already. It’s always felt like such a charged, negative emotion for me. But I learned that anger can be a tool to help tell you what you need to do to take care of yourself. It is possible to look at anger as a neutral emotion, instead of an emotion that beats up my self-worth and makes me feel “wrong” for feeling upset.

The book reminded me that I’m entitled to all my feelings, especially anger. It’s just what I do with it once I feel it that makes all the difference. And after this book, I have so many more options to deal with my anger than my standard go-to’s of over functioning, blaming, and defending. I highly, highly recommend it for women, since it’s written for us specifically. I plan to read it again this year (and, nerd alert, take some notes this time).

Metacognition helps me mind the endless “what if” scenarios that can plague me and overwhelm me. Metacognition is an antidote any time I have self-imposed feelings of self-doubt. Metacognition, guided by two of my favorite allies—grace and gratitude—powerfully tames my coronacoaster thinking, so I can hold onto a realistic yet positive perspective throughout life’s daily curveballs.

Some Takeaways from My First 30 Day Haiku Challenge

Truth be told, I really wanted to write about other topics this week. I planned to do a travel blog post once a month, because I miss traveling and want to remember what it’s like to jump on a plane without fear of deadly germs. Then I thought I should switch it up and do a post on imposter syndrome, with some ways I get through it when it sneaks up on me. I started both posts but didn’t finish.

This month I participated in a 30 Day Haiku Challenge hosted by Nicole Gulotta. If you want to find out more, you can check out @nicolegulotta or #30dayhaikuchallenge on Instagram (I’m @cjdubs03). Overall, I found it fun and purposeful, and it definitely stretched me creatively. I reflected back on everything from childhood memories to daily blessings to appreciating more of the chilling beauty of winter. Normally, I can’t wait for winter to be over and done with.

But in all honesty, the challenge took way more time than I gave it credit for. While it may only take 10 minutes a day to write a haiku, then there’s time to find a picture and make it look “nice.” Then I want to see what everyone else came up with for the theme, so I scroll for 15 more minutes before I get back to my “real” to do list. Not that spending some time on myself is a bad thing, but an hour out of each weeknight is, well, a lot. And I noticed after the first two weeks that my zest for the daily activity was fading from a “want to” to a “have to”.

Hence why I’ve abandoned my previous ideas and will keep my weekly post short and sweet. Instead, I’m spending more time this evening with my husband and pup watching who knows what on TV instead of crafting the “perfectly timed” post. As we speak, my 8 year old Weimaraner is blissfully snoozing on my lap.

I’m also really proud of these 5 haikus I’ll share below. I love haikus because they, too, are short and sweet, yet full of beautiful odes to nature in their traditional Japanese form. Haikus also combine two of my most favorite things: writing and math!

Cold air
My heart feels
Morning light
Healing
Bare branches

Your Words are Worthy

Words upon words upon words. From grade school on, women are the classic note takers. Scribbles on sticky notes. Endless to-do lists. College notebooks full of formulas, theories, and literal word-for-word jargon from professors, in hopes it can be deciphered later. Love notes to kids or spouses in lunchboxes. We are the quintessential journal keepers, no matter if it’s once a day or once a year.

Why do we take note of so much? For one, it engages us. It activates our busy minds that run nonstop, even in our sleep. It plants us in the moment and grounds us when nothing else will. The act of writing promises hope that we won’t forget what we feel we need to remember.

Anytime I hear from a fellow woman writer that she doesn’t feel the urge to write, my heart cracks a little. This may be temporary based on the busy day/week/month ensuing, where she’s likely busy taking care of everyone else around her. My suspicion is that deep down, she silently feels her words aren’t worthy. And this makes the crack in my heart even wider, because I am so inspired by the words of other women. It is the very thing that has emboldened and empowered me on my own journey. I can’t stop reading others’ thoughts of desperation and moments of hope that this fragile, historic year has brought.

This is a pep talk I give myself that you can borrow in whole or in part anytime you need: Do not ever let someone poison you, with either a glance or a litany, on whether or not you’re worthy to create. You are the only one that gets to decide that. Let failure be a teacher and a gift once the pain subsides. When you’re ready, have the guts to face your weak areas instead of avoiding them. The lessons of growth when you go through the fire are always, always worth it. You have more grit than you give yourself credit for, so start digging in to get you where you want to go.

Whether you write 50 or 50,000 words, every syllable matters. Let those words of yours, faintly simmering below, start to bubble up and out. It counts if it’s privately in a journal or publicly released to the world. If you needed this reminder, I hope it’s coming to you at the right time.

Today, tomorrow, next month, or next year–there is no deadline on the worthiness of your words.

This post was taken from a bit of the first draft of my memoir as a woman engineer. I started this project on a whim when I learned of NaNoWriMo two weeks before it launched on November 1, 2020. I got to 40,000 words, and I have no idea if I will ever finish and publish it. What propelled me to write was this: “Will there ever be another time in my life where I can dedicate a whole month to writing?” And I didn’t want to wait to find out.

All I know right now is that I have stories of mine to tell. Writing is the therapy I need right now to re-imagine, process, and let go.

PS, the Unpublished Podcast by Amie McNee has been one of many inspirations to my writing journey this year. I encourage you to check it out if you need a boost of encouragement, wherever you are in your creative writing journey right now. As Amie often says, only you can write what you can write, no one else can.

Simple Traditions, Solid Ground

Thanksgiving traditions remind me, like a recurring dream that suddenly reappears

Through patience in prepping and roasting the turkey

Through cheerful pops of cranberries bursting

Through softening of vegetables in the skillet

Through warmth of a freshly baked pumpkin pie

Through those peaceful seconds just after we say grace

That simple traditions ground me when I feel my grip on life slipping

Helping release my sadness at the losses and turmoil that this year brought

Their familiarity keeps me up, gives me hope, that better days are ahead

Two Pens, Two Purposes: An Engineer Writes Fiction

This is a storied timeline of two pens, two purposes. One pen writes reports and calculations on a construction site. The other writes articles and pitches as a freelancer. One story is fiction; one is fictionalized but mostly true. Both individuals are working (or attempting to) in the pandemic. Apparently, both hate the morning alarm but love long walks and Spotify.

The Engineer.

5:30am – That damn alarm. 1 snooze and I’ll get up. The sun peeking through our window tells me I won’t need my jacket today (phew).

6:30am – Just finished my morning quiet time. Meditation on my Calm app and some prayer/silence. Total bliss—wish I consistently did this.

7:30am – Smoothies and coffee are made, and I’m headed out the door. Wait: forgot my lunch, and takeout options are still slim. Say goodbye to the fam for the second time, and off I go.

8:30am – The #coronatraffic is definitely picking up—need to start leaving earlier. I pull up to the jobsite and finish my morning check-in with the superintendent.

9:30am – I’m in the office trailer–a bland shade of beige. It’s stayed very clean since I constantly imagine COVID germs lurking about. I fire up the generator so I can get internet and power and start catching up on emails.

10:30am – Concrete pour for an inlet base, where I spot check measurements on the rebar and forms. Weirdly, fresh concrete is one of my favorite smells. It signifies something new is being built that will last a long time. 

11:30am – Lunch by myself in the trailer. It’s quieter now that my inspector was reassigned to another project last month, due to budget issues. If I had a nickel for every time I thought, thanks COVID…

12:30pm – Daily check-in call with my client. We discuss the schedule slipping *sigh*. Our Indian summer weather is holding out for now, so we can finish paving and stand up some signal poles this month before the snow hits.

1:30pm – I add a couple things to my Lessons Learned report. I’ve recently made this a habit: writing down things our team could improve, or wish we’d known, before the next job starts.

2:30pm – Out for another site walk and think: Well, this is new. About 10 Xfinity trucks are here, with manhole lids popped off everywhere. I talk to their supervisor. Turns out, even after the 2 months my team spent notifying companies of a duct bank we needed to relocate for our new inlet, they didn’t get the memo. Sorry to whoever was cut off from the world for 4 days – is it even possible to go that long without TV or internet right now??

3:30pm – Writing my Daily Diary, where I’m always thinking: be objective, thorough, concise. Sometimes I feel more like a lawyer than an engineer when I write these.

4:30pm – Midway through my commute home with my favorite passenger, Spotify. Today we’re listening to The Confessional and Unlocking Us at 1.5X speed. I set the cruise control and enjoy.

5:30pm – Dog walk with my boys. We walk up the hill to take in a view that never gets old: watching a soft coral sunset turn to indigo over the hazy foothills.

6:30pm – Finally getting this at-home workout routine down. Ingredients: 30 minutes, a 20 lb kettlebell, “Mood Booster” on Spotify, and my $10 Amazon poster with umpteen exercises to choose from.

7:30pm – Takeout Thursday! Tonight, we go local and get a Matador pizza with salads. Jalapenos, cream cheese, chorizo, red sauce—yep, gang’s all here.

8:30pm – Quick journal entry. I used to be a morning journaler, but I’ve grown to like the end-of-day reflections. Even if they’re scattered, tired, flat. More realistic and strangely calming.

9:30pm – Spent. I’m catching up on Nashville and forgot how much I love the music. Even though I gave up country music years ago. I snooze on the couch for 20 minutes before my husband coaxes me to bed (my big bad habit is here to stay).

The Writer.

7:30am – OK, OK, I’m up. 5 snoozes later meant 45 minutes in iPhone land. Oops. Why hasn’t Apple figured out a way to give us custom snooze options yet?

8:30am – It’s a hair wash day. Ugh. One nice thing about the pandemic: I’m down to once a week. Grab a souvenir coffee mug and think, where should I travel to today? Hawaii or… Hawaii? I listen to the Unpublished podcast at 1.5X speed.

9:30am – That blank cursor feeling is legit. But it’s because I have so.many.stories brewing at once. Gonna take some effort to get them out, both connected and flowing.

10:30am – I looove my home office. My velvet Cleopatra chair sits in the corner, inviting me in for a read or a write when that desk gets old. But, I miss traveling. 

11:30am – Squirrel! Started looking for photos for an article, then scrolled for a half hour before I caught myself. Now I really miss traveling. And the theatre. And squeezing my face into group pics.

12:30pm – Hunger calls: tacos for lunch. Mmm. Have I ever met anyone that doesn’t love tacos? Have I discovered the one thing all Americans can agree on, besides Dolly Parton?

1:30pm – Ever spend an hour on thesaurus.com for one word? Yep. I just did. #enneagram1blues

2:30pm – I attend a Writer’s Digest OnDemand Webinar called, “8 Things First-Time Novelists Need to Avoid”. Great tips, if I ever get to this phase of my writing career. Just completely in the dark on a concept or theme right now *sigh*.

3:30pm – The fairy dust fueling today’s inspiration has worn off. My partner has been on a conference call, on speaker phone, for the last two hours in the living room. Time for a walk….

4:30pm – My last hour to meet client deadlines and rally my self-imposed hustle. Refueling with Diet Coke. C’mon, words.

5:30pm – One more hour… #ThisGirlIsOnFire… I click Submit, Send, and Save Draft on three pieces I fought hard for today. 

6:30pm – Time for our nightly beach walk. So glad we indulged our pipe dream and moved to the coast last year. Footprints in the sand never get old. Ever. 

7:30pm – Grocery store run. Feels like I’m in some bent universe when I leave my 2D imagination and enter 3D life with real trees and cars. Did I really just hunker down for two days pouring myself out on paper, or did I dream it?

8:30pm – We rally and whip up some Chicken Marsala and mashed potatoes for dinner. Add a little heavy cream to the sauce and a LOT of butter to the potatoes. A cold glass of Pinot Grigio gives us a sweet finishing touch to the meal.

9:30pm – Just cracked open my new journal for a quick brain dump. It starts with the quote: “Okay fine, I’m grateful!” Appropriate. I spend a few minutes writing and a lot of time doodling quotes or scriptures on my mind.

10:30pm – Kindle calls tonight instead of Netflix. I should not read “Welcome to the United States of Anxiety” before bed. But it’s teaching me all about the evolution of avocado toast, and I’m here for the entertainment.

2:30am – I slowly wake, and my mind is abuzz. Think I’ll work on that haiku series I dreamt of this week. Who knows if it’s publishable, but it demands to get out now. Sleep, I’ll see you when I see you.

Photo location: Seattle, WA. Ocean on the left, mountains on the right, symbolically bridging my two worlds.

Read more about an Examination of Life this month from the amazing women at Illuminate, a product of The Kindred Voice:

A Day in My Life by Laci Olivia

An Ideal vs Actual Day in the Life by Ashleigh Bowling

What Makes a Life? by Amy Rich

A Real (and Imagined) Examination of Life by Sarah Hartley

The Things We Carry by Jenn Norrell

An Examination of Life by Danni Brigante

life itself. by Eunice Brownlee

Time, Mystical Time… Healin’ Me Fine

Cue one of my favorite songs on Taylor Swift’s Folklore album, “invisible string”…

These days, I’ve grown more aware of how obsessed I am with time. I’ve known for a while that me and FOMO are good friends. Still, I find myself subconsciously trying to strike a balance among learning from my past, living in the moment, and pondering the future. It’s precarious. It used to feel life-giving, where I’d tenuously balance on the edge of control and freedom. Right now, it feels pretty lifeless to be so consumed by time, when it draws out and stretches out for miles that used to feel like feet due to the pandemic.

This year, I often joke that it’s just another day that ends in Y (and thank one of my clients for giving me such a fitting phrase). If I weren’t chronicling my inner thoughts and daily activities so well with a solid journaling habit and this blog, time may feel even blurrier than it already does.

Anyhoo. Remember when email forwards were a thing (a fun, eventually annoying thing), and someone listed all the ways that fractions of time can change our course and give our entire lives new meaning? Like the difference of 0.01 seconds for Olympic competitors who earn a silver medal. I came up with my own list as sort of a therapeutic process, since time has virtually no meaning for me right now.

1 second: The time it took for my dad’s car and an oncoming car to collide, sending him to the hospital where he passed away two days later when I was 16.

1 minute: The time it took to get dunked underwater and reemerge in a roomful of people, where I shared that Jesus was my source of comfort, strength, and hope. Life has been brighter, richer, and more purposeful for me ever since.

1 hour: The time of a single car ride with my favorite mentor who was kind enough to unexpectedly show me how, when I thought I was hiding what I was feeling, I was actually being very obvious about it. This completely changed my interactions with friends, family, and colleagues for me from that point on.

1 day: Time spent strolling the Freedom Trail in Boston with my then-friend from college, having lunch at the Union Oyster House, and visiting Paul Revere’s house. A few years later, I call this smart, funny, generous man my husband.

1 month: The time I needed to start a consistent journaling habit, which has now bloomed into joining a women’s writing group, starting a blog, and seriously exploring and sharing my creative side.

1 year: The length of time I spent getting my Master’s degree in Civil Engineering, only to find myself with little to no job prospects when the markets tanked and the Great Recession started.

Sigh. OK, time has meaning. I needed that reminder. And yet, I wonder. When will I get to plan a get together larger than 8 people again – in person, inside, without masks? When will we go on our next international getaway, something we enjoy doing with friends to immerse ourselves in and learn from a totally different way of life? What is my next big thing going to be IRL, that’s a far cry from the online worlds of Instagram, Medium, and Google?

These are the questions I ask myself, as I enjoy lazy Saturdays sleeping in, reading, binge watching Nashville, writing, cooking fancy meals with my husband, and walking my dog to my heart’s content. All the things I ever wanted to do but never for this long.

Photo location: Fussen, Germany