Use metacognition to change your stress mindset and function better

Today, many people see stress mainly as something negative. But recent research by Alia Crum and her colleagues shows that our perception of stress can make a significant difference. Furthermore, it shows that training our metacognition – our thinking about thinking – can help us change our stress mindset from negative to positive. In this article, we first examine what a stress mindset entails and why it is important. We then describe Crum's research and delve into three recent experiments exploring the power of metacognition in stress management.

The Importance of a Stress Mindset

Research by David Yeager and colleagues has already shown that our perception of stress matters a great deal (read more). How we look at our own stress response in challenging circumstances plays a crucial role.

  • A negative stress mindset interprets your own stress as an indication that you are going to fail. This mindset amplifies your stress, undermines your motivation and performance, and can increase your tendency to avoid stressful tasks (such as a math problem) in the future. Moreover, this can lead to more stress when you have to perform such tasks.
  • A positive stress mindset, on the other hand, sees your own stress as normal and as a tool that can boost your performance (for example, by increasing your alertness). This mindset reduces your anxiety and improves your functioning. By training our metacognition, we can change our stress mindset from this negative perception to the positive one.

A New Look at Stress

With this information in mind, we look at the research of Alia Crum  (Crum et al, 2023). The underlying idea of ​​the study was simple. If we could help people understand that they have a certain stress mindset, and that this mindset has a significant effect, would they be able to change their stress mindset from negative to positive? And would this change hold, even when faced with conflicting information? To answer these questions, the researchers conducted three experiments.

Experiment 1: The Power of Metacognition

In the first experiment, the researchers investigated whether a metacognitive approach could help change people's mindset about stress. Participants received balanced information about stress and metacognitive information about the power of the mindset. In addition, the researchers taught the participants specific metacognitive techniques to analyze and reframe their thinking processes about stress. The results were encouraging. People did indeed benefit from the metacognitive approach, and their mindset about stress changed from negative to positive.

Intermezzo: What was the training like?

The training consisted of three modules delivered during a 2-hour live training session. These modules were designed to give participants more balanced information about stress, emphasize the importance of mindsets and provide them with a specific set of skills to actively and consciously adopt a positive stress mindset in their daily lives.

  • The Paradox of Stress.  In this module, participants were given information about the two different ways stress can be viewed – as something that paralyzes or as something that improves. Participants were asked to reflect on times in their own lives when stress had actually been beneficial to them.
  • The Power of Mindset.  In this module, participants learned about the importance of mindsets and how they can have significant psychological and physiological effects. They were given examples of areas where mindsets are important, such as medicine and exercise. They also learned that the stress mindset can be changed and that these changes can have a significant impact on performance and well-being.
  • Three Steps to an Improving Stress Mindset. Finally, the researchers taught the participants a strategy for actively and consciously adopting a positive stress mindset. This strategy consisted of three steps: (1) acknowledging stress rather than denying it, (2) welcoming stress rather than avoiding it, and (3) using stress rather than trying to control or control it. to combat.

To apply the new mindset in their daily lives, participants were asked to use everyday objects or events as cues to carry out the three-step process.

This training aimed to improve the metacognitive skills of the participants so that they could consciously examine and change their own thinking processes related to stress. The goal was to help them adopt a more positive stress mindset and recognize and exploit the benefits of stress.

Experiment 2: Durability of Mindset Change

The second experiment focused on the sustainability of the mindset change. Would the change persist even if people encountered conflicting information or faced a stressful situation? The results were positive. The metacognitive approach led to lasting changes in the mindset about stress from negative to positive. This was the case even when conflicting information was present and in stressful situations.

Experiment 3: Comparison with Traditional Intervention

The third experiment compared the metacognitive approach with a traditional intervention aimed at changing the stress mindset. Again, the metacognitive approach came out strongly. It led to bigger and more lasting changes in the stress mindset from negative to positive than the traditional approach.

Summary Results

In summary, in all three experiments, the metacognitive approach proved successful in changing the stress mindset from negative to positive. It helped people to become metacognitively aware of their mindset, to understand the power of this mindset and to learn strategies to deal with conflicting information. These changes were sustainable even in the face of conflicting information and stressful situations.

Summary and Implications

This study provides interesting evidence for the power of metacognition in changing our stress mindset from negative to positive. By applying metacognitive strategies, we can change our perception of stress and thus the way we deal with stress.

This has important implications for stress management in various contexts, such as the workplace. It shows that we should not always avoid or manage stress. Instead, we must learn to deal with stress in an adaptive way. This study reminds us that we have powerful tools in our own mind – metacognition being one of them – that we can use for our well-being.