Fabulous secret powers were revealed to me the day I held aloft my magic sword and said, “By the power of Meta!”. Or something like that.

‘Meta’ is such a simple prefix, but it did bestow a sort of power on me once I discovered it. It’s from a Greek word meaning ‘after’ or, better, ‘beyond’. It can also mean ‘about’. So metadata is data about data. It provides a top-down, biggest-picture view of any subejct.

So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that its helped me grasp so much about my own learning style and way of thinking. I was useless at school, mostly because I couldn’t see any overall point or coherence to anything I was taught. At school we’re drip-fed information, and the parts of the puzzle are never put together for us (are you seeing a theme here?). We’re not even told that this is possible.

But I now know that my own learning style is totally contrary to this. There are many ways to break down the difference between the way people think: left-brain, right-brain; converger, diverger. My favour is holist, serialist. The holist needs to see the big picture first, and then can place the parts in it. The serialist builds up the whole from the parts. Traditional education suits the second position; I need the first.

That’s why I flourished at university, where I first came across ‘meta’ stuff, and have been on the lookout for them ever since. Here’s a list of ‘meta’ powers in the roughly chronological order I happened to stumble upon them.

  1. Metaphysics – the study of reality, of that which lies beyond any particular science. It deals with fundamental concepts like cause, space and time, being and existence.
  2. Metacognition – thinking about thinking. It’s about your self-awareness of your own cognitive processes, such as how you learn, remember, and perceive reality.
  3. Metacommunication – those aspects of speech that are beyond the explicit message we convey. This takes us into the the whole area of non-verbal communication or ‘body language’.
  4. Meta-emotion – how you feel about your own emtionions and the emotions of others. The first step to emotional intelligence is to become aware of these.
  5. Meta-skills – high-order skills that allow other skills to be developed and used. Examples of these are active listening and questioning techniques.

I’m particularly excited about meta-skills, since the word provides a better alternative than the ‘soft skills’ name that gives people such a wrong impression about the nature of this ability. There’s nothing soft about this super-power!

Have you discovered any other ‘meta’ abilities?