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What is the Meaning of Cognizance?

“I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you.” ― Neil deGrasse Tyson

The Owner's Manual

I bought a new car a few days ago. I already know how to drive it, of course. I’ve been driving for over 40 years and cars all work the same these days, pretty much.

Now I know there’s an owner’s manual in the glove compartment. I also realize there is probably info in it I don’t know. But I don’t really need to read the manual, do I? Anything I don’t know, I can figure out. And if I get stumped I can just look it up in the manual’s index. I don’t need to actually read through it.

The problem with that approach is - I don’t know what I don’t know. I could be missing out on cool features I don’t even know to look up.

Like a car, your mind is an engineering marvel, only much more complex. You’ve been operating it forever and you feel like you do a pretty good job. However, there are many hidden features (and bugs) that you probably don’t know about. You are not cognizant of them so you don’t know what you don’t know.

Fortunately, there is an owner’s manual that can teach you the finer points about how to use your brain to make better decisions and improve your performance. It doesn’t have a name but it comes from the brilliant minds of other humans, past and present, who have shared their knowledge through books, research papers, articles, lectures, and courses.

That’s an overwhelmingly enormous amount of material, so you need to know where to look to find what is useful to you.

You need cognizance.


According to the dictionary, cognizance means awareness or knowledge. That includes awareness OF knowledge. In other words, you first need to know what it is you don’t know.

The most important cognizance is self-awareness. If you want to elevate your ability to perform your job, make great decisions, reach your goals, and even live your values, you need to learn as much as you can about how your own mind, body, and spirit work - as well as how those elements work together. An understanding of how they work with other people helps too.

Where to look

The key is to recognize which areas of knowledge and skills would be most beneficial for you and your goals. They are different for each of us, but here are some areas where having at least a working knowledge can have huge benefits for everyone:


As the scientific study of the mind and behavior, this is a broad field with immense scope, including mental health. Amazing new insights are released every day and there are many great publications for non-scientists like you and me, including Psychology Today,, and

Behavioral Economics (BE)

A relatively recent discipline, BE studies how people REALLY make decisions, as opposed to classic economic theory where people are assumed to behave rationally. Notable researchers in this field include Daniel Kahneman, Richard Thaler and Dan Ariely.

Emotional Intelligence (EI)

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand and navigate human emotions, both your own and those of others. Empathy is often associated with EI and it is associated with better job performance, mental health and leadership skills.

Media Literacy

Media literacy is the ability to become competent, critical and literate in all media forms. The role and agenda of most media outlets is completely different than it was just 10 or 20 years ago. Therefore, it is important to understand how to consume and process information critically so we can gain valid and accurate knowledge and be less susceptible to false and misleading content.

Intellectual humility

No matter what your level of cognizance in any discipline or field of study is, remember to stay intellectually humble. That is, know that there is much left to learn and refrain from lording your knowledge over others. Share and teach, but also listen. That’s good for maintaining both a growth mindset and positive relationships.

- Steve Haffner, decision performance and productivity expert

Want to learn more about improving your thinking and decision making?


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