Do you consider yourself a critical thinker? Are you able to solve problems rationally, evaluate information objectively, and arrive at conclusions based on factual evidence?
Critical thinking is a skill — one that can be honed and developed with practice and time.
Whether you inherently possess this talent or not, rest assured that with application, you too can foster your own critical thinking abilities.
What Is Critical Thinking?
In recent years, the term critical thinking has become a buzzword in corporate and academic settings.
Why? Because critical thinking helps facilitate much of the research, problem-solving, and creative output of these professional factions.
But what does it entail exactly?
Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly, logically, and objectively. It’s the ability to assimilate information, identify logical connections, solve problems methodically, and reflect on both your ideas and the ideas of others in an objective manner.
It’s much easier said than done though. Because it’s challenging for us as human beings to separate ourselves from our biases, judgments, and reactions.
To practice critical thinking skills means to practice the ability to step away from your beliefs.
This isn’t to suggest that a critical thinker abandons their beliefs or values entirely — only that a critical thinker has the ability to suspend these beliefs and values in order to organize and digest new information and ideas.
Why Is Critical Thinking Important?
When answering the question, “What is critical thinking?” it’s important to also discuss why it’s so important.
While cultivating a healthy set of personal values is important, so too is the ability to keep an open mind.
Critical thinking skills encourage us to operate without prejudice or bias, to keep the facts straight, and to arrive at logical, fact-based solutions.
The most valuable aspect of critical thinking is its transferability. Critical thinking skills are fluid and versatile. They can easily be transported between professions, tasks, subject areas, and niches. And they can be applied and reapplied to all sorts of situations, dilemmas, and conundrums.
The skill encourages self-reflection as well. It helps facilitate the examination of our own beliefs in comparison to those held by others. When we examine new ideas with a logical, objective eye, we open ourselves to entirely new worlds of beliefs, concepts, and perceptions.
Real-World Examples: Critical Thinking in Action
To better grasp how to improve our critical thinking skills, we must first understand them fully.
Here are some common examples of critical thinking skills:
- Problem Solving
This list is certainly quite helpful, but let’s go into further detail to exemplify critical thinking skills in action.
In what sort of situations would critical thinking be used?
Here are a few potential examples of critical thinking scenarios:
- A triage nurse must evaluate which emergency room patient should be attended by a physician first;
- A construction engineer drawing up plans for a bridge to be built the following spring;
- A debate student attempting to formulate a rebuttal for an opposing team’s remarks;
- An electrician attempting to fix a faulty wiring connection in a client’s home;
- A lawyer cross-examining a witness.
In all of the above examples, proper skills must be employed to achieve the most profitable results.
How to Improve Critical Thinking Skills?
If you’d like to hone your critical thinking abilities, then you’re in luck! We’ve assembled five tips and tricks for improving your critical thinking:
1. Examine your biases
Some of the biggest hindrances to our ability to think critically are our own biases, preferences, and beliefs.
Coming to a better, more holistic understanding of our biases can help us look past them to become more objective, critical thinkers.
How can we identify our biases?
The best way to delve into what makes us tick is by becoming aware of our own reactivity. Often, our prejudices are set off by specific situations that trigger them, and the result is usually a strong emotional reaction of one kind or another.
If ever you feel yourself becoming irritable, upset, frustrated, angry, anxious, or distressed, you may want to pay attention to which of your values or beliefs have been impinged upon.
This will be the key to unlocking your understanding of your biases. And the first step to becoming a more powerful critical thinker.
2. Question everything
The more questions we ask, the more we’re apt to learn.
If you’d like to work on your critical thinking skills, you’ll need to start asking a lot of questions.
This doesn’t mean you need to pelt the people you meet with a barrage of queries. But it does mean that you’ll have to practice more active listening skills and be aware of what’s going on around you.
There’s plenty we can learn just from paying attention, but too many of us are embedded in our own daydreams and to-do lists to notice.
Don’t just question others, question yourself too. Question your own beliefs and ideals. As you grow, you change, and your ideas often change along with you. Sometimes people don’t realize how much their ideals have changed until they pause to examine them.
Never be afraid to ask “why?”
It’s one of the most valuable and important things we can do.
3. Learn to be an investigator
This skill is of ever-increasing importance in a world overflowing with “fake news.” Learning to research and investigate the things you learn is an integral skill that will facilitate your knowledge and success.
When you hear something of interest, don’t accept it at face value.
Ask questions, and dig deeper. Get to the root of the issue. Learn as much as you can, and then learn some more. Practice vigilant research skills and identify reputable resources you can trust.
Ask questions, and then investigate the answers.
4. Practice empathy
So far, what we’ve learned about critical thinking all points to the notion that being a critical thinker is the removal of reactivity and subjectivity from the thinking process.
It all sounds a tad cold and detached, doesn’t it? But it doesn’t have to be! Critical thinking involves an inherent element of empathy that can help us connect with others on more intimate and profound levels.
Empathy, in a sense, is the practice of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s imagining what life is like from another person’s perspective. This isn’t easy to do.
How can we know how others think and feel?
Empathy asks you to trade places with another person and fit yourself into their world. What would it be like to walk a mile in their shoes?
This detachment from our ideas, our thoughts, our ego, and the relocation into the mental space of another person help us see beyond ourselves. Critical thinking, in a nutshell.
5. Train your brain
If you’d really like to improve your critical thinking skills, there are plenty of games and apps you can download that help improve your cognitive abilities.
Try any of the following for just 15 minutes a day to enjoy a quick and efficient brainpower boost:
- Brain Cafe
- Brain Wave
You can also check out this 15-minute mind hack to incredibly boost your brainpower, brought to you by Vishen Lakhiani: