When we become critical thinkers, we can often turn one-sided arguments into legitimate debates. We provide our own thoughts and opinions in a way that can make a larger impact.
The catch is that learning how to engage in critical thinking isn’t so simple. To help, I’ll be covering what critical thinking is and some skills and methods that you can apply to develop it.
What Is Critical Thinking?
The Foundation for Critical Thinking has an apt description for this concept:((The Foundation For Critical Thinking: Critical Thinking: Where to Begin))
“Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”
In other words, critical thinking is the act of taking information and processing it in such a way that we can make better decisions. Those decisions are better because we have a firmer grasp on a given situation.
You may find the above definition quite wordy, but this is because critical thinking demands the application of a wide variety of tools. They are there to handle any kind of information thrown at us.
Why Is Critical Thinking Important?
Now that you know what it is, why is critical thinking so important? For one, it is different than our usual thinking. We’re stopping and thinking deliberately in these situations.
This kind of thinking provides some perks over regular thinking:
1. You Can Engage With Material Beyond a Superficial Level.
We can formulate stronger opinions, which will allow us to have more informed discussions. This is far different than memorizing information from articles or textbooks and then regurgitating that same information.
2. You Can Create Worthy Arguments.
When we have solid arguments, we can back them up with more confidence. There is a difference between arguing on a topic we’re not familiar with versus one we are knowledgeable about and can stand behind.
3. You Can Better Evaluate Your Work.
Once we have a clear idea of the strong and weak parts of our work, we can work to improve it. This can shift our life, boost performance, and more.
How to Boost Critical Thinking
With all this in mind, what are some things that we can start doing to improve our critical thinking skills?((Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Critical Thinking)) Going back to the phrase the FTC provided, we can use that regarding how to learn critical thinking and improve it at the same time.
Critical thinking involves:
That information we obtain stems from:
All of the above guide our beliefs and actions. Using these points, here are some activities that you can do regularly to enhance the skills involved in critical thinking.
1. Question Your Assumptions
The greatest innovators have been the people who take certain notions and assumptions and question them. People like Newton and Einstein are people we remember because they were people who had different perspectives, which led to some of the greatest discoveries in history.
This is the spark of innovation.
While we don’t need to be a modern-day Einstein, it is important that we look at our assumptions and question them from time to time.
What is blocking you from achieving your goals and dreams? Whatever that answer is, begin to question it and evaluate your beliefs.
2. Stretch Your Mental Processes
Another way regarding how to learn critical thinking is to stretch your mental processes. This is a powerful method because humans are natural-born short thinkers.
What I mean by that is our brain uses something called heuristics — mental shortcuts — to give context to our surroundings. In the past, our ancestors used this to great advantage for hunting or fighting.
However, in the modern era, where we make more complicated decisions, this becomes a problem. This is why voting can be a challenge, as it involves many of the skills and concepts mentioned above. To come to a realiable conclusion, we have to stretch our thinking and incorporate several complex skills.
The idea, then, is that you should be aware of your shortcomings and look for ways to stretch them. This means that when you have an answer, look at your biases and ask why you have arrived at a particular choice or answer.
3. Be Self-Critical
They say we are our own worst critic, and some people take view this as a negative thing. I disagree as self-reflecting is one of the most important aspects around.
Reflection can stem from various sources, but one of the most important for us is self-reflection. All that matters is how you are shaping your thoughts.
Where most people are tearing themselves down with negative criticism, I look to asking myself questions. For example, I can ask, “Why do I believe that?” This will lead me to an answer that I can approach with constructive criticism.
When you ask yourself these kinds of questions, you begin to grow as you look at what we know objectively and formulate opinions. This is moving information away from technical book-stuff to forming opinions through deeper thinking processes.
A final important aspect of being self-critical is an ability to be aware of your biases, strengths, weaknesses, and personal preferences. You can use those to approach situations from different perspectives.
4. Listen Actively
Active listening is another method to be a better critical thinker. When you listen in this manner, you are taking the time to process everything coming your way, including ideas, arguments, criticism, and more.
This is important because many people listen to others in order to formulate a response or reaction. The problem is that it uses your brainpower and takes attention away from what’s being said.
Another way to think of active listening is listening with empathy. When you read or hear a person’s perspective, you can take that information and begin analyzing it instead of coming up a response or reaction.
5. Evaluate Evidence and Facts
Another part of how to learn critical thinking is through evaluation. How can we properly evaluate facts and evidence? Simple. Start by questioning it as we have been doing thus far.
Begin by looking into who gathered the evidence and how they did it. Lastly, ask why did they did it in the first place.
Consider all the studies you hear in the news. In some cases, the studies could have a small sample size that doesn’t reflect the population. Or maybe it was funded by a company or industry with a vested interest in making the study look good. You won’t know until you start to look into the study and interpreting it yourself.
6. Think for Yourself
All of this leads to being able to think for yourself. This is important to maintain now and moving forward. We are in the information age after all, and there are a lot of opinions, thoughts, ideas, and information being thrown around.
It’s very easy to get bogged down with all the information coming your way. It can sometimes be so much that you can get lost and forget to think for yourself.
At the same time, you don’t want to be so overconfident that you ignore everything. Bring in other people’s opinions and thoughts, but make sure that the final decision is down to you and that you’re satisfied with it.
It is also important to evaluate each situation to decide whether you need external sources or not.
7. Think Critically When It Matters
While discovering how to learn critical thinking, it’s important to understand that this isn’t a skill you constantly engage in without rest. While your thinking processs can sometimes get in the way, making you want to change them, it’s important to pace yourself.
Thinking still requires a lot of brainpower, and if we’re constantly exercising it, we’ll create mental strain.
Recognize that critical thinking is nothing more than a tool. Use it only when you have bigger or tougher situations you need to respond to.
When you are critically thinking, remember that you can make mistakes. Mistakes are part of the process, and that’s okay. What’s key is noticing these and how they started in order to avoid them in the future.
The road on how to learn critical thinking isn’t that difficult on paper, but it can be hard in practice. As you can tell, it’s a matter of looking at everything with a certain level of skepticism and evaluating your answers.
It’s not something that can happen instantly as we all have biases and our own thought patterns. What matters is recognizing them and making adjustments little by little.
Try to use it during the times that matter most. When we exercise it when necessary, we can start to see its various benefits. ((Semantic Scholar: A Framework for Critical Thinking, Rational Thinking, and Intelligence))
Being a critical thinker is a lifetime journey, but it’s a rewarding one as there is always more information out there for us to learn and develop from.