5 Tips to develop critical thinking skills
Critical thinking skills are essential to making good – or at least not bad – decisions; is it impossible to get pregnant the first time I have sex? Where should I bury the survivors of a plane crash on the border of the US and Canada? Do vaccines cause autism? What is the healthiest diet there is?
There are many definitions of critical thinking, for me the clearest being:
“Critical thinking is the objective analysis of facts to form a judgment.”
But – if you have a child or were yourself once a kid – critical thinking is perhaps more clearly described as the process of realizing that Santa is not real. There’s a moment when every child starts getting suspicious and asking questions about how Santa can visit so many houses and eat all those mince pies -usually its questions about chimneys and pies and how Santa knows what they want, and not reindeer locomotion or sack capacity.
The dawning realization that Santa is not real usually results in some confusion, embarrassment or even anger. As adults we are sympathetic but also sometimes pleased that they have taken their first steps to value logic and evidence and not to believe everything they are told. As proud as we are of our children in their formative years, as adults it is easy to forget these lessons. For example, a whole-third of millennials in the USA are unsure the Earth is round, and a clear half of American adults believe astrology is a science.
Aside from just fathoming out the shape of the earth, a study by the University of Cambridge concluded that the ability to think critically would improve one’s life. In particular, it would help to make more relevant decisions, but also to solve problems more creatively, autonomously and effectively.
Critical thinking is not innate, there is a process of critical thinking, it is trained and learned. Here are Tip-Shack’s top 5 tips to develop your critical thinking skills.
What is Critical thinking?
First of all, critical thinking is, by definition, the combination of a “mind” and a “critical” attitude.
It is the combination of a state of mind/intellectual posture with a set of good practices and attitudes to nourish and strengthen it. The aim of having a critical mind is not to think more but to think better. Ultimately, to be able to think rationally and autonomously.
Concretely, it means adopting a “questioning” way of thinking, so as not to accept any assertion or information without first having examined it. This can be done through reasoning, extensive documentation on the subject, or logical demonstration.
How to think, not what to think
Furthermore, it protects against simplistic confusions, hasty generalizations, preconceived notions, and certainties that are the result of beliefs or statements without evidence.
Finally, if one wants to be totally precise, one should not confuse “critical mind” and “critical thinking”, they are not synonymous.
Critical thinking includes critical thinking as an attitude or, more precisely, as a set of attitudes that lead the individual to tend to be critical. This will help you at work in 2 situations; to challenge yourself and find alternative solutions to a problem (for example, a customer not satisfied with one of your proposals, or a crisis situation).
5 tips to develop your critical mind
Being critical requires discipline, and also time and attention. To acquire and maintain this skill, try to follow the simple tips below:
1. Understand how you think
All human judgment is subjective. Therefore, before analyzing your surroundings, start by taking the time to understand how your own thought process.
How do you reason? What are your biases? How might these biases or other influences affect your judgment?
In fact, try to pay attention to your “cognitive distortions” (things that can make you see the world in a biased way) that tend to unconsciously limit your critical thinking. For example, if you have a tendency to be negative (negative attitude, refusal), to over-generalize too quickly, etc., then you may be overly critical.
The objective: by understanding how you function, and being critical with yourself, you will be better able to take this into account. To detect possible thought bias and broaden your way of thinking.
2. Be skeptical, sharpen your ability to question things
Learn not to consider information as true until you have studied it yourself, even though it may take time and energy.
Lies are common, the truth is not
To start with, don’t be too definitive in your thinking. Question all your assumptions, which is the basis of critical thinking. Many of your assumptions can quickly fall apart with a little analysis. For example: Why do we think you will fail at something when you haven’t even tried?
Avoid definitive terms like “never” and only use them when you are absolutely certain of what you are saying.
Finally, listen to your instincts and investigate information about which you may have doubts or suspicions. If you are not entirely satisfied with the explanation you have gathered, ask the person you are talking with to elaborate on their answer. If, on the other hand, you feel – or instinctively ‘know’ a fact is correct, read more about it or experience it for yourself.
The objective: is to develop the art of skepticism, you will be able to judge more quickly, by listening to your instincts, whether or not a piece of information deserves to be analyzed in greater depth.
3. Don’t limit your options
You are rarely limited to a single choice or option. By definition, virtually all the information that comes to us is uncertain because it has not yet been verified, There are many ways to skin a cat.
Therefore, when faced with a problem, do not neglect any idea or hypothesis, determine all the solutions that are within your reach but try to scale them according to their degree of probability.
Then check them according to the information you manage to glean. This will allow you to deal more skillfully with everyday thoughts.
Occam’s razor is a principle from philosophy. Suppose there exist two explanations for an occurrence. In this case the one that requires the smallest number of assumptions is usually correct.
The objective: by being skeptical by nature, you will be able to identify all possible solutions to a problem, and not neglect any of them.
4. Learn to reason
When faced with a difficult or complex situation, adopt a constructive, focused and appropriate attitude. Be methodical and, more specifically, adopt a “hypothetico-deductive” reasoning that will ensure that you do not make rash judgements.
The hypothetico-deductive model or method is a proposed description of the scientific method. According to it, scientific inquiry proceeds by formulating a hypothesis in a form that can be falsifiable, using a test on observable data where the outcome is not yet known.
Concretely, starting from your initial belief, make your hypothesis. Then identify and observe, based on relevant knowledge and constraints, the resulting causal, verifiable explanations. This will allow you to confirm or possibly re-evaluate your initial hypothesis.
In your reasoning watch out for double standards of evidence, or as one Reddit user described: “conspiracy theorists will believe low quality footage of UFOs but not HD footage of a rocket landing.”
The objective: using this rigorous method, do not deduce conclusions based on hypotheses but on real observations and reflections. To learn to think independently and critically.
5. Open yourself up to others!
No idea or opinion is good or bad. To develop your critical thinking skills, put yourself in the shoes of others or ask for their opinion.
This will enable you to obtain and consider a new point of view that could change or put your opinion into perspective or which you might not have thought of at first.
In addition, surround yourself with or get close to experts, people who are competent in a particular field to understand their perspective and further develop your critical thinking on the subject.
Open yourself up to different opinions but also be wary of the intent of the source, there is Fake News, paid advertising disguised as news, click bait, sensationalist articles, propaganda, pseudoscience and plain old misinformation. This is all the more important in this period marked by information overload (or infobesity), where we are overloaded with information and especially Fake News. According to researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology false news item has a 70% greater chance of being relayed than verified news and circulates on average 6 times faster!
The objective: by opening yourself up to a range of opinions and ways of thinking, you will be better able to develop your own critical thinking skills.
If we lived in a world where everyone spoke the truth critical thinking would not be so necessary, but we don’t. The reality is that a critical mind is important, at work but also in your personal life. This skill will enable you to reason for yourself, separate fact from fiction, truth from lies and reality from fantasy – questions that make you think will make you smarter!
And, if you weren’t using your critical thinking skills properly in response to the question in the first paragraph, Where should I bury the survivors of a plane crash on the border of the US and Canada? The answer is: nowhere, because the survivors are alive.
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