5 Ways To Improve Critical Thinking
Critical thinking is our ability to analyze information objectively while evaluating all relevant information in order to reach a decision, judgment or conclusion. It allows us to be more productive, helps us tackle issues, make faster decisions, approach challenges with confidence, and come up with proactive solutions.
This ability to assess information is a skill that takes time and practice to hone. And it isn’t something we only use in one area of our lives. Using critical thinking skills can improve our personal and professional relationships, and it can also increase our productivity at work and at home.
- Ask questions
It may seem obvious, but asking questions is the first step in critical thinking. But asking questions isn’t something we do only when we don’t know the answers or next steps. In order to assess what we don’t know, we need to first understand what we do know. And the only way we can do this is by learning not just how to ask questions, but what questions we need to ask.
When we get in the habit of asking questions, we train our brain to stop making assumptions. Learning how to ask ourselves what we know and how confident we are in that knowledge can help us see a situation or piece of information through new eyes. These questions can help us see if perhaps we’re overlooking information.
Once we have answers to these fundamental questions we can ask what our goals are, what information or details do we need to reach our goal, and what are some alternate solutions that we can look at. This may seem time-consuming, but with practice these questions will happen naturally whenever we need to analyze and evaluate a situation or piece of information.
- Research the answers
Asking questions and coming up with answers is one part of the equation. The next part is researching the answers to make sure we have all the facts. This could be reaching out to experts, leaning on Google, heading to the library, or even utilizing multiple avenues of research to ensure we get the clearest perspective.
Research can also help us determine not just that we have the information but that we have the right information. This is when we evaluate the pros and cons, explore other points of view, determine short term and long term consequences, and discard information that isn’t useful or we discover is wrong.
- Be self-aware
Asking questions and researching the answers will only get us so far. We have to be aware of our own thought processes and biases. Our brain is programmed to create shortcuts. This is useful in establishing patterns and habits, so we aren’t putting too much of our brainpower into doing mundane tasks. But this can also hold us back when we allow ourselves to continue in thought processes that hinder our ability to fully analyze and assess information.
In addition, the things we believe in will influence the way we think as well. Our values and morals and principles can create inherent biases or conditioned assumptions within our thought processes. We need to be aware of these beliefs, biases, and assumptions before we can approach a problem from an objective perspective.
- Have foresight
Once we have an answer or a set of potential answers to our problem, we need to think about the future impact this decision will have. Who will this affect? How will they react? We can also analyze and evaluate what the potential obstacles and challenges could stand in our way.
One way we can practice foresight is by making a pro and con list. This helps us look at all the future probabilities for any situation. Or we can start at the end goal and work our way backward. This can help us evaluate flaws in our logic or problems in the steps we’ve laid out. However we go about assessing potential results, the easier this type of analysis will be.
- Practice active listening
One of the most important skills in critical thinking is active listening. When we practice active listening, we concentrate wholly on what the speaker is saying. This focus is more than simply paying attention to what the speaker is saying. It’s about taking the time to understand what is being said, and then responding carefully by referencing details we just heard.
We want to engage in active listening even if we aren’t actively solving a problem or needing to make a decision. Actively listening to those around us will give us the information and tools to make better decisions in real-time. Learning how to actively listen develops empathy and enhances our understanding with those around us. When we actively listen, we heighten our focus and concentration, increase our retention, learn how to reflect and evaluate, and improve our ability to interpret what’s being said. All of those skills are important in critical thinking.
Critical thinking is a skill we can use in every facet of our lives. It shifts our brain into higher executive functioning, so we can process problems objectively and make decisions based on a wide array of information. It helps us avoid our own biases so we can find solutions quickly and effectively.