Critical Thinking Skills Steps To Getting
“Critical thinking” is a phrase that leaves many students nervously quaking in their desks. By the time we’ve become adults, though, we’ve largely forgotten it. We imagine that we think critically, but we let our ability to engage with new ideas atrophy when we leave college. We get set in our ways, and become closed off to new ways of seeing the world.
The Information Age has made critical thinking both more important and more difficult than ever before. But these skills are at the foundation of an informed civil society, and they need to be fostered.
It’s time to go back to basics.
Why Is Critical Thinking Important?
The World Economic Forum listed critical thinking as the fourth most important skill in 2015. In 2020 it surges into the #2 spot, just behind complex problem solving, a closely related proficiency. To create the list, the Forum asked “chief human resources and strategy officers from leading global employers” which skills they value. These aren’t random people off the street. They’re important influencers in the world economy.
If the Forum says critical thinking is important, you can believe that it’s true. For getting a job, if nothing else.
What, then, is critical thinking? The Philosophy department at the University of Hong Kong has a great definition, stating that someone with critical thinking skills can do the following:
- Understand the logical connections between ideas.
- Identify, construct and evaluate arguments.
- Detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning.
- Solve problems systematically.
- Identify the relevance and importance of ideas.
- Reflect on the justification of one’s own beliefs and values.
These six points should make clear why critical thinking is so important. It enhances problem solving, communicative, logic, and creative skills5 Creative Hobbies That Will Make You a Happier Person5 Creative Hobbies That Will Make You a Happier PersonA proper creative outlet can work wonders for your mental health and overall happiness. Here are a few creative hobbies that are proven to help in this way.Read More, all of which are important not only as an effective employee of an organization, but as an inhabitant of the modern world.
We’re constantly bombarded with new data in the Information Age. Constant internet access, crowd-sourced ideas, and the instant availability of new ideas means you have a huge amount of information to process if you want to make sense of it all. And critical thinking helps you do that.
It might be more helpful to think of critical thinking as a way of life instead of a set of skills. Here’s a quote from Gautama Buddha that might help you see what I mean:
Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.
Critical thinking, at its core, is a path to truth. Along the way, it’ll help you come up with creative ideas, solve difficult problemsCan You Solve 5 of the Internet's Hardest Logic Puzzles?Can You Solve 5 of the Internet's Hardest Logic Puzzles?Try these five brain-teasing sites and some of the hardest logic puzzles that are loved by anyone who likes solving stuff.Read More, and make connections between concepts. Building up critical thinking skills is a life-long process, but you can kickstart that process by keeping in mind a few simple principles.
1. Ask “Why?”
The question at the core of critical thinking is “Why?” Everyone makes claims, and listeners without critical thinking skills may be inclined to just accept those claims as fact. Critical thinkers, however, will ask why — why is your presidential candidate better? What makes this philosophy a good one? Where did you get your information? What makes you think this interpretation of an event is true? How did you come to that conclusion?
(As you can see, “why” questions can come in many forms.)
There’s no need to sound like a child and literally ask “Why?” after every claim someone makes. But by engaging them in conversation, doing your own research, and considering the stories behind the claims, you can gain a deeper understanding of the issues at stake.
I’ve been asking a lot of this kind of question as I’ve been working on a book on the history of board games — why did humans start playing? Why have board games persisted for so many centuries? Why have they made a resurgence in popularity? And, finally, why should readers care? These are all valuable questions, and their answers have spawned many more questions and answers that I didn’t expect. And that’s where insight comes from.
One of the best ways to increase your critical thinking abilities is to learn more about other peoples, places, cultures, and time periods. You can do this by traveling the world, of course, but we can’t all be global nomads. But we can read. A lot.
Read better content onlineRead More Intelligent Content in 2016 with These 35 SitesRead More Intelligent Content in 2016 with These 35 SitesWe should all read these 35 sites more often. If you are tiring of dumbed-down content make things somewhat more thoughtful this coming year with this super list.Read More. Read as many books as you possibly can5 Tips To Read More Books Every Year5 Tips To Read More Books Every YearThere are just so many amazing books out there. To never have finished at least some is a regret waiting to be felt. Forestall it by reading more and reading smart with the following tips.Read More. Read writers who have opinions that contradict yours politically, theologically, philosophically, scientifically, or just stylistically. Read things from great thinkers as well as everyday people.
The more you read, the more you learn. And being learned is a great pillar upon which to build critical thinking skills. Reading non-fiction will help, but don’t discount fiction, either; novels, short stories, and plays can also offer insight into the way other people think and live.
Don’t forget to apply your critical thinking skills while you’re reading, too. Just because someone printed their claim on paper (or posted it on an internet forum) doesn’t mean it’s true.
3. Forget Multitasking
Today’s technology and culture make it easy to multitask. We continue to tell ourselves that multitasking helps us get more done, but science has repeatedly debunked that claimSingle- vs. Multitasking: What's Best for Productivity?Single- vs. Multitasking: What's Best for Productivity?Multitasking is a common method to increase productivity. Turns out it's not necessarily the silver bullet for productivity. The key is to know when to multitask.Read More. Multitasking gets you out of the zone and prevents you from giving serious thought to whatever it is that you’re doing.
This is the exact opposite of what you need for critical thinking. To be critical, you need to be fully present in whatever task you’re taking on. Reading, writing, debating, discussing, cooperating, arguing… to successfully do any of them, you need to be singularly focused.
Close your inbox. Silence Twitter. Stow your iPad. Turn off notifications on your phoneHow to Stop Checking Your Phone by Replacing It With Your ComputerHow to Stop Checking Your Phone by Replacing It With Your ComputerDevice hopping between your computer and phone? Losing your time, focus, and mind? Set up your computer as the main device with these simple tips and cut away the distractions.Read More. Get rid of extra tabs. These things distract you from deep thought. Not only will you not be thinking critically, but you probably won’t be thinking very much at all.
(Before you take to the comments to disprove my claims by saying that multitasking works for you, I know this isn’t the case for everyone — but it is for most people. If you can juggle tasks and still give each one the time and deep thought it deserves, great. Go for it.)
4. Spend Time Observing
Whether you’re faced with a problem, you need to come up with a new idea, or you just see something that interests you, your starting place should be observation. It’s easy to let your assumptions and past experiences take over when you’re faced with a problem or you get into a disagreement (this is especially relevant at the time of this writing, during election season).
Instead of falling back on what you think you know, spend time observing the situation. You might assume that surface issues and motivations are driving situations and people, but many multi-faceted layers are often at play. Being quick to judge or act on these initial observations might be tempting, but spending more time observing will give you a clearer picture of what’s going on.
This is especially difficult in the modern world, where firing off a comment on a news story, downvoting a Reddit post, or unfollowing someone on Twitter only takes a few seconds. Instead of acting quickly, though, engage your critical thinking skills, starting with observation.
It might be counter intuitive, but spending time doing nothing but thinking is one of the best things you can do to engage and strengthen your critical thinking skills. Since I’ve started working on my book, I’ve spent quite a bit of time with pen and paper, just thinking. Making connections between ideas. Developing lines of thought. Coming up with more questions to ask. Identifying issues that are relevant to readers.
This is an especially difficult thing to do in the face of a world that prizes speed over almost everything. Sitting down to reflect and ponder doesn’t seem like a productive use of time. But that’s how great ideas are born. Some people are lucky enough to come up with a brilliant thought while they’re in the middle of a project, but many need quiet, solitude, and time to think.
Starting a journaling habitStart this Simple Habit to Rocket Your Productivity: JournalingStart this Simple Habit to Rocket Your Productivity: JournalingJournaling is an underrated career tool and a core habit of many successful people. From increasing productivity, to maintaining accountability, we explore why you should consider introducing journaling as a productivity tool into your workday.Read More is a great way to spend more time thinking without distractions. Doodling on a sheet of paper to help spur your problem-solving processes is another. Intentionally using time when you’re alone (even if you’re out on a walk or bike ride) to think is a great habit to get into.
Think Critically, Live Effectively
Critical thinking might not be the solution to all your problems, but it’s a good habit to get into. The more time we spend thinking critically, the more effectively we’ll be able to innovate, govern, communicate, and learn. And that’s good for everyone.
Do you make a point to flex your critical-thinking muscles? What do you find challenges your critical thinking skills? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
8 Ways Linux Can Improve Your New YearLinkedIn’s Salary Comparison Tool Is Vital for Your Job Search
Article by Sam Milam
Do you react to situations based on your emotions or personal biases? Are you looking for ways to improve communication with those around you? Do you want to achieve more in your career?
By adopting critical thinking skills, you can improve your ability to make objective, effective choices and arguments. Without these skills, your arguments can often be one-sided. Criticism can feel like a personal attack on your character rather than an opportunity to open up dialogue and communicate productively.
Let’s take a look at how to develop critical thinking skills so that you can walk into any situation with the tools needed to set intense emotions aside and make smart decisions:
1. Become a Self-Critic
The very first and most important step in developing critical thinking skills is becoming a critic of your own thoughts and actions. Without self-reflection, you cannot grow.
You can break down your own thoughts by asking yourself why you believe something. When you do this, you need to clarify your thoughts by assessing your response objectively and finding a solid logic supporting what you believe. When you self-reflect, you are able to step back and observe how you respond to situations.
Important questions to ask during self-reflection include: Why do I believe this? Can I think of examples in my life when this proved true or false? Am I attached to this idea emotionally? Why?
Another aspect of becoming a self-critic is acknowledging your strengths, weaknesses, personal preferences, and biases. When you know this information, you can understand why you approach certain situations with certain perspectives. When you are aware of your viewpoint, you can step beyond it when necessary.
2. Listen Actively
Thinking and listening are nearly impossible to do at the same time. To become a critical thinker, you need to be able to listen to others’ ideas, arguments, and criticisms without thinking about your response while they are speaking. You can’t properly absorb the information someone is trying to convey if you don’t take the time to truly listen.
Listening allows you to feel empathy. When you hear someone else’s perspective, you can understand their stories, their struggles, their passions, and their ideas. Actively listening allows you to understand what someone is trying to tell you because it pushes the conversation until all parties can reiterate what the other is trying to say.
3. Analyze Information
No one thinks critically at all times. Sometimes your joy, anger, sadness, or other emotions are too great. Other times, you struggle to focus on the central issue at hand.
Critical thinking requires you to carefully analyze the information before you, whether it is information in your mind or information shared by others. To analyze information, first assess what is being said and ensure you clearly understand it. Then, you can dissect and appraise all arguments, including your own.
4. Communicate Nonviolently
Critical thinking isn’t much help if you can’t communicate in a nonviolent, productive way. When listening to and analyzing arguments, you first need to recognize valid logic. Then, you need to communicate with the other people involved in a productive way.
The basis of nonviolent communication is compassion, observation, and collaboration. When you approach a scenario with compassion, you approach with a peaceful mindset rather than a defensive one. When you observe, you can observe your arguments and others’ without judgment or emotional attachment. Collaboration naturally happens when everyone enters the process with a compassionate, open mind focused on solving the problem at hand.
5. Develop Foresight
Foresight is the ability to predict the future impact of a decision, which is critical for success in all aspects of your life. For example, when you move somewhere, you plan ahead to see what your job outlook is and what the neighborhood is like.
Similarly, if you are moving a business, it is wise to examine the impact of that decision. Will it be too far for some of your talented employees to commute? Will you lose customers? What will you gain?
Every decision should be weighed carefully, its potential impacts considered closely, before it is made.
A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.
Sam Milam is a freelance writer hailing from the Pacific Northwest. Her focus is on discovering passions, developing skill sets, and honing the best, most productive versions of ourselves. She loves to travel, meet new people, and do yoga.
Like this article? Subscribe today! We also offer tons of free eBooks on career and recruiting topics - check out Get a Better Job the Right Way and Why It Matters Who Does Your Recruiting.
in Career Advice]