Eight Ways to Develop Critical Thinking in Daily Life
Critical thinking is the ability to assess and analyze information so you can systematically arrive at a conclusion that is logical, holistic and deliberate.
Most strategies for developing critical thinking skills revolve around the idea of being as open-minded as one can possibly be—the willingness & readiness to analyze a given situation from multiple perspectives instead of merely accepting tried & tested approaches without any questions asked. Developing such a seeking spirit will certainly help you succeed both in and out of your current organisation. It will help you evolve into a seasoned professional and a rational, wise human being with a judicious yet agile thought-process.
Following are a few suggestions and tips to help you grow into a definitive Critical Thinker:
1. Utilize “Wasted” Time, Productively:
All of us waste some time during the course of our day; i.e., fail to use all of our time either productively or even enjoyably! Failing to plan well causes negative consequences that could easily have been avoided otherwise (for example, we spend time unnecessarily trapped in traffic — though we could have left a half hour earlier and avoided the last minute rush). Sometimes we spend time crying over spilt milk and brooding over the past. We live in anxiety of the future. We tend to worry unproductively. At times we catch ourselves staring blankly into space!
So why not take advantage of the time we generally waste by practicing and honing our critical thinking skills? For example, instead of sitting in front of the TV idly, we could utilize that time by thinking back over our day and evaluating what went well and what could have been handled differently.
It is recommended that we record our observations so that we are forced to spell out the details explicitly. And each time we do this, we will inevitably get better at it, better at analysing our own thoughts and where we went wrong.
2. A Problem A Day:
At the beginning of each day (while on your way to work) choose a problem to focus on when you have free moments throughout the day. Figure out the problem elements. In other words, systematically think through the questions: How can I define the problem? How does it relate to my larger goal? What are the ways in which I can solve it? For starters, focus on problems that are well within your control. Assess the short-term and long-term implications of the problem and its likely solutions. Be prepared to realign the strategy/analysis of the problem as more information becomes available to you.
3. Do Your Emotions Rule You?
Whenever negative emotions surge within you, systematically ask yourself: What exactly prompted that emotion? For example, if you are angry, ask yourself, what is that is making me angry? What are the alternative ways of looking at the situation? Can I perceive the situation from a humorous angle? Channelize your thinking and match your emotions to your thinking patterns.
4. How Edgy is Your Ego?
Begin observing your egocentric thinking in action by contemplating answers to the following questions: When do I think with a bias favouring myself? Do I often become irritable over petty things? Do I do or say anything “irrational” just to get my way? Do I impose my will upon others? Do I fail to speak my mind when I feel strongly about something and then later feel disempowered? Once you identify egocentric thinking on a rampage, you can then work to replace it with more rational, systematic self-reflection.
5. Revisit Your Views:
A key attribute of the critical thinking process is the willingness to consider alternate points of view so you can develop more refined, well-rounded opinions, which must essentially include accepting that your current views might need a bit of conditioning. For example, if you encounter a senior at your workplace who seems to dislike you, you might think that you could have done something undesirable, or embody a not-so-likeable personality trait. Instead, recognize that your current view is only one possibility, and that the reason the concerned person doesn’t seem to like you could be due to some conflicting issue at his/her end. In fact, you might eventually realize that you were incorrect in assessing that the person disliked you in the first place, which could then lead you to analyze the interpretations of your current thought process. It’s always important that you are flexible enough to be open to revisit and realign your way of thinking, as the situation so demands.
6. Filter Fact from Fiction:
While listening to another colleague or friend, show some hesitance in readily accepting the piece of information shared; as fact. Instead, ask yourself what you actually know about the subject, and about the source of that knowledge. Is s/he actually an expert on the subject? Did s/he learn this information from a credible source? Can they explain how they arrived at the conclusions? Even at the risk of appearing dogmatic and sceptical; ensure that you are flexible enough to pleasantly explain that you are not necessarily trying to prove anyone wrong, but are attempting to ascertain whether these are facts or opinions (that might be open for further investigation).
7. Question Quick Fixes:
When working in a team or a cross-functional group, if a colleague offers a solution that seems hasty or too good to be true, don’t readily accept it as the best plan of action. Instead, raise your valid concerns to the group regarding the feasibility of the solution over the longer-term. You could conduct an investigation on your own; you could even write up a checklist of questions to ask yourself, such as: Did this colleague fully understand the problem? Is he basing his idea on testable knowledge or direct personal experience, or is it hearsay? Analyze solutions to see if anything has been overlooked. You might eventually find that the quick fix actually is the best plan! However, you will soon realize that that your desire to investigate has led you away from a probably poor, quick-fix strategy towards team & organizational success. If you don’t question and challenge status quo, you’ll never get any better at what you currently do!
8. Trust Your Intellect:
While you do need to closely monitor your ego and any rigid opinions you may possess for a lack of openness, you also need to trust that you are capable of analyzing a situation and reaching your own informed conclusions. Feelings of indifference may surface and can hinder your critical thinking skills because they can make you feel as though the important decisions are better left to others. Trust yourself and your ability to assess situations, analyze data and draw intelligent & informed conclusions.
Ensure that you follow the above techniques, especially the ones involving others as amicably as you can, in a polite yet persuasive manner, else it just might backfire with a bang! When devising techniques; it is important to keep in mind that you are engaged in a personal experiment. You are testing ideas in your everyday life. You are assimilating and building on them in the light of your actual experience. Honing your critical thinking, much like any other skill viz. tennis, piano or photography calls for assiduous practice! Your practice will bring progress. And with progress, insightful thinking will slowly but surely become second-nature to you.
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