Critical thinking is the skill of analyzing incoming information from all sides and the ability to make decisions based on it, make judgments, and form and defend one’s own opinion.
Today, in the 21st century, information surrounds us everywhere. It is broadcast through television and print media, oozes through the Internet and social networks, and is heard through word of mouth. Sometimes this information is inconsistent. And often it is completely contradictory and false. Just imagine what kind of porridge could be mixed in our heads if we did not know how to separate the wheat from the chaff. And nothing else but critical thinking helps us in this.
What is critical thinking?
In simple terms, critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and soberly, compare facts, analyze, weigh and, based on this whole process, make some decisions. This skill is very useful not only in everyday life, but also in study and work. As a rule, people who have developed critical thinking do not immediately unconditionally accept facts on faith – they prefer to clarify, verify, weigh. This mechanism also works in the opposite direction: people with critical thinking analyze their own conclusions and knowledge, regularly comparing with generally accepted norms, knowledge and value systems.
Technology for the development of critical thinking
Critical thinking is a skill that can be successfully developed. You just have to put in some effort and work with yourself. Here are some useful techniques to improve this skill.
The essence of the method is to follow the simplest way of explaining the phenomenon until you encounter falsity. A wonderful methodological tool called Occam’s Razor will help you. Its principle is that problems should be explained in the simplest way, as if “cutting off” all unnecessary additions. As an example, consider the cup of tea that you see on the table when you enter the kitchen in the morning. You wonder where it came from. The most logical and simple assumption would be that one of the family members poured the tea, and not that the black talking dragon brought the cup from a magical land. Or not even a dragon, but a neighbor from the 15th floor. Here it is, a visual explanation of the method – we find the simplest argument and, if it is not false, we accept it without complicating it.
Don’t trust the facts right away
We live in a huge flow of information. Sometimes the news fly to us, perhaps not from the iron. And all of them are bright, catchy and emotionally colored. But no matter how much you want to take the information bait right away, tell yourself “stop” and take the time to study the issue in more detail. Get other opinions, read the clarifications, and then form your own opinion.
Give yourself the opportunity to be wrong
It is important for every person to realize that he is right. However, if you set yourself up in advance that your arguments are the only true ones, you run the risk of missing the arguments of other parties, which can also be fair, interesting and have every right to exist. In addition, at some point they may refute yours. This is the ability to effectively apply critical thinking – it does not matter, to another person or to yourself. After all, the final goal is not to prove one’s case, but to find the most optimal ways to solve a particular issue.
Solve the problem in parts
If you are faced with a difficult task, do not grab everything at once. Decompose it into small subtasks and find solutions for each of them separately. The fact is that it is always difficult and quite dangerous to make a critical assessment of a large layer of information: small, but important details can simply slip away. And by breaking down the problem into smaller chunks, you can apply critical thinking more effectively by doing more in-depth analysis.
Keep a sense of humor
In any situation, a good joke can defuse the situation and remove unnecessary seriousness. And this, in turn, helps to look at things from a completely different angle. Let’s say you’re in a hurry to catch your flight, but you can’t find your passport. All attempts to find it in logical places for this have failed. There is less and less time left. You sit on a chair, exhale and say with a smile on your face: “Well, I didn’t throw it into the washing machine, honestly!” And then this harmless joke paints a picture in your head of how last week you put your windbreaker in the dirty laundry basket. The same one in which they were on their last business trip. Remember, a new viewing angle means new opportunities for practicing critical thinking skills.
Examples of using critical thinking
To understand how critical thinking works, let’s look at a few examples of its application in practice.
Collection of information
Before you start something, you should not be content with just the information you have on hand. If you delve deeper into the issue, and sometimes even turn to experts, the result will significantly exceed what it would have been without these simple steps. In a world of enormous information flow, we tend to react emotionally when looking at an article or video about an incident. But if we use critical thinking and find additional sources of information, analyze the knowledge gained, weigh all the opinions and comments and put everything together, the picture in our head can turn 180 degrees. Initially, the “guilty” actors will receive excuses, and the “victims” will turn out to be not at all as white and fluffy as it might seem at first glance.
Try to avoid hasty judgments, look for additional sources of information on issues that concern you in order to form an objective picture.
Each global goal has its own sub-goal. You are going to run in the morning. But for what? Is your goal to lose weight, keep your body in shape, calm your nervous system, or prove something to your neighbor? A deeper understanding of the goal and task allows you to adjust the action.
Another example: you want to buy an expensive set of dishes. Do you need it to improve the quality of your food? Because your old set has run out of resources? Or because you remember an ad with a popular singer, and buying this set seems like an opportunity to “get closer” to her and her lifestyle? Awareness of the true purpose will save you from impulsive purchases. And every time in such a situation, stop and think: is it really necessary? The application of critical thinking allows you to understand the true essence of things and decide how much certain actions are necessary for you.
Acceptance of other points of view
Ask for the opinions of loved ones, friends or colleagues. You don’t have to agree with them. Nevertheless, a global consideration of the issue from different angles makes it possible to study the problem comprehensively, in contrast to one narrowly focused view. Let’s say your child brought a “deuce” from school. Your first reaction is to get angry and punish not the most diligent student. But if you clarify the opinion of the spouse before doing this, it may turn out that on the day the task was prepared, the child did not feel well. Analyzing the situation and applying critical thinking will allow you to see the picture in a slightly different way. It doesn’t change the fact that you have to do well in school. But, probably, it will somewhat reduce the need for severe punishment and protect against hasty decisions and actions.
Awareness of the consequences
Let’s imagine that they want to build a straight road from the settlement A to the point B instead of the existing ornate one. It sounds attractive until it becomes clear that its construction will require cutting down an impressive part of the existing coniferous forest along the route. And this, in turn, directly affects the ecological component of the region and the environment as a whole.
This fictional situation combines all previous examples of the use of critical thinking. See for yourself: without collecting information and analyzing it, without taking into account the opinions of other people and without understanding the goal and task, it is impossible to make the right decision and realize all its consequences. Every time you make a decision, remember responsibility.
Critical thinking is one of the key skills a person needs in a world ruled by millions of opinion influencers. It is a tool that helps us build the life we really want to live, not the one we think others think we should live. If you look closely, how much does each of us really live our lives? To what extent are our actions dictated by our needs and desires? Do we hear ourselves, or do we automatically do something, because “this is the way”, “this is how it has always been” and “this is how everyone does it”?
Critical thinking helps you learn to soberly evaluate your own actions and learn from both your victories and mistakes. I want to give some simple practical advice.
1. Be skeptical about any news or facts until you get confirmation of their authenticity, no matter how authoritative the person spreading them may seem.
2. Everyone can make a mistake – this is normal.
3. If information is important, always look for the original source.
4. Get creative. Yes exactly. Creative activities help form neural connections that are used to solve important questions and make big decisions. In addition, it helps to relieve stress, which often drives our actions until we learn to think critically even under the pressure of emotions.