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Enhance Critical Thinking Skills through Daily Engagement with Puzzles
In today’s fast-paced world, where information is readily available at our fingertips, it’s crucial to develop and enhance critical thinking skills. One effective way to achieve this is by engaging in daily puzzles. Whether it’s a crossword, Sudoku, or a brain teaser, puzzles of the day can provide a fun and challenging exercise for your mind. In this article, we will explore the benefits of daily puzzle engagement and how it can sharpen your critical thinking skills.
Mental Stimulation and Problem-Solving Abilities
Engaging in puzzles on a regular basis provides mental stimulation that keeps your brain active and alert. When you tackle puzzles of the day, you are presented with various problems that require logical reasoning and problem-solving abilities. These challenges push you to think creatively and find innovative solutions.
By consistently engaging in puzzle solving, you train your brain to approach problems from different angles, improving your ability to think critically. This skillset extends beyond puzzle-solving scenarios and becomes applicable in various real-life situations such as decision-making processes or analyzing complex issues.
Memory Retention and Cognitive Function
Puzzles not only stimulate critical thinking but also help improve memory retention and cognitive function. When solving puzzles of the day, you are required to remember patterns, rules, or clues provided within the puzzle itself.
This constant exercise of memory retrieval strengthens neural connections in the brain responsible for storing information. As a result, you will notice an improvement in your ability to recall information quickly and accurately.
Moreover, engaging in regular puzzle-solving activities has been linked to enhanced cognitive function. It has been shown that individuals who regularly engage in puzzles perform better on tasks related to memory, processing speed, and attention span compared to those who do not engage in such activities.
Increased Concentration and Focus
In today’s digital age where distractions are abundant, maintaining concentration and focus has become a challenge for many. Engaging in puzzles of the day can help combat this problem.
When solving a puzzle, you need to concentrate on the task at hand, blocking out any distractions. This focused attention allows you to delve deep into the problem and analyze it thoroughly. Over time, regular engagement with puzzles improves your ability to concentrate for longer periods and enhances your overall focus.
What is critical thinking?
Critical thinking is the ability to collect and analyze information to come to a conclusion. Being able to think critically is important in virtually every industry and applicable across a wide range of positions. That’s because critical thinking isn’t subject-specific—rather, it’s your ability to parse through information, data, statistics, and other details in order to identify a satisfactory solution.
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Top 8 critical thinking skills
Like most soft skills, critical thinking isn’t something you can take a class to learn. Rather, this skill consists of a variety of interpersonal and analytical skills. Developing critical thinking is more about learning to embrace open-mindedness and bringing analytical thinking to your problem framing process.
In no particular order, the eight most important critical thinking skills are:
Analytical thinking: Part of critical thinking is evaluating data from multiple sources in order to come to the best conclusions. Analytical thinking allows people to reject bias and strive to gather and consume information to come to the best conclusion.
Open-mindedness: This critical thinking skill helps you analyze and process information to come to an unbiased conclusion. Part of the critical thinking process is letting your personal biases go and coming to a conclusion based on all of the information.
Problem solving : Because critical thinking emphasizes coming to the best conclusion based on all of the available information, it’s a key part of problem solving. When used correctly, critical thinking helps you solve any problem—from a workplace challenge to difficulties in everyday life.
Self-regulation: Self-regulation refers to the ability to regulate your thoughts and set aside any personal biases to come to the best conclusion. In order to be an effective critical thinker, you need to question the information you have and the decisions you favor—only then can you come to the best conclusion.
Observation: Observation skills help critical thinkers look for things beyond face value. To be a critical thinker you need to embrace multiple points of view, and you can use observation skills to identify potential problems.
Interpretation: Not all data is made equal—and critical thinkers know this. In addition to gathering information, it’s important to evaluate which information is important and relevant to your situation. That way, you can draw the best conclusions from the data you’ve collected.
Evaluation: When you attempt to answer a hard question, there is rarely an obvious answer. Even though critical thinking emphasizes putting your biases aside, you need to be able to confidently make a decision based on the data you have available.
Communication: Once a decision has been made, you also need to share this decision with other stakeholders. Effective workplace communication includes presenting evidence and supporting your conclusion—especially if there are a variety of different possible solutions.
7 steps to critical thinking
Critical thinking is a skill that you can build by following these seven steps. The seven steps to critical thinking help you ensure you’re approaching a problem from the right angle, considering every alternative, and coming to an unbiased conclusion.
First things first: When to use the 7 step critical thinking process
There’s a lot that goes into the full critical thinking process, and not every decision needs to be this thought out. Sometimes, it’s enough to put aside bias and approach a process logically. In other, more complex cases, the best way to identify the ideal outcome is to go through the entire critical thinking process.
The seven-step critical thinking process is useful for complex decisions in areas you are less familiar with. Alternatively, the seven critical thinking steps can help you look at a problem you’re familiar with from a different angle, without any bias.
If you need to make a less complex decision, consider another problem solving strategy instead. Decision matrices are a great way to identify the best option between different choices. Check out our article on 7 steps to creating a decision matrix .
1. Identify the problem
Before you put those critical thinking skills to work, you first need to identify the problem you’re solving. This step includes taking a look at the problem from a few different perspectives and asking questions like:
Why is this happening?
What assumptions am I making?
At first glance, how do I think we can solve this problem?
A big part of developing your critical thinking skills is learning how to come to unbiased conclusions. In order to do that, you first need to acknowledge the biases that you currently have. Does someone on your team think they know the answer? Are you making assumptions that aren’t necessarily true? Identifying these details helps you later on in the process.
At this point, you likely have a general idea of the problem—but in order to come up with the best solution, you need to dig deeper.
During the research process, collect information relating to the problem, including data, statistics, historical project information, team input, and more. Make sure you gather information from a variety of sources, especially if those sources go against your personal ideas about what the problem is or how to solve it.
Gathering varied information is essential for your ability to apply the critical thinking process. If you don’t get enough information, your ability to make a final decision will be skewed. Remember that critical thinking is about helping you identify the objective best conclusion. You aren’t going with your gut—you’re doing research to find the best option
3. Determine data relevance
Just as it’s important to gather a variety of information, it is also important to determine how relevant the different information sources are. After all, just because there is data doesn’t mean it’s relevant.
Once you’ve gathered all of the information, sift through the noise and identify what information is relevant and what information isn’t. Synthesizing all of this information and establishing significance helps you weigh different data sources and come to the best conclusion later on in the critical thinking process.
To determine data relevance, ask yourself:
How reliable is this information?
How significant is this information?
Is this information outdated? Is it specialized in a specific field?
4. Ask questions
One of the most useful parts of the critical thinking process is coming to a decision without bias. In order to do so, you need to take a step back from the process and challenge the assumptions you’re making.
We all have bias—and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Unconscious biases (also known as cognitive biases) often serve as mental shortcuts to simplify problem solving and aid decision making. But even when biases aren’t inherently bad, you must be aware of your biases in order to put them aside when necessary.
Before coming to a solution, ask yourself:
Am I making any assumptions about this information?
Are there additional variables I haven’t considered?
Have I evaluated the information from every perspective?
Are there any viewpoints I missed?
5. Identify the best solution
Finally, you’re ready to come to a conclusion. To identify the best solution, draw connections between causes and effects. Use the facts you’ve gathered to evaluate the most objective conclusion.
Keep in mind that there may be more than one solution. Often, the problems you’re facing are complex and intricate. The critical thinking process doesn’t necessarily lead to a cut-and-dry solution—instead, the process helps you understand the different variables at play so you can make an informed decision.
6. Present your solution
Communication is a key skill for critical thinkers. It isn’t enough to think for yourself—you also need to share your conclusion with other project stakeholders. If there are multiple solutions, present them all. There may be a case where you implement one solution, then test to see if it works before implementing another solution.
7. Analyze your decision
The seven-step critical thinking process yields a result—and you then need to put that solution into place. After you’ve implemented your decision, evaluate whether or not it was effective. Did it solve the initial problem? What lessons—whether positive or negative—can you learn from this experience to improve your critical thinking for next time?
Depending on how your team shares information, consider documenting lessons learned in a central source of truth. That way, team members that are making similar or related decisions in the future can understand why you made the decision you made and what the outcome was.
Example of critical thinking in the workplace
Imagine you work in user experience design (UX). Your team is focused on pricing and packaging and ensuring customers have a clear understanding of the different services your company offers. Here’s how to apply the critical thinking process in the workplace in seven steps:
Start by identifying the problem
Your current pricing page isn’t performing as well as you want. You’ve heard from customers that your services aren’t clear, and that the page doesn’t answer the questions they have. This page is really important for your company, since it’s where your customers sign up for your service. You and your team have a few theories about why your current page isn’t performing well, but you decide to apply the critical thinking process to ensure you come to the best decision for the page.
Gather information about how the problem started
Part of identifying the problem includes understanding how the problem started. The pricing and packaging page is important—so when your team initially designed the page, they certainly put a lot of thought into it. Before you begin researching how to improve the page, ask yourself:
Why did you design the pricing page the way you did?
Which stakeholders need to be involved in the decision making process?
Where are users getting stuck on the page?
Are any features currently working?
Then, you research
In addition to understanding the history of the pricing and packaging page, it’s important to understand what works well. Part of this research means taking a look at what your competitor’s pricing pages look like.
How have our competitors set up their pricing pages?
Are there any pricing page best practices?
How does color, positioning, and animation impact navigation?
Are there any standard page layouts customers expect to see?
Organize and analyze information
You’ve gathered all of the information you need—now you need to organize and analyze it. What trends, if any, are you noticing? Is there any particularly relevant or important information that you have to consider?
Ask open-ended questions to reduce bias
In the case of critical thinking, it’s important to address and set bias aside as much as possible. Ask yourself:
Is there anything I’m missing?
Have I connected with the right stakeholders?
Are there any other viewpoints I should consider?
Determine the best solution for your team
You now have all of the information you need to design the best pricing page. Depending on the complexity of the design, you may want to design a few options to present to a small group of customers or A/B test on the live website.
Present your solution to stakeholders
Critical thinking can help you in every element of your life, but in the workplace, you must also involve key project stakeholders . Stakeholders help you determine next steps, like whether you’ll A/B test the page first. Depending on the complexity of the issue, consider hosting a meeting or sharing a status report to get everyone on the same page.
Analyze the results
No process is complete without evaluating the results. Once the new page has been live for some time, evaluate whether it did better than the previous page. What worked? What didn’t? This also helps you make better critical decisions later on.
Critical thinking takes time to build, but with effort and patience you can apply an unbiased, analytical mind to any situation. Critical thinking makes up one of many soft skills that makes you an effective team member, manager, and worker. If you’re looking to hone your skills further, read our article on the 25 project management skills you need to succeed .
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The 4 Steps for Critical Thinking: A Process for Any Problem
This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Critical Thinking, Logic & Problem Solving" by Bigrocks Thinking. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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Do you apply critical thinking to problems that come your way? Could you use a step-by-step process?
In Critical Thinking, Logic & Problem Solving , Bigrocks Thinking explains how you can enhance your critical thinking and problem-solving abilities to improve your learning, your work, and your personal life. They share four steps for critical thinking that you can apply to any situation.
Continue reading to learn about these four critical thinking steps.
The 4 Critical Thinking Steps
The authors share the following steps for critical thinking: gather information, analyze your information by constructing arguments, evaluate your arguments by testing them, and assess your critical thinking process so that you can improve it. We’ll review each step in detail. But, first, let’s look at what critical thinking is.
The authors define critical thinking as the ability to use specific thought processes to understand concepts, solve problems, and communicate effectively. They argue that critical thinking is not an inborn trait but rather an ability that can be cultivated and honed. Practice is the most important factor in cultivating critical thinking.
Everyone can make use of critical thinking in their daily lives, including in school, the workplace, and your personal life and relationships. For instance, you might apply critical thinking to decide whether or not you should get a pet or to make a convincing case to your boss for why you deserve a raise.
(Shortform note: In Thinking, Fast and Slow , Daniel Kahneman describes two types of thinking, system 1 thinking and system 2 thinking . System 1 thinking is automatic and involuntary, and it’s often based on biases or previous experiences. System 2 thinking is a conscious process of focusing attention on the information being processed, and it matches up closely with the definition of critical thinking. As Kahneman explains, lazy system 2 thinking results in faulty logic, so it’s important to make a conscious effort to think deeply about new information and avoid unthinkingly accepting the conclusions of system 1.)
The authors detail four steps for critical thinking, which we’ll explain next:
- Gather information
- Keep improving
Step 1: Gather Information
According to the authors, the first step to critical thinking is gathering information. It’s impossible to think critically about information you don’t have.
The authors explain that, to gather information, you should first identify the topic or question you’re dealing with as well as the circumstances or context surrounding it. Once you understand the parameters of your inquiry, you can begin researching it. To do this you’ll need to gather data, perspectives on the issue, and any additional information that could help you in your thinking process.
As you’re gathering information, assess its usefulness and credibility. According to the authors, not all information is equally useful, and you should also be aware of what information pertains to your inquiry and what information can be ignored to save you time and effort. For every piece of information you gather, ask yourself if it’s relevant to the subject of your thinking.
Finally, make sure you’re getting your information from reliable sources.
Checking Sources for Reliability
To ensure you’re using reliable sources, the authors recommend the following:
- Learn to identify real news versus fake news . Discuss different media sources with others and help each other distinguish between accurate news and things like sponsored articles.
- Analyze your sources to ensure their authors aren’t making assumptions but rather are using reliable data to back up their claims.
- Assess the authority of your source . Is this source an expert on the subject? Is it from a reputable media outlet? Does it explain where it got its information?
Checking Sources for Bias
Biases are errors in thought processing that result from generalizations the brain makes. These generalizations can help you make decisions more quickly, but they can also negatively impact your critical thinking. Biases are often impossible to avoid, but being aware of the biases in your sources can help you avoid them in your own thinking.
The authors list several different types of biases, including:
- Anchoring bias means being more likely to believe information that you hear first over information you gather later.
- Confirmation bias is the tendency to give more credence to information that confirms what you already believe and dismiss information that isn’t in line with your beliefs.
- The halo effect is when you have a positive view of someone or something, and this leads you to view their opinions or claims more positively.
- The Dunning-Kruger effect is when you put too much faith in your own abilities.
Checking for Logical Fallacies
A fallacy is a misunderstanding that interferes with your reasoning. Some common fallacies include:
- The middle ground fallacy —When there are two opposite options, you assume that the compromise between the two must be correct. However, if either of the opposite options is incorrect, then the middle ground will also be incorrect.
- False cause —You confuse correlation with causation. Two things that co-occur may not mean that either one caused the other. It’s possible that both factors are caused by a third variable.
- Anecdotal evidence fallacy —This fallacy involves using anecdotes, or isolated examples from real life, as evidence for a larger argument when more general evidence may not support that argument.
Step 2: Analyze
Now that you have your relevant information and you’ve assessed its reliability, the next step of critical thinking is to review the information you’ve gathered to see what arguments you can make from it . To do this, you’ll use inductive reasoning , which consists of three steps:
- Identify patterns in your information. Patterns help us understand information and form arguments.
- Identify questions that need to be answered. This will tell you what type of argument or solution you need to come up with. Your question or problem should not only lead you to an answer but should also help you learn more information. For that reason, you should avoid yes or no questions, as answers to these will be simplistic and may not yield any real solutions. Additionally, use neutral language when forming your question to avoid biasing the answer.
- Draw conclusions. Use the information you’ve gathered to draw inferences. These inferences serve as logical foundations for the formation of your arguments.
Step 3: Evaluate
Once you’ve formed an argument based on your analysis of your information, it’s time to test that argument and evaluate its validity. The authors recommend that you use deductive reasoning , the process of going from a theory to a hypothesis and testing it to see if it’s supported by evidence.
For example, say you’ve used your inductive reasoning process to analyze data on how listening to classical music affects people’s moods: You notice from the data that people in a study reported feeling happy after listening to classical music. You conclude that listening to classical music makes people happy, and this is your theory.
You will then use deductive reasoning to test this theory. From your theory, you form the hypothesis that if you play classical music for someone who is sad, it will make them happier. You test this hypothesis by playing classical music for someone who is sad. If the person feels happier after listening to the music, you now have a piece of supporting evidence for your hypothesis. However, if you find that the person doesn’t feel happier after listening to classical music, you disproved your hypothesis and theory.
Step 4: Keep Improving
Now that you’ve used your data to form and test a hypothesis, the next step is to note things you did correctly or that made the process easier and remember them for next time. If you do this, you’ll constantly improve your critical thinking.
(Shortform note: When you first begin, you may find that this is the most difficult step for you to complete. This is because reflecting on your thinking—also known as metacognition— takes a lot of mental energy and may also take a long time. However, as you continually reflect on and refine your learning and thinking processes, this step will become easier, and, eventually, you may begin to do it without having to consciously think about it at all.)
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- A step-by-step guide for improving critical thinking and problem-solving skills
- Tips for conducting better research and finding reliable resources
- How to improve your communication and storytelling skills
- ← How to Praise Your Child With Empowering Words
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Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, science, and philosophy. A switch to audio books has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a creative nonfiction book about the beginning and the end of suffering.
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Critical Thinking: Where to Begin
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If you are new to critical thinking or wish to deepen your conception of it, we recommend you review the content below and bookmark this page for future reference.
Our Conception of Critical Thinking...
"Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness..."
"Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fairminded way. People who think critically attempt, with consistent and conscious effort, to live rationally, reasonably, and empathically. They are keenly aware of the inherently flawed nature of human thinking when left unchecked. They strive to diminish the power of their egocentric and sociocentric tendencies. They use the intellectual tools that critical thinking offers – concepts and principles that enable them to analyze, assess, and improve thinking. They work diligently to develop the intellectual virtues of intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual civility, intellectual empathy, intellectual sense of justice and confidence in reason. They realize that no matter how skilled they are as thinkers, they can always improve their reasoning abilities and they will at times fall prey to mistakes in reasoning, human irrationality, prejudices, biases, distortions, uncritically accepted social rules and taboos, self-interest, and vested interest.
They strive to improve the world in whatever ways they can and contribute to a more rational, civilized society. At the same time, they recognize the complexities often inherent in doing so. They strive never to think simplistically about complicated issues and always to consider the rights and needs of relevant others. They recognize the complexities in developing as thinkers, and commit themselves to life-long practice toward self-improvement. They embody the Socratic principle: The unexamined life is not worth living , because they realize that many unexamined lives together result in an uncritical, unjust, dangerous world."
Why Critical Thinking?
Everyone thinks; it is our nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or down-right prejudiced. Yet the quality of our lives and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.
A Brief Definition:
Critical thinking is the art of analyzing and evaluating thinking with a view to improving it. The Result:
A well-cultivated critical thinker:
- raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;
- gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively;
- comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
- thinks openmindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
- communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.
Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It requires rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities, and a commitment to overcoming our native egocentrism and sociocentrism. Read more about our concept of critical thinking .
The Essential Dimensions of Critical Thinking
Our conception of critical thinking is based on the substantive approach developed by Dr. Richard Paul and his colleagues at the Center and Foundation for Critical Thinking over multiple decades. It is relevant to every subject, discipline, and profession, and to reasoning through the problems of everyday life. It entails five essential dimensions of critical thinking:
At the left is an overview of the first three dimensions. In sum, the elements or structures of thought enable us to "take our thinking apart" and analyze it. The intellectual standards are used to assess and evaluate the elements. The intellectual traits are dispositions of mind embodied by the fairminded critical thinker. To cultivate the mind, we need command of these essential dimensions, and we need to consistently apply them as we think through the many problems and issues in our lives.
The Elements of Reasoning and Intellectual Standards
To learn more about the elements of thought and how to apply the intellectual standards, check out our interactive model. Simply click on the link below, scroll to the bottom of the page, and explore the model with your mouse.
Why the Analysis of Thinking Is Important If you want to think well, you must understand at least the rudiments of thought, the most basic structures out of which all thinking is made. You must learn how to take thinking apart. Analyzing the Logic of a Subject When we understand the elements of reasoning, we realize that all subjects, all disciplines, have a fundamental logic defined by the structures of thought embedded within them. Therefore, to lay bare a subject’s most fundamental logic, we should begin with these questions:
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Watch our Event Calendar , which provides an overview of all upcoming conferences and academies hosted by the Foundation for Critical Thinking. Clicking an entry on the Event Calendar will bring up that event's details, and the option to register. For those interested in online learning, the Foundation offers accredited online courses in critical thinking for both educators and the general public, as well as an online test for evaluating basic comprehension of critical thinking concepts . We are in the process of developing more online learning tools and tests to offer the community.
Utilizing this Website
This website contains large amounts research and an online library of articles , both of which are freely available to the public. We also invite you to become a member of the Critical Thinking Community , where you will gain access to more tools and materials. If you cannot locate a resource on a specific topic or concept, try searching for it using our Search Tool . The Search Tool is at the upper-right of every page on the website.
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Article • 8 min read
Developing the right mindset and skills.
By the Mind Tools Content Team
We make hundreds of decisions every day and, whether we realize it or not, we're all critical thinkers.
We use critical thinking each time we weigh up our options, prioritize our responsibilities, or think about the likely effects of our actions. It's a crucial skill that helps us to cut out misinformation and make wise decisions. The trouble is, we're not always very good at it!
In this article, we'll explore the key skills that you need to develop your critical thinking skills, and how to adopt a critical thinking mindset, so that you can make well-informed decisions.
What Is Critical Thinking?
Critical thinking is the discipline of rigorously and skillfully using information, experience, observation, and reasoning to guide your decisions, actions, and beliefs. You'll need to actively question every step of your thinking process to do it well.
Collecting, analyzing and evaluating information is an important skill in life, and a highly valued asset in the workplace. People who score highly in critical thinking assessments are also rated by their managers as having good problem-solving skills, creativity, strong decision-making skills, and good overall performance. 
Key Critical Thinking Skills
Critical thinkers possess a set of key characteristics which help them to question information and their own thinking. Focus on the following areas to develop your critical thinking skills:
Being willing and able to explore alternative approaches and experimental ideas is crucial. Can you think through "what if" scenarios, create plausible options, and test out your theories? If not, you'll tend to write off ideas and options too soon, so you may miss the best answer to your situation.
To nurture your curiosity, stay up to date with facts and trends. You'll overlook important information if you allow yourself to become "blinkered," so always be open to new information.
But don't stop there! Look for opposing views or evidence to challenge your information, and seek clarification when things are unclear. This will help you to reassess your beliefs and make a well-informed decision later. Read our article, Opening Closed Minds , for more ways to stay receptive.
You must be skilled at reasoning and extending logic to come up with plausible options or outcomes.
It's also important to emphasize logic over emotion. Emotion can be motivating but it can also lead you to take hasty and unwise action, so control your emotions and be cautious in your judgments. Know when a conclusion is "fact" and when it is not. "Could-be-true" conclusions are based on assumptions and must be tested further. Read our article, Logical Fallacies , for help with this.
Use creative problem solving to balance cold logic. By thinking outside of the box you can identify new possible outcomes by using pieces of information that you already have.
Many of the decisions we make in life are subtly informed by our values and beliefs. These influences are called cognitive biases and it can be difficult to identify them in ourselves because they're often subconscious.
Practicing self-awareness will allow you to reflect on the beliefs you have and the choices you make. You'll then be better equipped to challenge your own thinking and make improved, unbiased decisions.
One particularly useful tool for critical thinking is the Ladder of Inference . It allows you to test and validate your thinking process, rather than jumping to poorly supported conclusions.
Developing a Critical Thinking Mindset
Combine the above skills with the right mindset so that you can make better decisions and adopt more effective courses of action. You can develop your critical thinking mindset by following this process:
First, collect data, opinions and facts on the issue that you need to solve. Draw on what you already know, and turn to new sources of information to help inform your understanding. Consider what gaps there are in your knowledge and seek to fill them. And look for information that challenges your assumptions and beliefs.
Be sure to verify the authority and authenticity of your sources. Not everything you read is true! Use this checklist to ensure that your information is valid:
- Are your information sources trustworthy ? (For example, well-respected authors, trusted colleagues or peers, recognized industry publications, websites, blogs, etc.)
- Is the information you have gathered up to date ?
- Has the information received any direct criticism ?
- Does the information have any errors or inaccuracies ?
- Is there any evidence to support or corroborate the information you have gathered?
- Is the information you have gathered subjective or biased in any way? (For example, is it based on opinion, rather than fact? Is any of the information you have gathered designed to promote a particular service or organization?)
If any information appears to be irrelevant or invalid, don't include it in your decision making. But don't omit information just because you disagree with it, or your final decision will be flawed and bias.
Now observe the information you have gathered, and interpret it. What are the key findings and main takeaways? What does the evidence point to? Start to build one or two possible arguments based on what you have found.
You'll need to look for the details within the mass of information, so use your powers of observation to identify any patterns or similarities. You can then analyze and extend these trends to make sensible predictions about the future.
To help you to sift through the multiple ideas and theories, it can be useful to group and order items according to their characteristics. From here, you can compare and contrast the different items. And once you've determined how similar or different things are from one another, Paired Comparison Analysis can help you to analyze them.
The final step involves challenging the information and rationalizing its arguments.
Apply the laws of reason (induction, deduction, analogy) to judge an argument and determine its merits. To do this, it's essential that you can determine the significance and validity of an argument to put it in the correct perspective. Take a look at our article, Rational Thinking , for more information about how to do this.
Once you have considered all of the arguments and options rationally, you can finally make an informed decision.
Afterward, take time to reflect on what you have learned and what you found challenging. Step back from the detail of your decision or problem, and look at the bigger picture. Record what you've learned from your observations and experience.
Critical thinking involves rigorously and skilfully using information, experience, observation, and reasoning to guide your decisions, actions and beliefs. It's a useful skill in the workplace and in life.
You'll need to be curious and creative to explore alternative possibilities, but rational to apply logic, and self-aware to identify when your beliefs could affect your decisions or actions.
You can demonstrate a high level of critical thinking by validating your information, analyzing its meaning, and finally evaluating the argument.
Critical Thinking Infographic
See Critical Thinking represented in our infographic: An Elementary Guide to Critical Thinking .
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What is Critical Thinking?
Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally, understanding the logical connection between ideas. Critical thinking has been the subject of much debate and thought since the time of early Greek philosophers such as Plato and Socrates and has continued to be a subject of discussion into the modern age, for example the ability to recognise fake news .
Critical thinking might be described as the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking.
In essence, critical thinking requires you to use your ability to reason. It is about being an active learner rather than a passive recipient of information.
Critical thinkers rigorously question ideas and assumptions rather than accepting them at face value. They will always seek to determine whether the ideas, arguments and findings represent the entire picture and are open to finding that they do not.
Critical thinkers will identify, analyse and solve problems systematically rather than by intuition or instinct.
Someone with critical thinking skills can:
Understand the links between ideas.
Determine the importance and relevance of arguments and ideas.
Recognise, build and appraise arguments.
Identify inconsistencies and errors in reasoning.
Approach problems in a consistent and systematic way.
Reflect on the justification of their own assumptions, beliefs and values.
Critical thinking is thinking about things in certain ways so as to arrive at the best possible solution in the circumstances that the thinker is aware of. In more everyday language, it is a way of thinking about whatever is presently occupying your mind so that you come to the best possible conclusion.
Critical Thinking is:
A way of thinking about particular things at a particular time; it is not the accumulation of facts and knowledge or something that you can learn once and then use in that form forever, such as the nine times table you learn and use in school.
The Skills We Need for Critical Thinking
The skills that we need in order to be able to think critically are varied and include observation, analysis, interpretation, reflection, evaluation, inference, explanation, problem solving, and decision making.
Specifically we need to be able to:
Think about a topic or issue in an objective and critical way.
Identify the different arguments there are in relation to a particular issue.
Evaluate a point of view to determine how strong or valid it is.
Recognise any weaknesses or negative points that there are in the evidence or argument.
Notice what implications there might be behind a statement or argument.
Provide structured reasoning and support for an argument that we wish to make.
The Critical Thinking Process
You should be aware that none of us think critically all the time.
Sometimes we think in almost any way but critically, for example when our self-control is affected by anger, grief or joy or when we are feeling just plain ‘bloody minded’.
On the other hand, the good news is that, since our critical thinking ability varies according to our current mindset, most of the time we can learn to improve our critical thinking ability by developing certain routine activities and applying them to all problems that present themselves.
Once you understand the theory of critical thinking, improving your critical thinking skills takes persistence and practice.
Try this simple exercise to help you to start thinking critically.
Think of something that someone has recently told you. Then ask yourself the following questions:
Who said it?
Someone you know? Someone in a position of authority or power? Does it matter who told you this?
What did they say?
Did they give facts or opinions? Did they provide all the facts? Did they leave anything out?
Where did they say it?
Was it in public or in private? Did other people have a chance to respond an provide an alternative account?
When did they say it?
Was it before, during or after an important event? Is timing important?
Why did they say it?
Did they explain the reasoning behind their opinion? Were they trying to make someone look good or bad?
How did they say it?
Were they happy or sad, angry or indifferent? Did they write it or say it? Could you understand what was said?
What are you Aiming to Achieve?
One of the most important aspects of critical thinking is to decide what you are aiming to achieve and then make a decision based on a range of possibilities.
Once you have clarified that aim for yourself you should use it as the starting point in all future situations requiring thought and, possibly, further decision making. Where needed, make your workmates, family or those around you aware of your intention to pursue this goal. You must then discipline yourself to keep on track until changing circumstances mean you have to revisit the start of the decision making process.
However, there are things that get in the way of simple decision making. We all carry with us a range of likes and dislikes, learnt behaviours and personal preferences developed throughout our lives; they are the hallmarks of being human. A major contribution to ensuring we think critically is to be aware of these personal characteristics, preferences and biases and make allowance for them when considering possible next steps, whether they are at the pre-action consideration stage or as part of a rethink caused by unexpected or unforeseen impediments to continued progress.
The more clearly we are aware of ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, the more likely our critical thinking will be productive.
The Benefit of Foresight
Perhaps the most important element of thinking critically is foresight.
Almost all decisions we make and implement don’t prove disastrous if we find reasons to abandon them. However, our decision making will be infinitely better and more likely to lead to success if, when we reach a tentative conclusion, we pause and consider the impact on the people and activities around us.
The elements needing consideration are generally numerous and varied. In many cases, consideration of one element from a different perspective will reveal potential dangers in pursuing our decision.
For instance, moving a business activity to a new location may improve potential output considerably but it may also lead to the loss of skilled workers if the distance moved is too great. Which of these is the more important consideration? Is there some way of lessening the conflict?
These are the sort of problems that may arise from incomplete critical thinking, a demonstration perhaps of the critical importance of good critical thinking.
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Critical thinking is aimed at achieving the best possible outcomes in any situation. In order to achieve this it must involve gathering and evaluating information from as many different sources possible.
Critical thinking requires a clear, often uncomfortable, assessment of your personal strengths, weaknesses and preferences and their possible impact on decisions you may make.
Critical thinking requires the development and use of foresight as far as this is possible. As Doris Day sang, “the future’s not ours to see”.
Implementing the decisions made arising from critical thinking must take into account an assessment of possible outcomes and ways of avoiding potentially negative outcomes, or at least lessening their impact.
- Critical thinking involves reviewing the results of the application of decisions made and implementing change where possible.
It might be thought that we are overextending our demands on critical thinking in expecting that it can help to construct focused meaning rather than examining the information given and the knowledge we have acquired to see if we can, if necessary, construct a meaning that will be acceptable and useful.
After all, almost no information we have available to us, either externally or internally, carries any guarantee of its life or appropriateness. Neat step-by-step instructions may provide some sort of trellis on which our basic understanding of critical thinking can blossom but it doesn’t and cannot provide any assurance of certainty, utility or longevity.
Continue to: Critical Thinking and Fake News Critical Reading
See also: Analytical Skills Understanding and Addressing Conspiracy Theories Introduction to Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)