What Is Critical Thinking and How Does It Work?
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 as a guide to belief and action.”
Critical thinking is simply the conscious and methodical processing of information in order to make better decisions and gain a better understanding of situations. Because critical thinking necessitates the application of a wide range of intellectual tools to a wide range of information, the following definition contains a large number of terms.
- Evaluating are all ways to critically think about information.
This information can come from a variety of places, including:
And it’s all for the purpose of guiding:
- Taking Action
You might also put it this way: Regular, daily thinking is the polar opposite of critical thinking.
The majority of thinking occurs automatically from moment to moment. When you think critically, you use one or more of the following mental tools to arrive at more accurate conclusions than your brain would on its own (more on this in a bit). This is the definition of critical thinking. But what does it matter?
Various Ways of Thinking
It’s impossible to become a critical thinker overnight. To make critical thinking a regular component of your decision-making and learning process, you’ll need to practice. You’ll have to put in the conscious time and effort to sharpen the skill until it becomes second nature. You have three options when it comes to deliberate thought.
1. Setting Aside Time Every Day:
Setting aside time every day is one of the simplest ways to get your brain to think. On weekdays, most people have no issue finding 15 minutes to contemplate. If you can’t spare even 15 minutes, that’s reason enough to set aside time to pause and reflect. Every day, Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn, spends 90 to 2 hours of undisturbed time thinking. When he discovered he was engulfed in a routine so hectic that he had no time to digest what was going on around him, he adopted this habit. While you don’t need to set aside several hours each day, 15 minutes will get you started.
2. Once a Week for a Few Hours :
A few folks have developed the habit of devoting a full day (or half a day) each week to contemplation. People who prefer to think in a flow for hours rather than in discrete bits throughout the day can benefit from this method. The interrupted model of continuous thinking is used by writers and artists. However, if you believe the strategy works for you, you can apply it regardless of your profession. However, not everyone can devote a continuous hour or an entire day each week.
3. Every Few Months, Take a Few Days Off:
Taking a few days off to explicitly ponder is a more difficult but effective technique to clear your head and focus. One of the most well-known people who used this strategy was Bill Gates. Every two years, he would take a week off and isolate himself from his family, friends, and employees.
He spent the time reading, analyzing, and pondering at a cabin in the woods. A cook brought him two meals a day while he was away from the rest of the world. Not everyone has the opportunity to spend time alone in nature with a private chef. If you wish to spend some time alone, you can pick a cheap motel. The exercise encourages you to pause, slow down, and concentrate on the correct things. Many authors, performers, and musicians isolate themselves for weeks or months at a time until they complete what they set out to do. A writer wraps his mind around the first draught of a book, an actor immerses himself in the role of a movie character, and a musician composes tunes for a new album.
Heath Ledger, for example, isolated himself in a room for a month before playing the legendary Joker in Batman: The Dark Knight.
What Is the Importance of Critical Thinking?
The majority of our daily thinking is uncritical. This makes logic when you think about it. We wouldn’t have any cognitive resources left for the crucial stuff like D&D if we had to think about every single activity (like breathing, for example). It’s a good thing that so much of our thinking happens automatically. When we allow our automatic brain processes guide key judgments, though, we can run into issues. People can easily manipulate us if we don’t think critically, and all kinds of disasters can occur as a result. Critical thinking was sorely lacking anywhere that some form of fundamentalism resulted in tragedy (the Holocaust is a textbook example). Even on a daily basis, it’s easy to get caught up in needless disputes or say stupid things simply because you didn’t take the time to think things through.
In college, critical thinking is important because students frequently take the wrong approach to think about tough issues. These are some of the attitudes:
The belief that there are clear, perfect answers to all questions–all you have to do is identify the right source–is known as ignorant certainty. It’s natural that many students approach college with this mindset–it’ll get you through the majority of your high school courses. However, in education as in life, the solutions to the most important questions are rarely straightforward. You must think critically about the information in college classes (especially upper-level ones) to succeed.
It is a type of relativism that is based on the
The view that there is no truth and that all arguments are equal is known as naive relativism. While naive relativism is a more “critical” approach than uninformed certainty, it still falls short of the goal of critical thinking: arriving at a more full, “less wrong” response. Evaluating the validity of arguments (yours and others) is a part of critical thinking. To think critically, you must agree that certain arguments are superior to others (and that some are just plain awful).
In college, critical thinking is important because:
It allows you to form your own beliefs and connect with content on a deeper level. This is crucial for writing a fantastic essay and having a thoughtful conversation with your teachers or peers. It won’t get you very far if you just repeat what the textbook says.
It enables you to construct and support defensible arguments. Original, critical thought is essential if you plan to continue on to graduate school or pursue a Ph.D.
It helps you evaluate your own work. This leads to improved grades (who doesn’t want that?) and improved mental habits.
Working at a college level without critical thinking is akin to walking blindfolded: you’ll go someplace, but it’s unlikely to be where you want to go.
However, the importance of critical thinking does not end with college. When you’re out in the real world, critical thinking becomes even more important. This is because:
It allows you to continue your intellectual development after graduation. Graduation should not be the end of your education; you should continue to learn as much as possible. Knowing how to think critically will assist you in evaluating and applying new information.
It assists you in making difficult judgments. The ability to think critically is also crucial in the decision-making process. Critical thinking allows you to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of your alternatives, revealing that you have more options than you might assume.
People have the ability to manipulate you, and they will. At least, if you accept everything at face value and let people do your thinking for you. Just look at the newest fad diet or “wonder” drug advertisements: they rely on people’s ignorance and false hope to persuade them to buy something that is at best ineffective and at worst dangerous. You can avoid falling prey to unethical companies and people by critically evaluating information (especially information intended to sell something).
It improves your employability (and better paid). The best employees can not only tackle existing problems, but they can also come up with answers to challenges that no one has ever thought of. You must be one of those employees to earn a fantastic career after graduation because critical thinking is the key to addressing complex, unique challenges.
7 Ways to Improve Your Critical Thinking
Now for the part that I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for: how do we improve our critical thinking skills? There are seven ways to get started listed below:
1. Start With the Basics
An explanation might sometimes grow so complicated that the original inquiry is lost. To avoid this, keep returning to the fundamental questions you posed when you first started out to tackle the problem.
When approaching any challenge, here are a few fundamental basic questions to consider:
- Do you have any prior knowledge?
- How did you figure that out?
- What are you attempting to illustrate, disprove, critique, etc.?
- What are you missing out on?
Not because of their complexity, but because of their exquisite simplicity, some of the most spectacular solutions to issues are breathtaking. First, look for a straightforward answer.
2. Inquire About Fundamental Assumptions
“You make an ass out of you and me when you assume.” When you’re thinking about a problem, the adage above is true. It’s really easy to make a fool of yourself if you don’t challenge your core assumptions. Some of history’s greatest inventors were individuals who merely looked up and pondered if one of everyone’s common beliefs was incorrect. Questioning assumptions is where creativity happens, from Newton to Einstein to Yitang Zhang. You don’t have to be a budding Einstein to reap the benefits of challenging your preconceptions. What about that trip you’ve always wanted to take? What’s that hobby you’ve always wanted to try? That internship you’ve been wishing for? That attractive person in your World Civilizations class with whom you’ve been wanting to strike up a conversation? All of these things are feasible if you just challenge your assumptions and critically analyze your views about what is smart, appropriate, or possible.
3. Recognize and Control Your Mental Processes
Human intellect is incredible, yet the speed and automation with which it occurs can be detrimental when trying to think critically. Heuristics (mental shortcuts) are a natural way for our brains to explain what’s going on around us. When people were hunting enormous game and fighting off wild animals, this was advantageous, but it can be disastrous when deciding who to vote for. A critical thinker is conscious of his or her cognitive biases and personal preconceptions, as well as how they impact what appear to be “objective” decisions and answers. In our reasoning, we all have prejudices. It is only by becoming aware of them that critical thinking is possible.
4. Try Reversing the Situation
Reversing things is an excellent method to become “unstuck” on a difficult problem. Although it may appear that X causes Y, what if Y causes X? The classic illustration of this is the “chicken and egg issue.” At first glance, it appears that the chicken must come first. After all, the egg is laid by the bird. But then you understand that the chicken had to originate from somewhere, and since chickens are made out of eggs, the egg had to arrive first. Is that the case? Even if the opposite isn’t the case, thinking about it can help you find a solution.
5. Consider the Evidence that Already Exists
It’s usually beneficial to look at previous work in the same field while trying to address an issue. When someone has already set the groundwork, there’s no reason to start fixing a problem from scratch. However, you must rigorously assess this material; else, you may easily get to the incorrect conclusion.
Any evidence you come across should be asked the following questions:
- Who was in charge of gathering this evidence?
- What method did they use to collect it?
- What’s the point?
Consider a study that demonstrated the health benefits of sugary cereal. The study appears to be rather persuasive on paper. That is until you find that it was funded by a sugary cereal manufacturer. You shouldn’t assume that this invalidates the study’s findings, but when a conflict of interest is so obvious, you should absolutely scrutinize them.
6. Don’t Forget to Think for Yourself
Don’t get too caught up in research and reading that you forget to think for yourself–sometimes it’s the most effective instrument you have. Don’t be overconfident, but understand that solving difficult issues requires independent thought.
7. Recognize that No One Thinks Critically all of the Time
“Any form of critical thinking is never universal in any individual; everyone experiences periods of undisciplined or unreasonable thinking.” It’s fine if you can’t think critically all of the time. You should use critical thinking when making significant decisions or solving challenging situations, but you don’t have to think critically about everything. Even in the most crucial matters, you will have lapses in logic. What counts is that you are aware of your mistakes and work to prevent them in the future.
Learning to think critically will help you both in and out of the classroom. Remember that critical thinking is a lifelong process in which there is always more to learn. Common sense is more important than remarkable intelligence or IQ when it comes to critical thinking skills. To think better, you don’t need to acquire difficult skills. Using your own thinking abilities, you can create the best appropriate decision-making guidelines for yourself. You’ll steadily improve your cognitive process if you treat critical thinking skills as a method to follow. Make it a habit to sharpen your mind, and your mind will follow your lead.