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6 Tips to Boost Critical Thinking

Most people will leave the homework assignment that’s “not due until Friday” until later in the week to start. This isn’t always procrastination, either. Sometimes, it’s wise time management.


But how do you manage the things that never have a due date? For example, critical thinking skills are something we continually improve over the course of our lives. Without a due date, it’s natural to set this development aside in favor of more pressing to-dos.

As it turns out, developing critical thinking skills should be a top priority. Look at it this way: if you love trivia but only memorize facts, you’ll only know the answers to the questions you memorized. If you learn to look at the facts you learned critically, on the other hand, you’ll make intelligent guesses on the questions you don’t know. You’ll also get an increasing number of those questions right.


Mind you, not only will critical thinking win you more games of trivia, it will also help you win more at life.


Critical thinking isn’t just for science buffs and brainiacs. In fact, the less you think you know now, the better position you’re in to put your critical thinking cap on. Why? Critical thinking requires curiosity, and know-it-alls fundamentally lack that.


What Is Critical Thinking?


Let’s start by defining critical thinking. According to the Foundation for Critical Thinking (yes, its real):


“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.”

Translation: Critical thinking is finding the answers to the stuff you don’t know based on applying the stuff you do know, learned anywhere, from school to life experience.


How Do You Improve Critical Thinking Skills?


The next question is, “how can I boost my critical thinking skills?”

There are several ways to start now and continue developing critical thinking skills lifelong.


Here are our 6 favorites:


1: Ask More Questions

You’ve heard instructors insist that “There is no stupid question.” And while this is true, it’s still satisfying to come up with a question that’s so insightful that instructors raise their eyebrows and say, “That’s an excellent question.”


Critical thinking takes a different spin. Not only are there no “stupid” questions for a critical thinker, but the best questions are those so basic that they challenge pre-established “facts.” Asking basic questions helps you to understand a problem and its solution from the ground up.


For example, say you have a new job and your coworkers are writing a procedure to keep a complex spreadsheet up-to-date. This Excel-based report is one everyone has to update at some point, but people enter data differently and the document is constantly requiring time consuming clean-up.


On top of that, the new procedure is a beast to write. There are all sorts of rules needed to ensure no two team members are working on the document at once. Different versions of the file are constantly emailed back and forth, making it a challenge to know which version is the most recent or complete.


So you ask, “Why are we using a spreadsheet for this report?”


The question sounds basic, but the answer tells you what the original spreadsheet was trying to achieve. A coworker says to you: “Because management won’t let us buy the software that creates this report automatically, so we created this sheet with the equations we need.”

So, the report was a “Band-Aid” solution to another problem. Next, you say: “Why don’t we move it to Google Sheets so we don’t have these version problems anymore?”


Your coworkers are thrilled, and you walk away the hero for asking basic questions.


2: Learn New Stuff

Critical thinking is inherently linked to curiosity, and curiosity is inherently linked to learning.

And since you’ll be developing your critical thinking skills all your life, that means you’ll be learning all your life.


Lifelong learning means continually learning something new to you— it doesn’t have to mean staying in school forever (unless you really want to).


For example, what do you like or find interesting that you could learn more about? Who do you know that knows something about it? You can even start the habit of learning new things by showing curiosity about other people. This is a great conversational skill, too, since people enjoy talking about themselves.


Keep fueling curiosity and actively looking for answers to the questions you stoke. This is good mental exercise and creates new neural connections that will make you a powerhouse of critical thinking over time.


3: Listen

Listening actively to another person means listening without calculating your next response. Don’t just “wait for your turn to talk.” Listen and let the words settle their meaning deep in your brain.


Active listening is as much about taking the words in as it is about understanding their message. If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification, or repeat it back to the person while you digest.


4: Think for Yourself

Thinking for yourself comes pretty naturally when it’s your mom or dad you disagree with.

In just about every other case, it takes a little more effort. In work it’s especially hard because you don’t want to contradict your boss. You may have mentors, too, whose insights you trust, and thinking for yourself feels wrong if it contradicts what they’re telling you.

In the academic world, it’s also hard to think for yourself because most projects are based entirely in research and citing your sources. It’s about what credible experts think, not what you think.


Where exactly is the space where you should think for yourself?


Thinking for yourself in the wrong cases can also lead to overconfidence. Where’s the balance?


Whenever there’s no one else’s opinion to lean on, try taking that as an invitation to think for yourself. Even when you have a boss or mentor or expert telling you one thing, if you can bring value to the interaction by offering your own thoughts, do it.


This starts with a strong sense of self. Part of this is knowing who you are, and another part is identifying your own biases. Being informed is part two. You skillfully apply knowledge you acquired before to form your own opinions.


5: Solve One Thing at a Time

There will always be problems to solve. There are the marginal problems like what to eat for lunch when they’re out of your favorite sub, and then there are bigger problems like that project you’re late delivering to your boss.


The secret is to take problems one by one.This enables you to hunker down and think critically through solutions and possible outcomes. It also allows you to focus on how you got there in the first place so you can avoid the same problem in the future.


Choose one problem to solve every day, even a little one you’d all but forgotten about. Maybe today will be the day you plan out how to stop biting your nails, or the day you rearrange your desk so you aren’t always knocking over your juice bottle. Whatever it is, solve one problem every day and you’ll develop even sharper critical thinking skills.


6: Question Assumptions…Especially Your Own

Some of the most incredible discoveries and inventions came from those who questioned basic assumptions.


To uncover your own assumptions, ask what you know to be true—especially about yourself. For example, let’s imagine you ran cross country and were kind of the local all-star. You (and everyone around you) might think you were a “born runner.” This is technically an assumption because your skills very well might have come from training and diet instead of a natural disposition.


As a result, that assumption steers you into a one-sport lane. If you’re a “born runner,” then you’ll never love weightlifting as much as you do running laps around the track. Right?

Now imagine if the assumption had been that you’re a “born athlete.” You might have tried another three sports by now and loved one of them even more than you do running.

In fairness, assumptions are an essential building block to thinking for yourself, but you must be able to question assumptions regularly. Questioning your beliefs gives you continual room to grow.


The Result:

You can become a cultivated critical thinker in no time using these 6 tips. Unlike the homework assignment that’s “not due until Friday,” this work will never be done. But don’t fret—the result will be a self-directed and self-disciplined version of you who lives better for it. Jewell Unlimited is committed to cultivating Critical Thinkers by providing professionals flexible opportunities for online learning that will enhance their essential skill set, including courses in thinking critically. To see all that Jewell Unlimited has to offer, visit www.jewellunlimited.com.


Remember: Critical thinking skills ensure your communication is more effective. With critical thought, you can become faster to solve problems, contribute more to those around you, and win loads more games of trivia.

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