A Guide to Critical Thinking: Understanding and Developing This Essential Skill
It’s all about curiosity.
In today’s rapidly changing world, it’s essential to be a strong critical thinker and problem solver. At the core of every process occurring around the globe is a problem that must be rectified in order to grow. Whether financially, spiritually, skillfully or in any other way, being a critical thinker is paramount to achieving success.
To be a critical thinker is to work through a deliberate thought pattern in order to achieve a certain level of understanding of a concept or issue. Having a powerful grasp of the process you take when approaching a problem is essential.
Critical thinking has nothing to do with whether or not you’re capable of finding the right answer every time, or if you have a certain level of intellect or not. It simply means you have strong analytical skills that allow you to break down and understand sometimes complex topics and issues.
Critical thinking is not only beneficial from a ‘success’ perspective but it’s also important for self growth. Without the ability to critically think about things, we begin to form beliefs and thus value systems off of information we do not fully understand.
The Results of Being a Critical Thinker
By being a critical thinker, one can more closely ascertain what is, and is not for them. Whether religions, work/life balance ideologies or any other dogma in life, it’s important for ourselves that we can critically analyze what these belief systems mean and whether they would be beneficial for our own enlightenment.
It’s also important to develop our thinking skills to be more empathetic and understanding of the world and its many cultures. Critical thinking is an important factor in breaking down prejudices, biases and having a strong knack for information literacy and more.
The Elements of Thought
To begin to understand the foundations of critical thinking, it’s important to understand the elements of thought. These can be broken down as the following:
Purpose: Our goals or objectives. These can be simplified into real and tangible actions or checkpoints. They can also be higher-level frameworks, or prototypes of who we want to be or what we want to achieve.
Question at issue: What is your single problem or issue? Can you quantify it and put it into words, or a single objective?
Information: What data, facts, observations and experiences can you collect about this issue? Where do these sources come from?
Interpretation and inference: What conclusions or solutions can you make from the information you have at hand?
Concepts: Theories, definitions, axioms, laws, principles or models. What resources do you have to best understand your subject or problem? What is the foundation behind your approach and knowledge on this topic?
Assumptions: What kind of assumptions are you making around the information provided? Are there confirmation biases involved, what type of echo chamber could you be receiving this information in?
Implications: What are the final implications, resolutions or conclusions you’ve drawn after receiving and digesting all of this new information? Can you find a cause-and-effect relationship that will help you improve upon, or solve your situation?
A Checklist of Intellectual Standards
The next step in furthering our understanding of critical thinking and analysis would be to better understand the standards of intellectuality. We must be able to distinguish and define what it actually means to understand a topic.
Clarity: The cornerstone of knowledge. As critical thinkers we must be able to elaborate, give examples of, and clearly illustrate a given situation, problem or concept.
Accuracy: Verification, proper sourcing, and even experimenting or testing are important concepts to validate whether we have a proper and accurate understanding of our concept.
Precision: The specifics and details of an issue. We need to be able to zoom in on a concept and provide accurate answers. We need to be able to be exact in our definitions and understanding.
Relevance: Understanding how the information in front of you directly relates to your problem. We need to be able to understand how new information fundamentally helps us move forward.
Depth: Understanding the difficulties and factors around your question or concept. Knowing the complexities of each concept and the typical barriers to dealing with those concepts and issues in general.
Breadth: Different perspectives, points of view and roadmaps. Knowing how to bring all of those perspectives together to find the absolute solution is imperative.
Logic: Making complete sense, whether generally speaking or within the intricacies and details of our topic. Can someone follow logically? We should be sure that what we are saying follows directly from the evidence we have in place.
Significance: The pinnacle of your focus is on the correct issue to alleviate our problem. There may be more important issues to consider than what we have considered.
Fairness: Working and observing objectively, without sympathies and biases. We should always be able to, at the very least, understand our biases and how they may be playing into our perception of the issue at hand.
Daily Practices to Improve Critical Thinking
Critical thinking can be a challenging habit to build, and it can often feel like an unnatural process that leads us through a series of checklists. It’s important to build daily practices within our lives that promote critical thinking. Curiosity is at the heart of all learning, and wondering about things is the perfect way to stoke the critical thinker inside of you.
Next time you open a book, dig a little deeper into the author and their previous works. Or whenever you use a household object, take some time to research and analyze something you may not have come across before. In time, you will build habits that stretch far beyond any specific topic or field which will allow you to approach any problem with ease and confidence.
It’s also important to practice mindfulness. Being better at acknowledging our thoughts, which of them truly reflect us, and which are more influenced by outside factors, is key to being a critical thinker. We need to be capable of understanding when our emotions are influencing our conscious mind. The best of thinkers are able to master both, and use their emotional and intellectual mind at exactly the perfect capacities and times to be at their best.