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YOU THINK YOU KNOW HOW TO BE A CRITICAL THINKER? THINK AGAIN!

Gabriel Wilensky

There is a way to ensure we significantly improve our chances of arriving at the right answers, and that is to improve our critical thinking and reasoning skills.

C learly you make decisions every day, and that requires critical thinking. After all, you choose what to eat, what to wear, where to go and what to do. Everyday you are faced with a plethora of questions you must answer and decisions you need to make. But in life not all questions are simple. You are confronted by more complicated questions too, questions with potentially far-reaching consequences:

  • Who to marry?
  • What job to take?
  • Do I buy this house or that other one?
  • How can I resolve this conflict?

Yet, for the most part, you manage. You think you know how to think.

To answer these and many other questions there is no foolproof method. However, there is a way to ensure you significantly improve your chances of arriving at the right answers, and that is to improve your critical thinking and reasoning skills.

Understanding the Terms

Critical thinking is a decision-making process in which you determine the best solution to a carefully considered question, situation, problem or claim. In order to do this you review all evidence, consider all sides of an argument or issue, and contemplate different scenarios and outcomes.

This challenges your original assumption that you were already an adequate thinker. After all, normally most of us do not take the time or trouble to think critically as just described. Rather, most of the time you just say or do the first thing that comes to mind in the heat of the moment. It is considerably more work to think critically when you are so used to react reflexively to input from the outside world.

But once you get used to thinking critically all the time you realize that the skill is applicable to all sorts of situations. Indeed, once you’ve mastered this skill and you become a reflexive critical thinker (i.e. when thinking this way becomes a reflex instead of having to consciously apply your mind to make it happen), you will be able to better determine how best to solve a problem, answer a question, handle a situation or accept or reject a claim.

Once you become a reflexive critical thinker you will be able to better determine how best to solve a problem, answer a question, handle a situation or accept or reject a claim.

Improving or adopting critical thinking skills is not enough, however, because you also need to hone the way you think by improving your reasoning skills. Reasoning skills are what allows you to evaluate a problem and arrive at a solution. These skills are also important to allow you to diminish the roley our emotions play as a driver for your thoughts or actions. They are also key to justify those thoughts, opinions and actions with logic, evidence and facts. Since your rationale for doing (or not doing) things is not always reasonable you must use good reasoning skills to help you make sense of your own thinking. Using logical reasons to decide on the best solution to a problem or to help you decide how to best handle a situation is always better than letting your emotions take charge.
People often make unreasonable and unwise decisions. You fail to think reasonably and logically. And, even if you did evaluate the question or issue critically, sometimes you end up letting your emotions override your decision-making process which leads you to make the wrong choices.

Example

Emotions do play an important role in your decision-making process. But they need to be controlled. For example, if you were to make any big purchase, such as a new car, you want to ensure you carefully consider the various options at your disposal, the different possibilities available to you and their potential outcomes, and have good logical reasons to defend your decision.

Clearly you would want to get a car that best meets your needs. For instance, you may need to carry a lot of things, or you may have many children you need to take to school and football practice. Yet, you may go to the dealership and be enthralled by the latest shiny sports car they have. Thinking of how this can give you pleasure, make you stand out among your neighbors or impress potential mates, you may end up buying the sports car. You just let your emotions take over!

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Critical thinking and reasoning skills are fundamental to help us be more successful at solving the myriad problems we are faced with every day.

Avoiding the Trap

How can you avoid this sort of pitfall? One thing you should incorporate into your thinking routine is a process of justifying your decisions and actions. In other words, every time you make a decision—no matter how trivial and innocuous— you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why did I make that decision?
  • Why did I do what I did?
  • What made that solution seem to be the best one?

Doing this every time may seem like a hassle, but over time it will become automatic. It will also give you a better insight into your own decision-making process and will allows you to improve it.

Using good critical thinking skills

I n conclusion, critical thinking and reasoning skills are two sides of the same coin and must be used simultaneously to allow you to make wise decisions and resolve problems effectively. Improving these skills will allow you to be more adept at everything you do, as you tackle everyday situations at home, school or work. These skills will be critical in helping you be more successful at solving the myriad problems you are faced with every day.

Specifically, well-developed critical thinking skills will allow you to:

  • Make and defend compelling, sound and persuasive logical arguments
  • Evaluate whether other people’s arguments are well-founded, reasonable, logical and justifiable
  • Enhance your ability to make better decisions
  • Be more effective at solving problems

It takes work, but in the end you will become more effective not only in how you make decisions, but also in making better ones.

What do you think?

Share your thoughts with the Thought Academy community in the Comments section below.

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