I’ve had the honor to work with a wide age range of people; from high school students to seasoned professionals. During my interactions with them, I noticed some people were willing to do the hard work and reach their conclusions and answers, and others would always say “I don’t know. Let me Google it.” As technology gets more advanced each day, finding answers oftentimes is just a click away. Having access to search engines like Google for all things we are looking for is certainly convenient, at the same time, this “answer-on-demand” behavior is also chipping away the need to stretch our minds and think critically about what we are looking for.
What is critical thinking?
Let’s first address what critical thinking is. A widely accepted definition was offered by Michael Scriven and Richard Paul: “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 simple words, it’s a process which involves gathering, evaluating, analyzing and applying information and data before a person forms his/her belief and judgment.
The top 5 benefits of Critical Thinking
Some may argue it doesn’t really matter much in terms of where and how people come up with answers, as long as they have them. Not true! If we are just given answers all the time without the ability to think things through carefully and objectively, analyze the collected data, internalize our beliefs, and articulate the whys clearly and convincingly, we will eventually lose the ability to determine our own decisions and destiny, and will simply be a product of what’s being fed to us on a constant basis.
Below are the top 5 benefits for being a critical thinker:
1. You’ll become more objective and less bias
Critical thinking involves gathering, verifying and analyzing sources objectively, which helps you separate facts from opinions and emotions. Eventually, it allows you to look at and approach issues rationally and with less bias.
2. You’ll be a better decision maker
There no doubt about it – better decision making comes from a logical, analytical and bias-less thinking process. The objectivity and rationality will help you consider all possibilities. Furthermore, it will help you make a logical and sound decision and execute your concluded solutions.
3. You’ll be more confident
When you can think critically and independently and demonstrate your skills to solve problems and accomplish goals, your confidence will grow, which, in returns, will boost your desire to become a deeper and more holistic thinker. This is a healthy cycle; your confidence level goes up as you think more critically, and the more you think critically, the more confident you will be in your final decisions.
4. You’ll become a person with credibility and strong character
Have you forwarded something to your friends without much thinking and learned a few minutes later what you shared with others were false? Once you become a critical thinker, what you say and do most likely will be truth backed with objective facts, leading your friends to see you as someone who is responsible, credible and trustworthy.
5. You’ll increase the rate of success
When you adopt the process of thinking and analyzing things critically, you will gain a deep and crystal-clear understanding of the hows and whys of your decisions. Having this level of critical thinking skills will give you higher confidence and make you more open minded when new facts arise. You’ll also be able to analyze issues much more comprehensively, get to a sound decision faster than others, and execute on your plans much more effectively.
7 Ways to improve your critical thinking skills
Critical thinking is one of the most crucial skills to have in life. It helps you face problems with ease and confidence, make well-thought-out decisions quickly, communicate with clarity, and be a leader in your own life instead of a product of circumstances. Below are 7 ways to help you improve your critical thinking skills.
1. Change your mindset
Decades of “fast-food” and “just-Google-it” culture has made many of you addicted to convenience in exchange for the desire to become an independent thinker. Use the internet as a tool to gather information, then do your research, digest and analyze the information in hand for yourself. Yes, it is more work, but this will pay off in a long run.
2. Examine the big picture
I always enjoy looking down at earth after my flight takes off. It helps me forget the bad traffic on the way to the airport, give me the excuse to forget the text messages and emails waiting to be replied, and offer the headspace to examine my life from a high altitude.
The task or challenge you are facing is a component of a much greater picture. Don’t forget to change your perspective; you might just discover a new way to deal with those few trees while standing on the mountain looking at the forest.
3. Gather, research and evaluate your sources
When you gather your information and data, make sure you not only collect those that support your view, but also those against. In addition, evaluating your sources, confirming their credibility and accuracy, considering their motivation and agenda will also contribute to making the best and most unbiased decision for your own life.
4. Ask a lot of questions
Asking questions is a great way to engage with your own mind. It also helps you learn by exchanging ideas with others and grow by seeing the problems at hand from a different perspective. Remember to always keep a healthy level of skepticism, have fun with asking whys. By questioning your sources and data, possible scenarios or even your own belief, your final decision will be backed by sound facts mixed with great confidence.
5. Be aware of your own assumptions and biases
We all have, unavoidably, biases. So be aware that your assumptions could be under heavy influence over such biases. The way to overcome biases is to always consider others’ point of view. This will help you broaden your horizon, catch your own biases, come up with a new assumption and act from a more neutral perspective.
6. Explore possibilities and consequences before your conclusion
Explore options, connect all dots, and use the facts you gather to form your objective conclusion. And be sure to consider how your conclusion may affect your future. You could read a quick post I have on Facebook about decision making and consequences.
7. Allow time to practice and grow
It’s not realistic to require yourself to think critically all the time. Furthermore, according to Michael Scriven and Richard Paul, everyone is subject to episodes of undisciplined or irrational thoughts. The key is to put what you’ve learned here into practice little by little. Mark Hawthorne’s famous quote “practice makes progress” says it all about practice and improvement. You will improve, you will see changes, and you will get there.
Becoming a critical thinker requires time and effort, but it is crucial to your confidence, success and happiness, and it will have a positive impact to both your personal and professional life. Albert Einstein said, “It’s not the fruits of scientific research that elevate a man and enrich his nature, but the urge to understand and the intellectual work.” I’d like to encourage you to start applying these 7 ways to improve your critical thinking skills. Stretch yourself and make it a fun, enjoyable and life-long learning journey. I promise you; it will only get better.
About Faye Weng
Your Online Life and Career Coach
Faye Weng is an expert life and career coach who works with clients to take back control of their lives by rediscovering their passions, living/working with a clear purpose, and becoming people who can positively impact the communities around them. As your life and career coach, Faye will help you minimize noises and distractions, focus your effort and attention on the right things, execute a clear plan of action, and celebrate alongside of you when each milestone is reached. Click here to book a complimentary session.