Five steps to improve your critical thinking

Last week I talked about critical thinking and how it is really the key to a high functioning democracy, but how do we actually put critical thinking into practice. In a world where we have access to so much information and opposing points of views on just about everything, applying critical thinking will allow you to clarify your goals, sift through information and deconstruct it, finding the information relevant to you, to make better decision. So how do we actually apply this process to everyday decisions?

Here, I will outline five practical steps to help you make better informed decisions, when it really matters.

  1. Clarify your question
    This sounds obvious and straightforward but it goes a little deeper. By clarifying your question, you are making sure the question you want to answer has clear goals. What do you want to accomplish. Considering where to live for example, would lead you to create a short list of the things you need to best suit your life before you start looking at different options.

    This will help you sift through the information presented to you critically, eliminating irrelevant information, to find an area that best suits you and your family.
  2. Gather relevant information
    By having really clear goals, you are better able to sift through all the information out there to determine what is relevant to you. It allows you to better weigh all the options to find the solution for you; and to stay on track quickly eliminating or disregarding information that doesn’t meet your goals.
  3. Apply the information.
    Assume you receive a letter stating you have won millions of dollars in a lottery based overseas that you can’t ever remember entering, from a company you have never heard of. Do you assume the company is telling the truth? Based on the evidence presented? Is it a logical conclusion to think you have actually won money if you provide your bank account details like they are asking? Here, as in many everyday decisions, you are using the information presented and deconstructing it with scrutiny and criticism to reach your conclusion.
  4. Consider the implications
    Let’s use a more complex example. Deciding who to vote for during an election requires a lot of critical thinking and this step is very important. Of course it is compelling to hear a politician promising all sorts of things, but by sifting through the information and considering the actual short and long term implications of these promises, it can help you decide if it’s really something you want to embrace. A healthy dose of scrutiny is called for in your assessment of implications before you make a decision.
  5. Explore the alternatives
    This is an important part of critical thinking. Think of the heated pre-election time in the US Trump vs Clinton election. Although you were more than likely leaning towards one over the other, to have made the most informed opinion, and not just be lead by your heart, you would have to look at the promises and policies of the other candidate to help evaluate the options and make an informed decision. Even if you don’t agree with them, by exploring alternatives you can also understand why some policies that don’t seem valid to you, might appeal to others.

Applying this process of critical thinking will help you make better and more informed decisions, no matter how small or big.

If you would like more information about critical thinking and how I can help you and your organisation in reaching better decisions; please get in touch.

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