How to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills

Albert Einstein once said, “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.”

Our thoughts influence our beliefs, feelings and actions. Our thoughts can be rational, reflective and often with judgement because we perceive information and implement it to form an idea of what something or someone is. Critically thinking, on the other hand, a form of disciplined thinking that is clear, open-minded, logical and with a goal. The Foundation for Critical Thinking defines it as, “Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, as a guide to belief and action.”  Being able to critically think means to be able to understand connections between ideas, problem solve, construct arguments and reason with others. Critical thinking is vital to creativity, the foundation to many careers and provides one the ability to self reflect. 

Now you may ask: how does logical critical thinking allow you to be creative? Well, the answer is pretty simple. Critical thinking can be divergent thinking if it takes on a less popular approach. If you need to come up or improve a creative idea, critical thinking can be combined with creative thinking to draw up a decision that is accurate, fair and logical. There is no limit in the decision making process because critical thinkers ask important questions such as “why not” or “how can I make this a possibility”.  These skills can be applied to help your career, but also promote better relationships and fosters problem solving abilities.

What is the Critical Thinking Process?

  1. State the Problem you are having in a clear, concise way
  2. Ask questions to better assess the problem 
  3. Ask yourself: what are alternative perspectives of the problem. 
  4. Gather information and asses the information
  5. Come up with at least 3 solutions to the problem 
  6. Be aware that our solutions have their own limits
  7. Construct your own reasonable view 
  8. Communicate with others 

Critical Thinks Ask these Questions: The Five W’s +  1 H

The five W’s are who, what, when, where, why and how

  • What is happening in this current moment? What are my observations? 
  • Why is this important? 
  • Who is being affected by this? How does this impact me?
  • Where did I get my information from? Are my resources valid and trusted?
  • What factors should I consider? What other information do I need to make a decision?
  • What if..? Why not…?
  • How do I communicate my decision to others? How can others benefit or hurt from my decision? 

Anyone can be a critical thinker and there isn’t a universal standard for what skills are necessary. It takes time, practice and patience to become an exceptional critical thinker. It is muscle memory, like riding a bike, to train your brain to think a certain way. 

How Can One Improve their Critical Thinking Skills?

I will go into detail on the steps one can take to improve their mindset to make it easier to develop these problem solving skills.

  1. Ask Basic Questions

Our issues or the decision we are trying to make can be complicated, so we need to dilute the task at hand by asking some key basic questions:

  • What information am I presented with? What do I know? 
  • How do I know this information? 
  • What is my objective/goal that I am trying to support, dismiss, prove, discover, research,etc ? 
  • What did I miss? 
  • How do I feel about this?
  •  What can I infer so far based on this information?
  1. Research / Other Perspectives

Next is the research component. The main goal of research is to avoid our own mental process. Our own thoughts that stem from beliefs and previous experience can cloud the journey to finding an objective reason so research allows for unbiased critical thinking. 

It is important to question where you get your information from and the validity of both sides of an argument. 

  • Where are you getting your research and information from?
  • Are they trusted sources? If it is coming from a person, are they biased?
  • Who does this information benefit? On what scale is it biased? 
  • What is the author’s agenda in their work? Is their language influencing the reader to lean in one specific direction?
  • Are reading sources peer-reviewed and scholarly?
  • Identify the evidence and assess it from different viewpoints
  • Recognize biases from each side 
  • Think in reverse which allows you to look at the problem in a new light
  • Is there causation or correlation?
  1. Inferencing 

Being able to predict what can happen in the future can be a way to predict consequences of future solutions to the problems. Assessing the information and drawing conclusions from this data is important to assess which conclusion/goal you want. 

  • What potential outcomes can arise from each solution?
  • What scenario is the best scenario?
  • Make a pro/cons list for each solution.
  • Look for clues to be able to infer correctly: headlines, subtitles, images, bolded fonts, statistics
  • If you are speaking to someone or watching something, look for inflection in voice, tone, attitude and body language.
  1. Establish Relevance and Come up with Solution

Once you come up with a few solutions, figure out which is the most important. 

  • Establish a clear trajectory of what you want and need
  • Weed out unnecessary information.
  • Make a list of most important to least important and cross things off the list as you come up with points as to why certain solutions won’t work
  • The number one solution is waiting for you to think of it
  1. Other Characteristics One Can Possess
  • Think for yourself!
  • No one is 100% critical all the time. It is a tool but thinking critically isn’t needed for everything you do in life.
  • Be curious all the time. Constantly ask open-ended questions or why?
  • Be patient and tolerant of differing viewpoints.
  • Be able to admit that you don’t know something and do your research.
  • Beware of your own biases and emotions. 
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