How to develop critical thinking skills

How to develop critical thinking skills

If your thinking is vague or inaccurate, it may so happen that the decisions taken will lead to unexpected consequences. Thinking skills are usually taken for granted. You may tell yourself: “Sure, I can think!”.  


1. Evaluate objective reality.

Our thinking may be efficient only if based on reality. The reality exist objectively, independent from our wishes, purposes or preferences. Thinking will be productive only then when you can perceive and interpret the reality accurately. This demand objectiveness – an ability to distinguish between something that “is” at the moment from what you believe or wish to believe.

2. Be ready to perceive information.

A mind not ready to perceive information is separated from reality. You can easily recognize a person with such manner of thinking. Suc person has a strict set of thoughts and affirmations, which are not subject to any dispute or discussion. Such thinker is difficult to understand, since it requires some refutation. If you feel you are talking to a wall, quite possible that you have encountered such person. But being open for information does not mean that you must not defend the truth that is known to you, or that you must support any point of view. The truth can withstand the doubt; it is the illusion that bears the threat to exchange of thoughts.

3. You should not tolerate constant and unproductive ambiguity.  

Most of decisions you deal with are somewhat ambiguous, they contain a grey zone between the obvious black-white alternatives. It’s not an argument to defend the uncertainty. It is the recommendation to train your thought power in order to define certainty. Ambiguity is often a symptom of carelessness, incomplete or irrational thinking. When you find yourself in such state, you shoiuld carefully study your environment, principles, knowledge and efficiency of your thinking. A search for knowledge means a progressive search for a certainty, and not for vagueness or uncertainty.

4. Avoid popular infatuations.

When certain definition becomes popular, many people accept it, thus becoming a part of “the crowd”. As a rule, it represents the easily yielding thinking instead of critical. Look out and think before you join the crowd.

5. Draw a line between observation and logical inference, between proven facts and hypothesis.

6. Avoid assertions until you are sure the information you have is authentic.

You can hasten your conclusions and get into a trap. On the other hand, when you have authentic and true-to-fact information, you can think without restraints. Contemplation is a part of thinking process, application of your ability to make conclusions based on reality.

7. Keep up your sense of humour.

You won’t be able to think reasonably if you consider it a matter of life and death The ability to laugh at oneself and to see the humour in other situations helps to sustain the clarity of thinking. But be careful with the laughter used as a weapon to deride your values, or as a method of psychological defense. Such methods require a serious response.

8. Develop your curiosity.

The world is full of things you don’t know yet. Сuriosity is a sign of mind that is free and open to perceive the amazing reality in order to receive new knowledge, without fear of facing the unknown. A thinker studies new ways and means that help to see things differently and to act. If you strive for curiosity, study can become and adventure accompanied with exciting discoveries.

9. Don’t take the facts for a “nominal value” 

At an early age most of us learn to believe everything we hear. Imagine the extent of our disappointment if we believe everything the TV commercials say! The same principle must be applied to the information we receive from the mass media, even to what is called “the news”. Such information must be processed (and sometimes pushed aside) but never “swallowed” as is! Beware of bright wrappings that cover the truth. Sometimes a big box with fancy drawings has little connection to what is hidden inside. Open it and see for yourself!

10. Challenge the conventional thinking. 

Each culture is based on some doubtful assumptions. Galileo Galilei, and Italian astronomer and mathematician, faced the inquisition for doubting “the truth” that the Earth is the centre of the Universe. Even today, the members of Flat Earth Society think that the world is as flat as a plate! You cannot assume that  what is considered true really is the truth. The truth is derived in the process of rational thinking, and not public-opinion polls or statistics of previous experience.

11. Resist the emotions. 

Emotions may dim the mind. When you feel excitement or rage, your mental processes won’t be working just as well as they would if you were in a more calm state. Beware of the situations where your emotions are purportedly provoked with flattery, fear or excitement while you have to make a decision. It can be a special strategy aimed at perverting the result.

12. Don’t accept someone’s authority automatically. е

Appeal to authority is the most favourite trick in  advertisements: Hollywood stars, sportsmen, pop-stars – they all are used to promote all kinds of goods. We happily think that if he or she says that this product is of excellent quality, it is true! The fact that celebrities are paid millions of dollars for commercials, is supposed to be enough for accepting their opinion as authority.

13. Don’t try to please others.

Flattery is one of the most effective methods of convincing. If someone starts flattering, you should know that that person either wants to convince you or wants to lay hands on your money. Sometimes it is vitally important to distinguish between a sincere compliment and elaborate manipulation.

14. Don’t increase your self-esteem.

Very often our decisions may be affected by a wish to look especially well in our own eyes or in front of other people. If you are too preoccupied with showing off, you may say or do things that will not benefit you. As soon as you realize your own significance, such grandstand play will not seem so  effective.

15. Never forget the perspective.

When you are amidst deciding a matter that is essential to you, a balanced view on the situation is easily lost. It would be helpful to consider the matter from a wider perspective. ?Here is one of the ways of determining the perspective: at the scale from one to ten, how critical is the situation, assuming that one is a withered plant and ten is a nuclear explosion? Is the situation as critical as it seemed initially?

16. Be aware of unspoken rules.

Sometimes our conduct is defined by the unspoken rules. If you are not aware of them, you will not have enough knowledge to make a reasonable decision. If you know the situation, you most likely know the rules (e.g. don’t shake the boat you swim in, don’t doubt the boss’s opinion, don’t argue with a professor). If you are in an unknown situation (or in another culture), you should be very attentive or ask those more familiar with it. It does not mean that you should be limited by such rules, but you should be aware of them.

17. Be aware of non-verbal communication signs.

Oral communication delivers only half of the message that the people try to get through. The other half of the message is communicated via non-verbal signs. You must learn to perceive both. If someone acts calmly, but painfully squeezes your hand while shaking hands, you might have a reason to doubt such person’s words! The same happens when someone yawns and stretches in a chair while saying how interested he is in your ideas. The more clearly you perceive the facts of the situation, the more clear is your thinking.

18. If you feel pressure, you should stop and think.

Impulsive decisions are often erroneous. You might say that it’s better to make at least some decision than to stagger in doubt, but it is rarely true. Hesitation demonstrates that you have no necessary decision-making skills.Impulsiveness, on the other hand, means that you  soon will be reaping the fruits of a wrong decision!  І

19. Rise above labels and stereotypes.

Labels and stereotypes are the forms of psychological “shorthand writing” that can facilitate thinking and communication. If you need a piece of furniture with four legs, for sitting, it’s easier to ask for a chair and ignore the multiple choices of design and material. But if you search for a job, you must not be satisfied simply with a stereotype description of a certain activity type. You need to know what really means to be a policeman, a neurosurgeon or a financial analyst. Just as well the communication with representatives from different population stratums or cultures may be complicated with stereotypes impeding us from seeing the truth.

20. Avoid negative conversations with yourself.

A great deal of  things that pass through your thinking are your internal dialogues. Such dialogues often take the form of  critical judgments of your own self. And your thinking skills may be destroyed by such internal conversations, repeating negative messages over and over again and increasing the negative self-esteem (“I can do nothing right”, “I’m just not as smart as the others” etc) or attitudes (“I can trust noone” “School is a waste of time” etc). Unless only you can change such negative thinking into a more positive conversation with yourself. The main element of such change is increasing self-esteem. Counselling is of great help for such problems.

21. Search for consistency.

Ralph W.Emerson once wrote:  «A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”. But a reasonable logic consistency, on the other hand,  is the distinctive feature of accurate and comprehensive thinking. Consequence and logic are the criteria that must always be applied, no matter what you contemplate. Inconsistency is often used to hide the truth.

22. Practice compassion.

There is an Indian saying that you must walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before judging someone. Іn other words, you mustn’t judge anyone before you see the whole picture. If you practice such compassion, you’ll decrease the possibility of rash judgments and decisions you’d later regret. You may also discover that a little bit of compassion gives you a deeper understanding of people’s thoughts and actions. The deeper you understand yourself and others, the wiser your decisions become.

23. Take time to check the facts.

If you have no authentic facts your decisions are likely to be flawed. In all essential matters you must try to obtain the information from the fist hands. If you are trying to choose a career and wish to know about the necessary professional skills, you’d better take a professional suitability test than ask your friends about what you can do best. And it’s also better to know the specifics of a certain profession basing on the generally accepted norms and opinions of professionals in the chosen field than on the stereotypes bearing only partial truth. Ask yourself whether the information you have comes from a reliable source, whether you can find another source to confirm such information. If the answers to those questions are positive, you can be more confident in the facts used as the basis for decision-making.

24. Check the context validity of your information.

The information may be reliable, but still invalid. The validity relates to the conformity of information to the context in which it is used. The fact that if you light a match is true, but not under water or in space vacuum! The context matters!

25. Develop your ability to listen.

When it concerns the conversation, we hear only what we listen to. The ability to listen is another skill that we take for granted, but rarely apply it as efficiently as we think. How often in the middle of a conversation you suddenly realized that another person has asked you a question but you didn’t hear it? How often in the classroom you are too preoccupied with your own thoughts that you can’t even hear what the teacher says? This happens to all of us, which gives yet more proof that such seemingly easy skill is hard to develop. The better you can listen, the more accurate information you receive. The more accurate information you have the more reasonable will be the decisions you make.

26. Remember about illogical thinking.

There are whole books on philosophy devoted to logic and the ways of its corruption. Stereotypes are often based on illogical thinking that generally applies specific features without checking it, or assumes the existence of connection between two events that were never connected. The advertisements usually stimulate illogical associations: veal is advertised as “the food for real men” (and what do “non-real” mean eat?). Such statements may seem ridiculous, but someone pays a lot of money for such commercials for a reason!

27. Trust your intuition.

We all have some assumption concerning certain things or phenomena. Such assumptions are often the result of information that remains on sub-conscious level. It’s similar to the situation when you feel someone’s gaze and raise your eyes to find someone watching. There was no reason to suppose that someone is watching you, but you somehow felt it. Intuition cannot substitute logical thinking, but it can be regarded as a valuable assistance. While trying to learn more about your intuition, you may become more sensitive to this type of information. As soon as you learn to trust such information, you will improve your decision-making skills.

Oksana Bukovska, PhD in Pedagogy, Director of CISC_Kyiv


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