Have you ever wondered why professors insist on students not learning the materials word for word? This may be confusing since after all, students are required to learn what is given to them. However, a professor expects you to evaluate and understand the information, not place them in your short-term memory and forget everything after the exam passes.
The same rule applies to our everyday lives – critical thinking is essential for analyzing ideas and reaching our potential. The only difference lies in the fact that, when we are done learning for exams, we need these skills to solve difficult matters where the word-for-word principle cannot help. At this point, you can no longer rely on your short-term memory.
Knowing this, what can you do to boost your critical thinking and develop these skills further? Here are the nine steps necessary to achieve this:
1. Start Simple
More often than not, we are experiencing troubles with our decisions because we assume everything is more complex than it is. To avoid this from happening, start simple. What is the most obvious solution to your problem or answer to your question?
Here are some of the questions you should ask yourself when first faced with the challenge of thinking critically:
- What information do I have at this point?
- How did I get this information?
- What am I trying to achieve? What are my goals?
- What am I overlooking or forgetting?
If you find the simple solution to be a bad or insufficient for the situation, you can continue with the further step.
2. Question All Your Assumptions
One of the most common reasons for error in every person’s life is focusing on our assumptions. This is normal, since the brain processes every bit of information by making some picture and assumption about it. Knowing this, assumptions are the basis of critical thinking.
So, why do we say these lead to most mistakes?
Our initial assumption may be wrong, either fully or partially. Without questioning it, we are letting our critical thinking roam in the wrong direction.
The other situation is when our assumptions are correct, but a completely different answer or solution is better. This means that you can never be certain unless you question everything.
Starting from the case of Einstein who questioned the Newtonian laws, to Yitang Zhang who benefited from his assumption questioning, you have many examples to base your critical thinking on. If you do not test these, you are much more likely to fail.
3. Evaluate the Evidence You Have
To get some guidance in your problem-solving adventures, it is always helpful to check other work done in the same area you are researching. In most cases, someone has already laid the groundwork for your problem, so why not use this in your advantage?
Let’s assume you already have others’ work and information about your problem. At this point, it is highly important to be critical in evaluating such information, so that you avoid taking the wrong conclusion from the right source.
Make sure you have all the information about the research on hand. Who did that and when? Why did they decide to take the steps they took?
4. Be More Aware
Our mental process is amazing, but the speed of making decisions can be detrimental to our critical thinking. And while this system is perfect for emergencies and activities like fighting off a raging animal or running away from fire, it can be really bad for the serious problems that require critical thinking.
If you want to be a good critical thinker, you need to become more aware of your cognitive biases.
5. Think for Yourself
When you rely on others’ opinions and research too much, you are getting bogged down and forgetting to think for yourself. In most cases in your life, this is the key to good decisions.
This does not mean that you should be overconfident. Critical thinking requires different perspectives, which is why we said you should reevaluate your assumptions in the first place. However, if you want to make a decision that is good for you, you need to start thinking for yourself.
6. Think Ahead
Don’t just think about tomorrow or the day after. Your life should be focused on the present, but you should definitely not forget about the future. Therefore, make sure you have both long- and short-term plans. Moreover, the short-term plans should match with the long-term plan as your final goal.
By doing this, you are able to imagine the majority of problems you can encounter along the way. Of course, this does not guarantee that you will succeed or make the best decision there is, but it gets you prepared for what is about to come.
Take for example, Jeff Bezos. The CEO of Amazon did exactly this – thought several steps ahead and made a seven-year plan instead of a three-year plan. Back in 2011, he said: ‘: “If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that”.
7. Read Helpful Books
Many people say they transformed by reading a single book. Which one will do this for you?
Read a lot, and then read some more. Learning from people who have been through what you are going through can give you an insight and idea for the best solution.
8. Work on Improving Your Brain Function
The brain is like your body muscles – it craves some exercise. The more you work on its improvement, the better it will function.
Thirty minutes per day can turn your brain into a more powerful tool for critical thinking. If you are wondering how to make this happen, consider the following ideas:
- Solve a theoretical problem every day. Practice on math games to improve your critical thinking.
- Eat healthy and drink a lot of water
- Exercise every day
9. Don’t Fear Failure
We all fail, but this is not a reason to give up. If you did everything right and still failed, look for a better way to achieve your goals. There is always a better solution to a question you didn’t find the answer to.
Failure is what makes successful people what they are. If you do not fail, you cannot learn.
If you are struggling with choosing the right answer or making a final decision, these are the top 9 tips you should follow.