Critical Thinking in Everyday Life: 9 Strategies
I recently have to participate in a number of psychometric tests and one of them was on critical thinking in which I scored average. It is a subject I never approach before and I was astounded when I met the evaluator who told me that the majority of society actually rate average in this area. There are a number of reasons for this, our education system, society, human laziness etc. So I decided to start researching critical thinking and it has been like a voyage of discovery for me.
So what is critical thinking?
There are many definitions and I would recommend you Google the following site http://www.criticalthinking.org for more in-depth information but it is self-guided, self-discipline thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way.
Critical thinking is a complex subject and one I will not be able to do justice on my blog so my goal is to just make people aware of it, plant a seed so to speak.
In my research I have come across 9 strategies to assist you in developing critical thinking for your own personal development:-
• Use wasted time
• A problem a day
• Internalise Intellectual Standards
• Keep an intellectual journal
• Reshape your character
• Deal with your egocentrism
• Redefine the way you see things
• Get in touch with your emotions
• Analyse group influences on your life
1. Use ‘wasted’ time
We all waste time, e.g. becoming irritable when stuck in traffic by beeping your horn or cursing. This is not going to change the situation only increase negativity which you could have easily avoided if you left half an hour earlier.
The key is that the time is “gone” even though, if we had thought about it and considered our options, we would never have deliberately spent our time in the way we did.
2. A problem a day
At the beginning of each day (perhaps driving to work) choose a problem to work or when you have a free moment. Figure out what exactly the problem is, its key elements etc., but the most important think to figure out is whether you have control or no control over this problem. Then set aside the ones you don’t and concentrate on resolving the problem you do have control over. What action you need to take, evaluate your options and make a decision.
Remember the nursery rhyme:
“For every problem under the sun, there is a solution or there is none. If there be one, think till you find it. If there be none, then never mind it.”
3. Internalise Intellectual Standards
Sounds heavy but basically it involves each week or month developing a heightened awareness of one of the universal intellectual standards (clarity, precision, accuracy, relevance, depth, breadth, significance).
For example, if you decide to focus on clarity for this week, try to notice when you are being unclear in communicating with others and also when others are unclear in what they are saying to you.
When you are reading, notice whether you are clear about what you are reading. When you orally express or write out your views, ask yourself whether you are clear about what you are trying to say.
4. Keep an intellectual journal
Again this is simply interpreted as keeping journal entries of your emotional responses at work. E.g. If a situation happened at work which is emotionally significant to you, describe it, your response, analyse it, dig deep and acknowledge what you learnt about yourself. This will be helpful if a similar situation was to arise again and you wanted to deal with it differently.
5. Reshape your character
Choose one intellectual trait to strive for each month, whether its empathy, courage, or humility. Focus on how you are going to develop this trait in yourself. E.g. for humility it could mean noticing when you don’t admit you are wrong, when you become defensive because someone disagrees with you or points out a deficiency in your idea. Because intellectual arrogance is what keeps you from learning so by owning it you can begin to deal with it.
Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. Leo Tolstoy
6. Deal with your egocentrism
Egocentric thinking is part of our nature, we automatically are bias towards ourselves. So you should daily try to ask yourself questions like ‘do I try to impose my will on others? Do I ever fail to speak my mind when I feel strongly about something and then later feel resentment?
7. Redefine the way you see things
We live in a world, both personal and social, in which every situation is “defined,” that is, given a meaning. How a situation is defined determines not only how you feel about it, but also how you will act. However, virtually every situation can be defined in more than one way.
This fact carries with it tremendous opportunities. In principle, it lies within your power and mind to make your life more happy and fulfilling. Many of the negative definitions that we give to situations in our lives could be transformed into positive ones.
We can be fulfilled when otherwise we would have been frustrated. In this strategy, you practice redefining the way you see things, turning negatives into positives, dead-ends into new beginnings, mistakes into opportunities to learn.
8. Getting in touch with your emotions
Whenever you feel some negative emotion, systematically ask yourself: What, exactly, is the thinking leading to this emotion? For example, if you are angry, ask yourself, what is the thinking that is making me angry? What other ways could I think about this situation? For example, can you think about the situation so as to see the humour in it and what is pitiable in it? If you can, concentrate on that thinking and your emotions will (eventually) shift to match it.
9. Analyse group influences on your life
Closely analyse the behaviour that is encouraged, and discouraged, in the groups to which you belong. For any given group, what are you “required” to believe? What are you “forbidden” to do? Every group enforces some level of conformity. Most people live much too much within the view of themselves projected by others. Discover what pressure you are bowing to and think explicitly about whether or not to reject that pressure.
So if you take anything from my research is that we should all strive to become better thinkers, to not always take things/data at face value, question, ask why, try to look at situations in a different way. It is in a way a form of emancipation…. A word you rarely hear today.
We are human and prone to human irrationalities but even recognising that is the first step to becoming a critical thinker
I will leave you with a quote from Socrates…: The unexamined life is not worth living ,