When was the last time you considered your decision making process? Do you take the time to weigh your options and consider all the possible outcomes? Or, do you make rash decisions based only on the previous knowledge, information, and experience you have? How many times in your work life, or life in general, have you rushed to judgment or made an important decision too quickly only to later regret your choice? These kinds of hasty decisions or judgments can lead to costly mistakes. Some quick decisions turn out okay, but that doesn’t make them the best choice. Sometimes, if you’d taken the time to weigh all the possible factors, choices, and outcomes, you might’ve ended up with even better results.
What Is Critical Thinking?
So how do you avoid this fate? It all comes down to your ability to think critically. And no, that doesn’t mean being adept at point out others’ faults and mistakes. Critical thinking has nothing to do with criticizing either. So this isn’t about rating the latest blockbuster movie or new fancy restaurant. Critical thinking is something entirely different.
There are numerous definitions of critical thinking. According to People Matters, critical thinking is “the ability to make decisions and solve problems based on logical reasoning and evidence while leaving out emotions to enable evaluation and improvement of one’s own thought process.” In its simplest terms, critical thinking boils down to making judgments based on reason that are both well thought out and logical. So, instead getting all riled up when faced with a big decision, you put the brakes on. You scan the horizon and then, only after making a calculated, informed decision, do you hit the accelerator.
SkillsYouNeed.com defines critical thinking this way: “A way of thinking about particular things at a particular time; it is not the accumulation of facts and knowledge or something that you can learn once and then use in that form forever…”
When you use critical thinking, you don’t automatically accept all possible outcomes and arguments. Instead you’re more likely to question all the possible outcomes and arguments. You want to explore things on a deeper level and see evidence of the possible solutions and outcomes. Critical thinkers have the ability to leave their emotions out of the equation. As the saying goes, they don’t get their panties in a bunch. They consider other people’s experiences and opinions and they recognize and question all possible conclusions before making a decision. They don’t have to be right. They accept other options that might not agree with their own preconceived ideas.
Why is Critical Thinking Important?
When you consider the pace at which information is dispensed and received in our society, it becomes clear why being able to think critically is so important. People today must adapt so quickly to massive amounts of new ideas and information. We all have to be able to decipher fact from fiction. We can do this by asking questions. We must ask who, what, why, and how in order to sift through all the information. Then we can develop well thought out, informed, and intelligent judgments and conclusions. This will lead to making sound decisions that lead to the greatest success.
The Benefits of Critical Thinking
In addition to being able to make good decisions that lead to success, critical thinking has several other benefits. For starters, according to Filtered, one of the top benefits of critical thinking is learning how to approach problems in different ways, instead of relying on a single approach. Critical thinking offers numerous other benefits.
- It also helps you save time by teaching you how to filter and prioritize only essential information.
- You’ll also develop a better appreciation for others’ views and ideas, which will help you develop more empathy.
- Critical thinking also helps improve communication with others, both as a listener and as a speaker.
- Your decision-making ability will also improve. You’ll learn to leave the guesswork out because you’ll understand the whole picture, which leads to the best choices.
- Your reasoning skills will improve and you’ll understand and know how to use both types of reasoning: deductive and inductive. You’ll also know when the situation calls for one or the other. This ability will help you solve problems more effectively and achieve the best results.
How to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills
Unfortunately, many people don’t use critical thinking skills when they make important decisions. And even the best critical thinkers don’t always think critically. No one is perfect. The good news is anyone can learn to think critically and continually improve his or her skills. It takes practice, but you can do it if you set your mind to it. According to an article on Success.com, there are five key steps to develop and improve your critical thinking skills. They are:
1. Become a Self-Critic – you must learn how to be critical of your own thoughts, experiences, and actions. You can’t assume you’re always right. You have to be humble and willing to accept that someone else might have a better idea or solution.
2. Be an Active Listener – you can’t think and listen at the same time. Instead of trying to formulate a response to someone you need to actually listen to what that person is saying when he or she speaks. So listen carefully and then repeat what you think they’ve said, to be sure you understand. Then you can start to form ideas and ask additional questions.
3. Learn to Analyze – we’re all human and we all have emotions. In some cases, it’s impossible to act rationally or analytically. Our feelings can be so powerful that we act before we think. But if we want to improve our critical thinking skills, we must learn to analyze information before we act. The best way to do this is by asking ourselves questions in order to truly understand what’s being said.
4. Avoid Arguing or Negative Communication – there is no room for heated arguments, or negative or violent communication in critical thinking. You must be able to recognize valid reasoning when you hear it and accept other people’s ideas and opinions. You must employ empathy and compassion in order to communicate in a productive way.
5. Ability to See Ahead – being able to see into the future, so-to-speak, plays a huge role in critical thinking. In other words, you need to have foresight so you can accurately predict future outcomes. No one can actually predict the future with 100 percent accuracy. But you can carefully consider the possible impact of your choices before you make them.
Ask a lot of Questions
The bottom line is if you want to improve your critical thinking skills it starts by simply asking questions. For example, when someone tells you something, before you rush to judgment or try to formulate a response or argument, stop and ask yourself these questions, first:
- Who said it?
- What exactly did that person say?
- When did they say it?
- In what setting did they say it?
- Why did they say what they said?
- How did they say it?
These simple questions, or similar questions, will play a major role in helping you think critically and in making the best decisions possible. And yes, they could even help you rate that new movie or restaurant, too. But that’s beside the point.
Critical thinking Breeds Success
The ability to think critically doesn’t come naturally for most people. It takes time and effort to think this way. But, being able to think critically plays a huge role in how successful you are in life. Without it, you could be missing out on some of the greatest achievements possible. On the other hand, by thinking critically you can achieve the best outcomes and the greatest successes, at work, and in life. So, the next time you’re faced with a tough decision, remember to hit the brakes a little. Take a holistic look at the situation and then, when you determine the best option, hit the gas and go full steam ahead.