How To Be A Critical Thinker

This article is apart of a series on Essential Skills: How To Learn.

Click here for Part 1: Study Strategies

Click here for Part 2: How To Research

You can be anything you want to be within your physical limitations if you can plan, research, study, think critically, and be information literate. Most of everything you’ll ever need to know is written down somewhere.

People are not always truthful. In the information age, the spread of fake news has become popular. Manipulative messages have always been apart of our society through marketing and advertising. Whether through politics, courts, medicine, business, or school – people want something from us.

Thinking critically is thinking clearly, rationally, and independently. Thinking independently means that all of the work of verifying the truth of something comes from within yourself instead of relying on the superficial words of others.

When thinking critically, it’s important to think objectively and not emotionally. Most people that want to change our beliefs or manipulate us into doing something purposefully try to elicit an emotional reaction from us, and it works. When the truth takes too much time or energy to verify for ourselves, we stick with the choice that is supported by our emotional response. Being objective can protect us from people who want us to change for their own advantage.

Thinking critically is an active approach to learning. We can make a plan for the kinds of information we allow into our minds and near our thoughts. This is much better than passively allowing information to change what we believe.

Critical thinkers are always determining whether ideas represent the whole picture and are open to the possibility that they don’t. They solve problems with systems instead of with intuition or instinct, as heuristics and assumptions can lead us to the wrong answers.

Critical thinkers strengthen themselves by learning to be okay with discomfort of confronting their weaknesses and limited willpower when it comes to their personal biases and logical fallacies. Most biases and fallacies have a name and learning what they are can help you become a better thinker. There are 24 logical fallacies and 24 biases. A good first step could be to memorize them and apply them soon after learning them.

“Think of your ideas and beliefs as software you’re actively trying to find problems with rather than things to be defended.” – yourbias.is

Let go of what you want to believe emotionally and objectively embrace facts and information that is available. 

Using Occam’s Razor, which states that the simplest solution is usually the correct one, can prove to be very effective until logic and experience prove you wrong.

We can plan ahead of people that will try to manipulate us, as people who try to manipulate our beliefs and actions always come from the same circles of society. How can you plan ahead for someone that is going to lie to you? People who lie to us usually want something. If you can be aware of these kinds of manipulations and expect them to come from areas of politics, academia, medicine, financial organizations and so on, you can put yourself ahead of the information that you’ll receive.

What kinds of information from these areas of society have access to you? Through what media are they sending you their messages and what questions can you ask that can slow your emotional response long enough for your critical thinking to evaluate the truth of what they say? Establishing your own code of ethics can help in eliminating the need to treat certain sources with any careful regard, if you know they just want something from you. (Kind of like unsubscribing from annoying promotional emails for a product you’re never going to use again.)

When someone lies to you, they usually want something from you like your vote, your money, or your time. More broadly, they you want you to believe something or to do something.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to problem-solving. People have solved many problems long before we came along, and the solutions are written down – do a little research. We often think with heuristics and emotion, but critical thinking can give us better results if we take the time to use it. Like anything, critical thinking takes practice and can get faster the more you do it.

The answers to most meaningful questions are not immediate or straightforward. But it does not suffice to be content with knowing the answers. We should be comfortable with asking questions and seeking the inexact answers.

We should also try not to criticize other people, as they are just like us in many more ways than we care to think about. Other people only have as much energy as we do to filter out lies and verify all of the information that enters their minds. Instead, we should criticize ideas and beliefs – this is how we find better ones.

Critical thinking can be made a lot easier if we first identify what information is worth verifying – like the health of our diets, the efficacy of our medicine, the relevancy of our education, and the truthfulness of our representatives, to name a few.

Critical thinking is not possible all of the time, and that’s okay. Our brains are not designed to think critically all of the time. What matters is that we practice it and become aware of the errors in critical reasoning. If we can notice our faults, we can improve.

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