We live in a world full of information. Every day we are showered with hundreds of messages and ideas about a variety of issues, coming from our computers, our TVs, our phones, street advertising, or the people we talk to.
Unfortunately, many of these messages are not exactly accurate, and buying into them can be highly detrimental to us. This is where critical thinking skills come in, as a set of skills that enables us to correctly and logically asses the ideas we are exposed to, develop our own opinions and make decisions.
Not only that critical thinking skills help us possess accurate ideas, but by doing so, they also permit us to develop powerful arguments and counterarguments in our discussions with others, thus making us much more persuasive. They’re both a mental and a communication asset.
I’ve started working on developing my own critical thinking skills more than 15 years ago, back in high-school, when I joined my school’s debate club. Later I began training others in debate and critical thinking, and still later I added critical thinking enhancement as part of my communication coaching services.
Drawing from these experiences, I wanna share with you 3 powerful strategies to improve your critical thinking skills, make better decisions and be more persuasive. Here they are:
1. Question Conventional Assumptions More Often
Our minds are highly predisposed to just absorb the ideas they get exposed to, without judging their truthfulness first. Especially ideas we hear a lot. They are, in a way, like sponges for any type of information. And while this has benefits, it also goes often against critical thinking.
So a very effective way to improve your critical thinking skills is to put some effort every day into deliberately stopping when you hear or read and idea, and asking yourself (and, if suitable, your interlocutor too): “What’s the evidence that this idea is true?” In other words, you don’t just accept the idea as true, you ask for reasons to accept it.
If convincing evidence is presented, you accept the idea and move on. If not, it’s worth maintaining some doubt towards that idea.
As you practice this, your minds gradually gets used to it and it becomes a habit. You build into your thinking a natural tendency to regularly question ideas, a healthy dose of skepticism.
2. Gain a Good Understanding of Logical Biases
Logical biases are tendencies to misjudge information, reason incorrectly, and reach false conclusions.
For instance, overgeneralization is a common logical bias, which consists in the tendency to jump too quickly to a general conclusion from a small number of sample cases. For example, you meet two lawyers who are arrogant, and you conclude that all lawyers are arrogant.
Although we like to think of ourselves as rational people, the truth is that all of us frequently fall prey to biases. However, by learning about the kind of logical biases that exist and working to identify them in our own thinking, as well as in the thinking of others, we get better at spotting them, and we increase our critical thinking abilities.
There is lots of information online about logical biases. I also talk about them often in my free newsletter, which I suggest you join. The better you understand biases, the easier it is to spot them and protect yourself from them.
3. Learn About Topics from Multiple Perspectives
When we learn about a topic, it’s common to learn about it from only one source, which has a particular view on that topic, although many other views exist, some of which are at least as credible, if not more.
The problem is that if you only know one theory about something, in the absence of alternative theories, it will often seem believable even if it’s severely flawed. Knowledge-deficient minds are often credulous minds.
This is why it’s good to learn various theories about any topic and acquaint yourself with an array of perspectives on it. It makes you wiser and it trains your critical thinking skills.
For example, if you live in a very religious Christian environment and you learn that we are the descendants of Adam and Eve, that explanation sort of makes sense if you don’t know any other explanation. But if you also learn about the theory of evolution by natural selection and the evidence to support it, you have a competing explanation that’s likely to make you question the previous one.
This in itself is an invitation to research some more and think some more about this issue, which develops both your knowledge and your critical thinking on the issue. It can be frustrating to come to doubt an idea you’re used to holding, but it pays off in the end.
As you practice questioning conventional assumptions, you gain a good understanding of logical biases and you learn about topics from multiple perspectives, the entire way you see things changes. It’s like you’ve been looking at the world through a dirty window until then, and now the window gets cleaned and the image becomes much clearer.
With strong critical thinking skills, you are apt to distinguish good ideas from bad ones, make wise choice in life, communicate in a persuasive manner and have a real impact on the world.
For more advice from me on how to improve your critical thinking skills, as well as your communication skills, I encourage you to get onboard my free social success newsletter. The content I publish in it is always top-notch.