How to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills

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.

Positive Thinking Won’t Help You Now

I’m not a big fan of positive thinking as a tool for self-help. I believe that used in the wrong place, at the wrong time, it can be just as dangerous as negative thinking. I’m rather a fan of what you might call strategic thinking in personal development: focusing on the positive or the negative, depending on what serves you best in the given context.

From my perspective, challenging economic times like the ones most of us are living right now, are just some of those contexts in which seeking help in positive thinking can cause some serious trouble.

In the past months, I have seen people loose a tone of money and bankrupt businesses by looking on the bright side and thinking positively. It can be quite shocking to see such a popular personal development tool have such negative consequences instead of providing the promised help.

Why do things like these happen? Because positive thinking means focusing on the good things and always expecting excellent results. In the face of big challenges, this is the equivalent of ignoring important parts of reality. It’s like blinding yourself while speed driving on a mountain road, during a storm, in a convertible. Why the hell would you wanna do that?

For the people I’m talking about here, positive thinking meant they ignored that the status quo has changed and doing what they did before will no longer get them the same results, or the same results where sometimes no longer possible. They blinded themselves to the fact they needed to adapt in a dramatic way. One man for instance, while being in a plummeting industry, convinced himself he can have the same sales numbers he had last year, if he just… tried harder. He called this “being positive”.

You cannot deny important facts and expect good results. Like it or not, we are in a global economic crisis, people have less money, they are spending less and there is more competition between businesses. No matter how good you are at what you do, this will have consequences over you.

Positive thinking is not a panacea, even if some trainers, coaches, speakers or authors promote it in this manner. It will not help you solve all of your problems and get everything you want, doing what you want, all the time. Being positive is a way of thinking which only has power to help you if you use it the right way.

There is a way of using positive thinking that can help you in challenging times. But it does not involve day-dreaming. It involves these two things:

  1. Realizing that even if some negative things may happen, even if you may not get your way now, it’s not a tragedy.
  2. Realizing that times change and in the long run, you will get your way and you can achieve your bold objectives.

That’s it. It’s strategic, realistic positive thinking. A more effective self improvement tool, that can help you handle the challenges of life both practically and emotionally.