5 Steps to Fostering Your Critical Thinking Skills

It’s easy common to assume you just don’t like critical thinking; spending time figuring out a problem or exploring a topic in a new way can be intimidating. You might be interested to find that this is actually an acquired skill. For those that don’t have natural critical thinking tendencies, you can foster this ability through practice.

BlogEducation5 Steps to Fostering Your Critical Thinking Skills

It’s easy common to assume you just don’t like critical thinking; spending time figuring out a problem or exploring a topic in a new way can be intimidating. You might be interested to find that this is actually an acquired skill. For those that don’t have natural critical thinking tendencies, you can foster this ability through practice. 

The dictionary defines critical thinking as “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.” Utilizing this skill in every day life increases the likelihood of success when it comes to faces challenges. Watch your levels of frustration, confusion, and defeat subside as you implement these five benefits of critical thinking and the five simple steps to foster your critical thinking skills.

1. Free Yourself From Negative Thinking – Ask Questions 

It’s completely normal to get caught in a loop of negative thinking. We can find ourselves ruminating on the past or worrying about the future, never truly enjoying the present moment. These thought patterns can serve us in some respects. Reflecting on the past allows you to understand where you might have gone wrong or better analyze the trajectory of your life. Thinking about the future helps us plan for what’s next and make goals to strive for. However, too much of anything isn’t good, and this definitely applies to an overload of negative thinking.

Many studies have explored the impact of negative thinking on the brain and the effects were clear. Chronic negative thinking can diminish your memory and overall cognitive function. Not only does this habit increase your chances of being a state of depression or anxiety, but it actually takes away your ability to think clearly. A lot of people who experience chronic negative thinking tend to feed themselves the same falsehoods and denials over and over again. Fortunately, there is a way to break the cycle and enter a new mindset simply by using critical thinking skills.

One way to do this is to ask yourself real, objective questions. Avoid inquiries that can be answered with just “yes” or “no” and try to dive deeper into the thought. Why am I telling myself this? Has this idea been factually proven to me? What would a friend say if I presented them with this same situation? Is there evidence that suggests this thought is untrue? Pretend you are a researcher observing your own thoughts, dissecting them from a purely scientific lens. You’d leave out personal quirks and knowledge and look at the thinking patterns as a third party. This technique will likely show you that many of these negative thoughts are incredibly untrue and do not serve you or your happiness. Critical thinking requires us to constantly ask thought-provoking questions that help us arrive at a new set of ideas.

2. Learn Better Communication Skills – Put Empathy First

Humans communicate with one another for a variety of reasons, it’s the way we connect to others and understand the world around us. Unfortunately, we don’t always come equipped with the best communication skills, and this can pose serious problems for us in our day-to-day lives. Learning how to effectively articulate your thoughts, emotions, and beliefs is essential to function at your highest level. Many people aren’t taught these skills early on in life, and don’t even find out there is an issue until well into their adulthood. Communication is imperative for every role we play in life; relationships with your partner, boss, coworkers, friends, and family are all dependent on clear, honest expression.

One way to develop your communication skills is to employ critical thinking in your daily interactions. Try your best to understand each party’s point of view and what there intentions may be. People’s past experiences and their own set of beliefs influence the way they express themselves. You’ll be better able to get to the heart of a message if you can think of a conversation from another perspective. 

Empathizing with others is another way to exercise this skill. Truly imagining an experience from where another human being is at can completely change the way we communicate with others. Even if you cannot necessarily relate, or don’t have personal ties to a situation, you still have the opportunity to use empathy. Critical thinking allows us to be as open-minded as possible, therefore paving the way for more solutions to any given problem. Misunderstandings can be minimalized and the tendency to take things personally will be lessened.

3. Have Well-Informed Opinions and Beliefs – Gather Outside Information

Confirmation bias is the “the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one's existing beliefs or theories.” This happens every day and probably many times without you even noticing. People who are engaging in confirmation bias either consciously or subconsciously seek out information that will support an already existing opinion. This can be dangerous as it closes our minds off to important truths and fuels disagreements that could easily be settled. If you’re the type of person to be steadfast in your beliefs, and are compelled to state your opinion, it’s in your best interest to put critical thinking in the center of your mind.

Gathering outside information about a particular subject gives us several different takes that we may have never considered. Even if you don’t agree with a certain publication, a specific journalist, or a select few media channels—hearing what is being said will only benefit you in the end. It’s hard to talk about something when you only know one side of the story. This is one way “fake news” and misinformation is spread to the masses. In order to be well-informed, we must be willing to do the work. Critical thinking gives you the power to make your own decisions after you have every piece of evidence available. You might find that your opinions or beliefs don’t change at all, but oftentimes we stumble across information that causes us to pause and rethink our position. Unlearning seems counterintuitive, but it actually is a process that can open your mind to new ideas and exciting ways of thinking. Free up space in your brain that can be used more effectively and employ critical thinking when it comes to your opinions and beliefs. Look for sources that are typically the opposite of what you’d subscribe to or read. Ask people with opposing viewpoints why they believe what they believe. If anything, you’ll have an interesting conversation and get a better look at things on the other side of the fence.  

4. Be More Successful in All Areas of Life – Explore Outcomes and Make Decisions

Being indecisive isn’t just annoying, it holds you back in life. We waste so much time pondering what could be that we don’t ever take action and find out for ourselves. Many people also just avoid thinking about uncomfortable decisions they will one day have to make, and when the time comes they freeze. Using critical thinking when you’re making decisions can alleviate the extra stress humans unnecessarily conjure up. Break down the problem or end-goal, explore all possible outcomes, and then make the best decision with what’s at your disposal. Looking at this process strategically will not only make you happier, but it will increase your success in life.

Sure, it can be fun to be spontaneous and make a split-second decision once in awhile, but more times than not that can lead to a bigger mess than you began with. When it comes to big life decisions like where to live, who to marry, what job to get… you need to evaluate your choices from every angle. Let’s take location for an example. If you’re thinking about making a move, think critically about the how and why. What do the logistics look like? Where would you work? Would you rent or own? What’s your budget like. Take a realistic look at these questions and begin narrowing down your options. Are you moving to start over? Are you relocating to find a better fit? Is a change going to help you find happiness in life? 

Get everything out of your mind and organize your answers. These critical thinking exercises will help you make a well-informed decision that you will be comfortable with. It’s better to take some time and then decide than to backtrack after you’ve made up your mind. Thinking critically serves as a cushion for challenging choices in life.

5. Understand Yourself Better – Journal Your Thoughts

No matter how much you practice, critical thinking doesn’t always come easily. Sometimes it’s better to start within and really explore yourself before you try to exercise this practice. When we have self-awareness and an idea of how we operate, it’s easier for us to predict how we will react in certain situations, what things are triggering our behaviors, and what next steps might be to begin healing.

If you aren’t interested in getting too deep or introspective, plenty of medical professionals have reported there’s plain relief in the process of journaling. Many of us have experienced what it’s like to be under an unrelenting amount of stress, and the act of putting pen to paper can be like “releasing a pressure valve.” One study that followed a group of participants who were beginning journaling found that 85% of them found the exercise helpful even a year later. 

The absolute best part of journaling is there is no right or wrong way to incorporate the practice into your life. There are tons of resources that can help you look at the new habit from a different lens, and countless prompts to assist you in getting your creative juices flowing. Give yourself the freedom to express yourself in a way that feels good to you. Remove any expectations and pressure and start to allow yourself to get into a flow. Critical thinking can stem from this creativity and you might find yourself changing your thought pattern without even noticing. Every day will look different and each entry will open your eyes to new ideas.

Critical Thinking is Key

Learning something new is always intimidating; we tend to believe that hard work equals endless stress. While critical thinking skills may come easier to some than others, it is evident that once you have them life itself will be much simpler. Having the innate ability to help yourself just by utilizing your own brain can give you an entirely new lease on life. Critical thinking will allow you to: to talk yourself out of a negative head space, to communicate effectively with others, to have well-informed beliefs, to make sound decisions, and to develop yourself emotionally.

These gifts don’t only help you in your personal life, but they offer value to you as a professional. You’ll find yourself easily navigating conflicts at work and setting clear goals to go after what you want. Essentially, we stay stuck when we don’t challenge our thought processes or behaviors. Though we’re aging and going through the motions of life, without critical thinking we may be robbing ourselves of everything the world has to offer. If you need further guidance on the subject, check out some local classes at a community college near you or search for a master class online. Everyone wants to master the art of critical thinking, so you’ll be sure to find endless connections to help you on your journey.