Lots of people throw around the term “critical thinking”, but seem to use it in different ways. Does it mean you think negatively about everything, that you’re overly critical? Or maybe it means you’re really into logic and puzzles?
We all know we think (at least I hope we do). But the difference between thinking and critical thinking is that while we think every day, critical thinking is a deliberate mental exercise. It is the ability to analyse and think objectively about the world around us, by using logic and other skills.
Critical thinking is essential to almost every subject you will study in secondary school and beyond, being useful in your university as well as during your career. The skills that you pick up, to analyse something objectively, to use logic for problem solving, to engage with issues in a deeper way, will come in handy in ways that maybe specific subjects like maths or English literature never might.
But how do we actually starting thinking critically? Luckily, anyone can do it, at any time, and with any subject you come across. Here are some tips to get you started.
One of the key traits is curiosity; you have to want to know more about stuff around you. That might be the key motivator that gets you thinking deeper about certain things. Curiosity will take you from, “oh, why is it like that?” to “I want to find out more”, which is when you start treating it seriously.
Think things through
Speed is not necessary; the point is thoroughness in thinking through an issue. Critical thinking isn’t about how fast you can process information, or how accurate it is; it is more about how much you have thought about an issue, and how many sides of the issue you have considered.
Keep strict standards
Another essential virtue is rigour; the entire argument and all of the evidence have to be consistent with each other. When we think critically, we have to accept the conclusion, even if that goes against what we had originally believed. That also means we should treat pieces of evidence equally and fairly, no matter whether we agree or disagree.
Use common sense
The fourth trait, discernment, is also useful. This means that you are able to use your thinking and experience to tell the difference between bad facts and good facts. Does it seem reasonable to assert something? Sometimes, the thing that seems odd about an argument doesn’t come from facts or knowledge, but rather plain, old-fashioned common sense.
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Last, but not least, is observation; it is a combination of everything else on the list. If you aren’t curious about the world, don’t notice you’ve missed some important points, won’t see whether your thinking is balanced or fair, and can’t use common sense to follow the facts, then you aren’t observing, and thinking critically.
But, if you are trying to improve your critical thinking skills, there is no better place to start that with the traits above. Though it isn’t an exhaustive list, this, along with the right focus, might just be your first step towards thinking critically.