Critical Thinking Skills

Of one thing we can be sure: The quality of our life will be determine by the quality of our thinking.Edward de Bono

The Keys to Becoming a Critical Thinker

Each of us tends to perceive and understand the problems, events and circumstances of our lives somewhat differently. In fact we believe that our understanding of reality is built upon the foundations of our perceptions. This is however only one half of the picture.

Our perception of reality is actually built upon the foundations of our filtering mechanisms, which tend to interpret how we perceive the problems, events and circumstances of our lives as a result of the thoughts, beliefs, habitual behaviors and emotions we tend to cultivate on a daily basis.

Becoming an outstanding critical thinker has more to do with a state-of-mind rather than a specific set of tools, techniques or strategies you have at your disposal. It is this state-of-mind that will help you to overcome the obstacles and challenges you face on a daily basis. Moreover, it is exactly this state-of-mind that will help you pierce through the veil of filters coloring your understanding of reality. As a result you will be better prepared to deal with the problems, challenges and obstacles that are impeding your progress as you make you way towards the attainment of your goals and objectives.

Our discussion today will delve into the mind of an outstanding critical thinker. We will first break down the essential qualities of critical thinking, after which we will delve into the critical thinking process and analyze the different types of perspectives that critical thinkers adopt into their everyday thinking routine. And finally we will explore a variety of questions that are essential to a critical thinker’s habitual thought process as they work their way through a problem.

This article post is part of the Effective Thinking series of IQ Matrix maps that are designed to help you successfully deal with the problems and challenges confronting your reality. Topics within this series include:

• Part 1: Strategic Questions
• Part 2: Creative Thinking
• Part 3: Problem Solving
• Part 4: Critical Thinking
• Part 5: Six Thinking Hats


A Critical Thinker’s Indispensable Traits

Becoming an outstanding critical thinker requires the cultivation of a number of key traits and qualities that will help instill a specific set of habitual thoughts and patterns of behavior that are essential when working through life’s daily problems.

Definition of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is the process of critically judging the validity of information while using a specific set of criteria that help you to better understand your outcomes, thereby enabling you to make better and more educated decisions about the problems confronting your reality.

The better critical thinker you become, the more effective your decisions will become, and the more likely you are to achieve your goals and objectives.

Advantages of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is an essential habitual thought process that is imperative to cultivate and grow on a daily basis. Without it we will struggle to make sense of reality. However, with it we will open new doors of understanding about the events and circumstances of our lives.

Here is a break down of the advantages of critical thought:

Expands Perspective and Possibilities

Critical thinking allows us to see things from unique perspectives that under normal circumstances we might not have been aware of.

By learning to ask the right kinds of questions in order to break down each angle and avenue for new answers, we expand the possibilities of the reality we find ourselves in. With this unique outlook we are better able to reach new solutions and find the answers that will help us to overcome our problems and challenges.

Identifies Hidden Facts and Assumptions

Many events and circumstances are riddled with hidden facts that we do not recognize and therefore we tend to make assumptions and uneducated guesses.

By learning to ask the right kinds of critical questions, you will unveil that which is hidden from view. You will therefore have a greater array of information to work with in order to reach effective conclusions about the circumstances confronting your reality.

Builds Confidence, Knowledge and Understanding

Asking the right kinds of critical questions helps us to gain new knowledge, perspective and understanding about the state of our current life circumstances. As a result of acquiring this knowledge, we gain the confidence we need to overcome the obstacles standing in our way.

Helps with Problem Solving and Creativity

Effective critical thinking goes hand-in-hand with problem solving and creativity.

When you think critically about a problem, you essentially open the floodgates to new insights, encouraging deeper and more creative thought about your circumstances and predicament.

Each of these three methods will help you gain perspective about your life, and will thusly lead you to the answers you have been searching for.

The Mindset of a Critical Thinker

An outstanding critical thinker’s mindset may seem complex at first, and somewhat difficult to understand. Yet, their habitual thought process is built upon simple patterns of thinking that piece information together from a detached and unemotional perspective.

An outstanding critical thinker sees everything as part of an all encompassing canvas that needs to be understood in its entirety before all the answers can be revealed. It is these insights that allow them to make effective decisions that further help them overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles confronting their reality.

Ability to Distinguish Between Pieces of Information

An outstanding critical thinker has the ability to distinguish between different chunks or pieces of information that appear to be very similar on the surface.

They understand that if they make quick judgments or assumptions about information, that they may misinterpret their circumstances. As a result they always attempt to separate distinguishing fragments of conflicting pieces of information in order to gain the widest perspective of the events and circumstances confronting their reality.

They consciously and consistently distinguish facts from opinions, causes from effects, and ideas from assumptions. These distinguishing characteristics allow them to better understand the world from a completely unbiased and reflective perspective.

Ability to Identify Patterns and Connections

When we take information in through our senses, we naturally tend to categorize and segregate it accordingly in a way that will promote a greater sense of understanding and awareness. We then categorically try and make sense of this information based on our understanding of the patterns evident within it.

An outstanding critical thinker will tend to identify a greater array of patterns within a piece of information when compared to the rest of the population. As a result they are better able to make the necessary connections and associations with existing memories, which helps them to gather insights that others are simply not aware of. This is in fact a primary quality that separates a genius from everybody else.

Ability to Analyze Information

An outstanding critical thinker always thinks about information from an analytic perspective. They are constantly questioning, ordering and comparing different pieces of information, which helps trigger new insights and understandings that enable them to find suitable answers to the most difficult challenges.

Characteristics of a Critical Thinker

An outstanding critical thinker has a set of characteristic traits that are essential for effective and efficient thought. These traits help them to think more proficiently about the problems they are confronted with. As a result they are able to gather unexpected insights and understandings that help improve their decision making abilities.

Open Minded

An outstanding critical thinker is always open minded to all possibilities, interpretations and perspectives. They understand that unless they keep an open mind at all times, that they may essentially miss important cues and pieces of information that will provide them with new insights and understandings to successfully overcome the problems confronting their reality.

Has Flexibility of Thought

An outstanding critical thinker understands that a flexible and fluid thought process is required at all times in order to successfully gain new insights and perspectives about events and circumstances .

They are fully aware that there are always a variety of ways to look at a situation, and that there are an endless amount of possibilities and perspectives available to them at any one moment in time. They therefore maintain their flexible nature and change course with their thinking, decision making and actions whenever an opportunity presents itself to move them forward in a more proficient way.

The Vocabulary of a Critical Thinker

An outstanding critical thinker’s vocabulary is focused on breaking down the problems and circumstances from a multitude of angles and perspectives. Their words help bring clarity and understanding to situations that at first may seem foggy and misdirected.

The following is a list of words that outstanding critical thinkers use to formulate questions to the problems confronting their reality:

Meaning, Reasons, Example, Prejudice, Evidence, Reliability, Viewpoint, Credibility, Explanation, Consequences, Assumptions, and Relevance.

Each of these words can be formulated into insightful and thought-provoking questions that will help you to break down any problem or situation from a critical perspective.


Critical Thinking Process for Problem Solving

The critical thinking process for problem solving will help you to gain a wider perspective of the events and circumstances of your life. These insights will stimulate new ideas that will help you to find solutions that would not have been possible when using standard patterns of thinking.

As you progress through this section you will discover a simple step-by-step process of critical thought that will improve your ability to overcome the obstacles and challenges confronting your reality in the most efficient and effective way. You will also be presented with some key insights and perspectives of the critical thinking process that will become indispensable to your growth as a critical thinker.

Steps for Effective Critical Thinking

The following is one of several methods of critical thought that will help you to break down your problems most effectively.

As you follow these steps, it is important to reflect back on the critical thinking traits we discussed above. This is relevant, because without these traits you will struggle to establish the patterns of thinking that are required to successfully work your way through this process.

Knowledge

Your first step is to tune-in to your past memories, knowledge and understanding of this problem or a similar challenge you previously experienced. Recall how you dealt with this circumstance — identifying the exact approach you took. You are essentially trying to bring forth useful insights and experiences from your past into the present moment.

Here are some questions to get you started:

What past experiences could be useful with assisting me here?

What could I use from my past that would effectively help me here?

How is this relevant to my current circumstances and problem?

Why did these tactics work for me in the past?

Who helped me in the past, and how can they assist me in the present?

Why is all this important? And how can capitalize on it?

Comprehension

Your goal here is to demonstrate your understanding of your current problem or predicament.

You must gather thorough objective insights about the events and circumstances that are manifesting within your reality. This is best achieved through a process of organizing, comparing, translating and interpreting your predicament from a variety of perspectives. This is in fact where the outstanding critical thinker distinguishes between facts and opinions, between causes and effects, and between ideas and assumptions.

Here are some questions to get you started:

What is really going on here?

How could I look at this problem from a variety of different perspectives?

How does this problem compare with my past experience and understanding?

Application

Your goal here is to take a look at hypothetical solutions to your problem. This is best achieved through the process of applying your acquired knowledge and by using the insights you gained from the previous two steps in a unique way.

We discuss many of these strategies throughout the creative thinking and problem solving process. If you haven’t done so already, than have a read through them to further your understanding about this step.

Before proceeding to the questions, it is important to clarify that the key here is to only flex your understanding about the potential solutions that may be possible. It’s all about possibilities, and not so much about probabilities. Which is why you must keep a flexible approach and gain as clear of a perspective about your circumstances as is possible.

Here are some questions to get you started:

What if…?

How would I best use…?

What examples, techniques, objects and tools can I find that could further assist me here?

What approach could I use that would expand the possibilities here?

What would result if I did…?

Analysis

Now that you have loosened your mind through the process of formulating hypothetical solutions, you are now free to enter the examination stage, where you break the information and knowledge you have gathered into chunks, that will help you to reach effective explanations for the motives or causes of this problem. By fully understanding the causes, you will be better prepared to critically examine the concrete solutions within the synthesis stage.

This is the moment where the outstanding critical thinker analyzes all the information they have collected through a means of comparing, ordering and via intensive questioning tactics.

Here are some questions to get you started:

How is this related to…?

What is the relationship between…?

What distinctions can I make between…?

What are the possible causes that triggered this problem in the first place?

What possible conclusions can be drawn from this?

What evidence can I find to back up these conclusions?

What other ideas can justify this?

What new possibilities does this bring to mind?

Synthesis

Now that you have a rough idea of the potential solutions and have pinpointed the causes that led to the formation of this problem, you are finally ready to synthesize and compile all this information in a way that will help you gain unique insights into the potential solutions to your problem.

This is where the outstanding critical thinker begins their search for patterns and connections between pieces of information — helping them to reach new insights and answers that may not have been evident before.

Here are some questions to get you started:

What possible changes could I make to solve this effectively?

How would I potentially improve…?

What would happen if…?

How could I potentially change…?

What could be done to minimize this problem?

Suppose I could… What would I do?

What could I construct that would change…?

What is the best potential solution for this problem?

How would I test the potential consequences of these outcomes?

Evaluation

Within the final stage of this critical thinking process you must be prepared to defend and test the validity of the solutions you brought forward throughout the synthesis stage.

Spend time developing a set of criteria that you will use to evaluate the potential solutions to your problem. Without this criteria you will struggle to find the answers you are after.

Here are some questions to get you started:

How could I prove or disprove the advantages of choosing this method to overcome my problem?

How could I evaluate this more thoroughly? What new insights could I gain?

How could I be certain of the potential outcomes?

How can I justify that this is the ideal and correct solution? How could I argue against this?

What solution would I choose if…?

Critical Thinking Perspectives

An outstanding critical thinker perceives the world from a vastly different perspective than the average person. They naturally see things that others don’t because they are not afraid to ask the difficult questions that will help to open their mind and expand their habitual processes of thinking. As a result, they gain better insights and are therefore able to reach more effective decisions quickly.

The following is a list of methods that critical thinkers use to analyze the problems they are confronted with. Each step of this analysis process allows them to dig ever deeper into the underlying factors of a problem, and thusly enables them to gain a wider perspective of the events and circumstances.

Facts vs. Opinion Analysis

An outstanding critical thinker understands and immediately picks up on the differences between facts and opinions.

They realize that opinions are based on feelings, suggestions and future predictions. On the other hand, facts are built upon evidence, past events and upon variables that can easily be proven and measured.

They fully realize that the best way to work through their problems is to base their understanding upon concrete facts that will help them reach effective solutions to their circumstances.

  • Fact based words: “Has… Was… Is…”
  • Opinion based words: “Could… Should… Might… Possibly… Potentially…”

Definitive vs. Indefinitive Analysis

An outstanding critical thinker takes time to analyze each and every circumstance from a definitive and indefinite perspective.

They understand that they must be very careful not to jump to any rushed conclusions or make unnecessary assumptions about the events and circumstances they are experiencing. Yet at the same time, they fully realize the importance of bringing forth all the possible assumptions that could be made when dealing with this particular problem. As a result, this conscious assumption awareness leads them to the answers they are searching for.

Here are some questions that will help you to break through the assumptions that may be hindering your understanding of your problems:

What can I directly observe?

What could potentially be misinterpreted here?

What is another explanation for this?

Reliable vs. Unreliable Analysis

An outstanding critical thinker takes time to judge whether or not a certain perspective or piece of information is reliable or unreliable. They fully understand that if they are unable to identify the reliability of something, that this could throw them off the beaten track, thereby hindering their ability to overcome their problems.

Here are some questions that will help you break down the reliability of the perspectives you have taken:

Can this perspective be justified?

Where is the evidence for this?

What is it about this that doesn’t quite compute?

Relevant vs. Irrelevant Analysis

An outstanding critical thinker does not waste their time on irrelevant perspectives or pieces of information. They fully know that focusing on irrelevant information and perspectives will lead them to a dead-end that could essentially exacerbate their problems even further. As a result they zero-in on the most relevant information, perspectives and solutions that will help them to successfully overcome the obstacles and challenges standing in their way.

Here are some questions that will help you to identify the relevance and irrelevance of the perspectives you have taken:

Is this really relevant to the outcome I seek to attain?

Is this really relevant to the solutions I hope to realize?

What is most relevant to my outcome, and what should I focus my attention on?

What is not relevant to my outcome at all?


Critical Thinker’s Questioning Tactics

Outstanding critical thinking rests upon the quality of questions we tend to ask ourselves on a daily basis.

Our problems have an amazing and all encompassing power when we fail to control and understand their fickle ways. However, through the process of asking effective critical questions we gain new insights that open the doors to a greater sense of control, helping us reach better solutions to our problematic circumstances.

Within this section we will focus on a simple questioning process that will force you to think more critically about the problems and circumstances in your life.

Seek Clarification

Whenever first confronted with a problem it is paramount that you immediately seek to clarify what exactly is going on from a variety of different angles and perspectives.

Your goal is to immediately question yourself and others about the problem, identifying the potential causes, reasons, meanings and possible solutions that need to be pieced together.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself or ask others about the problem:

What do you mean when you say…?

Why do you say that?

Could you give me an example of why this is the case?

Can you provide reasons for your perspective and the stance you have taken?

Could you explain that further?

What other possible factors could have triggered this problem?

What else could this mean?

Why is this important?

Can you restate that another way?

Break Down Assumptions

Once you have thoroughly clarified the problem, your next step is to break down all the possible assumptions that may be coloring your perception of reality. This is achieved by questioning possible misunderstandings or misleading conclusions that have been made.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself or ask others about the problem:

Could this potentially be a simple overlooked assumption?

How can you justify this statement?

Why do you think your assumptions hold here?

Why can’t you conclude that?

How can you break this down another way?

Probe Different Points of View

Once you have identified and broken down the possible assumptions that you or others might be making, you are now ready to probe for different points-of-view or perspectives that will help you to understand the problem from a variety of unique angles.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself or ask others about the problem:

What would someone who disagrees with you say?

Does anyone see this another way? How exactly?

Why have you approached the issue from this perspective?

Have you considered the opposite point-of-view?

What are some other points-of-view?

How are other points-of-view justified?

Probe for Evidence

Having obtained a variety of perspectives and points-of-view, your next step is to begin questioning the validity of these perspectives.

A few words of warning: If you do not validate these perspectives accurately, they may lead you down the wrong path, and you will therefore fail to find an effective solution to your problem.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself or ask others about the problem:

What are your reasons for saying that?

Could you explain your reasons further?

How do you know that’s true?

How does that apply here in this particular situation?

Why did you say that?

Are these reasons adequate?

Probe for Potential Consequences

The final step of this critical questioning process is to question the possible solutions and implications of the outcomes and perspectives you have reached.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself or ask others about this problem:

When you say… are you implying that…?

What effect will that have in the short and long-term?

If this is the case, then what else must follow?

What are the possible consequences of this decision?

Is this the only solution that is available, or is there another alternative?


Final Thoughts

Critical thinking is more than just a way of processing, organizing and validating chunks of information, it is in fact a lifestyle that we must cultivate and adopt into our habitual patterns of thought and behavior in order to break through the obstacles confronting our lives.

Many of us may very well ignore the critical thinking process and continue to go about our daily lives accepting reality as it appears to be from our limited perspective.

We accept that problems exist, we accept that circumstances will not go our way, and we accept that disappointment awaits us around the corner. This act of acceptance breeds lazy habitual patterns of thinking, acting and decision making, that lock us away into a never changing inflexible world. We struggle to find answers because we lack the necessary habits of thought that will allow us to expand our understanding and perspective about our circumstances. And as a result we fail to find the solutions that will awaken our critical thinker from within.

The solution is to begin transforming our perspective through the meticulous process of asking effective questions that will help us to expand our understanding and awareness about our own reality. Cultivate these critical thinking questions, practice them, work through them, and bring them forth into your daily patterns of thinking and behaving, and you will progressively become an outstanding critical thinker.

I hope you enjoyed this post. If you have utilized any of these critical thinking tactics, or would like to share some of your own, than please feel free to comment below.


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Critical Thinking

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