Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.
Critical thinking helps people better understand themselves, their motivations and goals. When you can deduce information to find the most important parts and apply those to your life, you can change your situation and promote personal growth and overall happiness.
1: Formulate your question.
In other words, know what you’re looking for. This isn’t always as straightforward as it sounds. For example, if you’re deciding whether to try out the newest diet craze, your reasons for doing so may be obscured by other factors — like claims that you’ll see results in just two weeks. But, if you approach the situation with a clear view of what you’re actually trying to accomplish by dieting — whether that’s weight loss, better nutrition, or having more energy — that’ll equip you to sift through this information critically, find what you’re looking for, and decide whether the new fad really suits your needs.
2: Gather your information.
There’s lots of it out there, so having a clear idea of your question will help you determine what’s relevant. If you’re trying to decide on a diet to improve your nutrition, you may ask an expert for their advice, or seek other people’s testimonies. Information gathering helps you weigh different options, moving you closer to a decision that meets your goal.
3: Apply the information — something you do by asking critical questions.
Facing a decision, ask yourself, ‘what concepts are at work?’‘What assumptions exist?’‘Is my interpretation of the information logically sound?’ For example, in an email that promises you millions, you should consider: ‘what is shaping my approach to this situation?’‘Do I assume the sender is telling the truth?’‘Based on the evidence, is it logical to assume I’ll win any money?’
4: Consider the implications.
Imagine it’s election time, and you’ve selected a political candidate based on their promise to make it cheaper for drivers to fill up on gas. At first glance, that seems great. But what about the long-term environmental effects? If gasoline use is less restricted by cost, this could also cause a huge surge in air pollution—an unintended consequence that’s important to think about.
5: Explore other points of view.
Ask yourself why so many people are drawn to the policies of the opposing political candidate. Even if you disagree with everything that candidate says, exploring the full spectrum of viewpoints might explain why some policies that don’t seem valid to you appeal to others. This will allow you to explore alternatives, evaluate your own choices, and ultimately help you make more informed decisions.
This five-step process is just one tool, and it certainly won’t eradicate difficult decisions from our lives. But, it can help us increase the number of positive choices we make. Critical thinking can give us the tools to sift through a sea of information and find what we’re looking for. And, if enough of us use it, it has the power to make the world a more reasonable place.
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