We are living in the age of “fake news” and “alternative facts”, straight up lying seems to be an accepted part of news and politics. Because of this, simply being able to tell exactly what is going on can be difficult. To be able to think critically is now a very important skill.
Though what exactly is critical thinking? Critical thinking is when you are presented with a piece of information and engage with it independently  and actively to discern how accurate it is. Too often we are encouraged to be passive with news and information, it can seem sometimes that we are being told how to react, think, and feel by the media or other sources.
This is avoided if you think critically. If you think critically you will be guided through life by your own observations , knowledge, and experience, and not be led.
5 Traits of skilled critical thinkers
But what exactly are the benefits? Surely it can’t just come down to being able to watch the news objectively? Well, that’s true, there are many, many benefits of being a great critical thinker, here are just five.
- Skilled at finding the subtle links between two different pieces of information to form a larger whole.
- Good at turning their critical thinking skills inwards, and as such can pick up and judge their own biases  or prejudices, which is the key for their ultimate removal.
- More desirous to remain well informed and knowledgeable as information governs their worldview.
- More open-minded as critical thinkers by their nature can think for themselves. There is none the less the openness for their minds to change when new information is presented.
- More creative  as whatever you write, draw, film, sculpt, paint, dance, act, or whatever you love to do, has tiny traces of the work of other similar great artists who came before.
A critical mind can take these influences and use them effectively, also, the open mindedness of a critical thinker means that they won’t shoot down any ideas that come to their mind. Something which, you may well know, can stop a creative project in its tracks.
How to boost your critical thinking skills
In this article so far I’ve described those who can think critically as if they were a different breed. This is certainly not the case. Critical thinking is a skill, and like any skill, it can be gained and improved.
Open up your range of sources
It’s totally natural to listen to those we know we will agree with, we might only watch the same news channel or use the same websites just because they follow our worldview. However, even good sources tend to follow certain biases. These biases will be invisible if that is all we see, so it can be important to reach out and investigate other sources, especially ones we don’t agree with.
It’s like what F Scott Fitzgerald said:
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function
Analyze what you hear by asking the following questions
- Who/what said it? (EG, who are they to you, what do you know about them)
- What did they say? (EG, What was the exact content of what they said? Was it fact? Opinion? Or was it opinion disguised as fact?)
- Why did they say it? (EG, what could they have to gain by relaying this info to you, can it be to just inform you, or do you have to agree with them?)
These questions, and questions like them are the fundamental grounding of critical thinking.
Apply variations of these questions to your own mind
Much like the one providing you might have hidden biases, it’s possible that you might as well. To be aware of them will immediately improve your critical thinking ability.
Don’t take anything at face value
It’s inevitable that people will be guided by their own motives  . Because of this anything done or said may be done with these specific motives (possibly self serving motives) in mind. I don’t mean to be suspicious, it is the natural way of things. But assuming that all is not what it seems in regards to what you see enables the process for you to begin to think critically.
Apply Occam’s Razor
The world, paradoxically, is both infinitely complex and impossibly simple. As such, that old saying “Whatever the simplest solution is, is probably the correct one” is so common, because it is so true. If a piece of information seems needlessly complicated, it may well be, and if you consider why it is being presented this way, this may pave the way for you to find a larger truth in it.
Applying critical thinking to what you are presented with can have a revolutionary, and immediate impact on how you see the world…use with caution!
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