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Last Updated on March 17, 2020

Characteristics of Critical Thinking (And How to Think Critically)

Characteristics of Critical Thinking (And How to Think Critically)

Studies show that critical thinking leads to increased creativity, enhanced work performance, and a lowering of negative life experiences.[1]

And these are just some of the benefits of critical thinking.

Aristotle said it well:

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

In this article, you will learn the characteristics of critical thinking so you can become a critical thinker.

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What Exactly Is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking covers a wide variety of thought processes.

To help you understand what critical thinking is, take a look at the list below:

  • Analyzing.
  • Evaluating.
  • Interpreting.
  • Problem solving.
  • Questioning.

These traits are common forms of critical thinking.

As an example, imagine that you were seeking a new job or career, and had just started to look at advertised vacancies. In order to choose the most suitable vacancies, you would spend time looking at where the jobs were based, what skills and experience were required, and how much the roles were paying.

All the above actions would be classed as critical thinking. You used analysis, evaluation and (most likely) questioning.

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As a further example of critical thinking, consider the way that attorneys work. Firstly, they examine the evidence. Then, they use critical thinking in order to create a plan to win their case (or to settle out of court).

Recognizable Signs of Critical Thinkers

Now that you understand what critical thinking is about, I’m sure you’re curious to know how to recognize the signs of critical thinkers.

Let’s take a look…

One major giveaway of critical thinkers is the fact that they tend to be highly successful. This success can be academic, personal or professional. But you can be sure, that whenever you see people achieving big results – they’ll definitely be critical thinkers.

Here are some further signs of critical thinkers:

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  • They are creative, innovative individuals.
  • They are fascinated by how things work.
  • They get their news and views from a wide variety of sources.
  • They are always asking questions.
  • They have levelheaded conversations with people they disagree with.

Critical thinkers are successful in life because they are able to analyze issues from different perspectives. This allows them to come up with (and decide) on the best solutions.

If you’re failing to reach your goals in life – then you should definitely begin boosting your critical-thinking skills.

7 Ways to Master Critical Thinking

1. Learn How to Question Things

To become adept at critical thinking, you must learn to question things. This includes questioning statements from authority figures, general assumptions, and even your own beliefs. Try asking yourself these questions: “Do I believe everything I was taught at school?” “Are my beliefs really my own? “Does my government lie to me?”

2. Think for Yourself

Stop accepting everything you are told, and begin thinking for yourself. For example, a guitar teacher may have taught you how to play guitar in a certain way, but can you now improve on that way? By thinking for yourself, you’ll unleash your creativity and boost your self-confidence.

3. Evaluate Evidence

Evidence can be a great way to find answers to issues you may be experiencing. However, don’t just take evidence at face value. Instead, evaluate all evidence by asking: “Who gathered it, how was this done, and why?” These probing questions will enable you to quickly identify evidence that is sound – and evidence that you should steer clear of.

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4. Become Aware of Your Personal Biases

If you’re honest with yourself, most times you probably think you’re right. While this may be the case, when making decisions, you must put aside any personal biases or beliefs. Critical thinking needs to look at different perspectives and points of view before reaching a conclusion. I know it’s hard to think outside of your personal biases, but for the sake of your success in life – you must try to do so.

5. Consider Motive

Like a great detective, you must become skilled at uncovering motive. For example, think of a time that a company offered you a free product to try. All you needed to do was give some basic personal details to them. Unfortunately, as well as receiving the free product, you rapidly became bombarded with promotional emails, letters and phone calls. In hindsight, you’ll have become aware of the company’s motive. They didn’t care about sending you a freebie – they just wanted to capture and sell on your personal information.

6. Break Big Issues into Small Pieces

Big picture thinking is all the rage nowadays, but it’s not always the best way to reach decisions. If you need to deal with a major problem such as losing your job, then you can become quickly overwhelmed by events. This stress and anxiety could lead to inaction on your part. Just what you don’t need at this vital time. Instead, break down the issue into smaller components. These might include: getting the best payout from your employer, ensuring that all your bills are covered, seeking new work opportunities. Big problems seem much less scary when you break them down into small pieces.

7. Keep It Simple

Are you familiar with a line of reasoning known as Occam’s razor?[2] In case you’re not, I’ll summarize it for you now. Occam’s razor can be described as the simplest answer is most often correct. Frequently, we look for complex answers – when the truth may be staring us right in the face. The following scenario will give you a good example of Occam’s razor in action…. A loud bang is heard inside an office that is close to a busy highway. Some staff think it may be a bomb, others suggest that it’s just a truck backfiring. I’ll let you decide which one of these is the most likely cause of the noise.

The Bottom Line

Use critical thinking every time that you need to make an important decision. People will notice the difference in your actions. And before long, you’ll be achieving more success than you ever thought was possible.

More Tips for Thinking Smarter

Featured photo credit: Cristofer Jeschke via unsplash.com

Reference

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Craig J Todd

UK Writer who loves to use the power of words to inspire and motivate.

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Published on July 7, 2020

Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

Exercise isn’t just for your body. Just as important is keeping your mind strong by training your brain with fun mental workouts.

Think of your mental and physical fitness the same way: you don’t need to be an Olympian, but you do need to stay in shape if you want to live well. A few cognitive workouts per week can make a major difference in your life.

The Skinny on Mental Workouts

Physical fitness boosts your stamina and increases your muscular strength. The benefits of working up a mental sweat and brain training, however, might not be so obvious.

Research suggests that cognitive training has short- and long-term benefits, including:

1. Improved Memory

After eight weeks of cognitive training, 19 arithmetic students showed a larger and more active hippocampus than their peers.[1] The hippocampus is associated with learning and memory.

2. Reduced Stress Levels

Mastering new tasks more quickly makes the work of learning less stressful. A stronger memory can call information to mind with less effort.

3. Improved Work Performance

Learning quickly and remembering key details can lead to a better career. Employers are increasingly hiring for soft skills, such as trainability and attention to detail.

4. Delayed Cognitive Decline

As we age, we experience cognitive decline. A study published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that 10 one-hour sessions of cognitive training boosted reasoning and information processing speed in adults between the ages of 65 and 94.[2]

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Just like in physical exercise, what’s important isn’t the specific workout. To be sustainable, cognitive workouts need to be easy and fun. Otherwise, it’s too easy to throw in the towel.

Fun Brain Training Exercises for Everyone

The best about fun mental workouts? There’s no need to head to a gym. Feel free to mix and match the following activities for daily brain training:

1. Brainstorming

One of the simplest, easiest ways to engage your brain? Coming up with solutions to a challenge you’re facing.

If you aren’t good at solo ideation, ask a partner to join you. When I’m struggling to come up with topics to write about, I call up my editors to bat ideas around. Friends or co-workers are usually happy to help.

2. Dancing

Isn’t dancing a physical workout? Yes, but the coordination it requires is also great for training your brain. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

Studies suggest that dance boosts multiple cognitive skills.[3] Planning, memorizing, organizing, and creativity all seem to benefit from a few fancy steps.

3. Learning a New Language

Learning a new language takes time. But if you split it up into small, daily lessons, it’s easier than you might think.

With language learning, every lesson builds on the last. When I was learning Spanish, I used a tool called Guru for knowledge management.[4] Every time I’d learn a verb tense, I’d create a new card to give me a quick refresh before moving on.

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4. Developing a Hobby

Like languages, hobbies take time to develop. But that’s the fun of them: you get a little better—both at the hobby and in terms of brain function—each time you do them.

If you’re trying to train your brain and improve a certain cognitive skill, choose a hobby that aligns with it.

For example:

  • Attention to detail: Pick a hobby that requires you to work patiently with small features. Woodworking, model-building, sketching, and painting are all good choices.
  • Learning and memory: Choose an activity that requires you to remember lots of details. Your best bets are hobbies that require lots of categorization, such as collecting stamps or coins.
  • Motor function: For this brain function, physical activities can double as fun mental workouts. Sports like soccer and basketball build gross motor functions. Fine motor functions are better trained through activities like table tennis or even playing video games.
  • Problem-solving: Most hobbies require you to problem-solve in one way or another. The ones that test your problem-solving skills the most, however, take some investigation.

Geocaching is a good example: Using a combination of clues and GPS readings, geocaching involves finding and re-hiding containers. Typically done in a wooded area, geocaching is a fun way to put your problem-solving skills to the test.

5. Board Games

Playing a board game might not be much of a physical workout, but it does make for a fun mental workout. With that said, not all board games work equally well for cognitive training.

Avoid “no brainer” board games, like Candy Land. Opt for strategy-focused ones, such as Risk or Settlers of Catan. Remember to ask other players for their input.

6. Card Games

Card games build cognitive skills in much the same way board games do. They have a few extra advantages, though, that make them worthy of special attention.

A deck of cards is inexpensive and can be played anywhere, from a kitchen to an airplane. More importantly, a deck of cards opens the door to dozens of different games. Challenge yourself to learn a few in an afternoon.

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7. Puzzles

Puzzles are great tools for building a specific cognitive skill: visuospatial function. Visuospatial function is important to train because it’s one of the first abilities to slip in people struggling with cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s.[5]

Choose a puzzle you’ll stick with. There’s no shame in starting with a 500-piece puzzle or choosing one that makes a childish image.

8. Playing Music

Listening to music is a great way to unwind. But playing music goes one step further. On top of entertaining you, it makes for a fun mental workout.

Again, choose an instrument you know you’ll stick with. If you’ve always wanted to learn the violin, don’t get a guitar because it’s less expensive or easier to pick up.

What if you can’t afford an instrument? Sing. Learning to control your voice is every bit as challenging as making a set of keys or strings sound good.

9. Meditating

Not all cognitive exercises are loud, in-your-face activities. Some of the most fun mental workouts, in fact, are quiet, solo activities. Meditating can help you focus, especially if you have pre-existing attention issues.

Don’t be intimidated if you’ve never meditated before. It’s easy:

  • Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down.
  • Set a timer for 10 minutes, or for however long you have to meditate.
  • Close your eyes or turn off the lights.
  • Focus on your breathing. Do not try to control it.
  • If your thoughts wander, gently bring them back to your breath.
  • When the timer goes off, wiggle your fingers and toes for a minute. Slowly bring yourself back to reality. Remember the sense of serenity you found.

10. Deep Conversation

There’s nothing more mentally stimulating than a good, long conversation. The key is depth: surface-level chatter doesn’t get the mind’s wheels spinning like a thoughtful, authentic conversation. This type of conversation helps in training your brain to think more deeply and reflect.

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Choose your partner carefully. You’re looking for someone who’ll challenge your ideas without being confrontational. Stress isn’t good for brain health, but there’s value in coming up with creative arguments.

11. Cooking

When you think about it, cooking requires an impressive array of cognitive skills. Developing a cook’s intuition requires a good memory. Making sure flavors are balanced takes attention to detail. When something goes wrong in the kitchen, problem-solving skills come into play. Motor control is required to stir, flip, and whisk.

If you’re going to cook, you might as well make enough for everyone. Invite them into the kitchen as well: coordinating with other chefs adds an extra layer of challenge to this fun mental workout.

12. Mentorship

Whether you’re the mentee or the mentor, mentorship is an incredible mental workout. Learning from someone you look up to combines the benefits of deep conversation with skill-building. Teaching someone else forces you to put yourself in their shoes, which requires empathy and problem-solving skills.

Put yourself in both situations. Being a student makes you a better teacher, and teaching others gives you insight into how you, yourself, learn.

Final Thoughts

Your mind is your most important possession, and training your brain is needed to maintain its health. Don’t let it get soft.

To keep those neurons firing at full speed, add a few fun mental workouts to your schedule. And if you’re still struggling to get your brain in gear, remember: there’s an app for that.

More Tips for Training Your Brain

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

Reference

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