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Published on November 11, 2019

How to Develop Critical Thinking Skills and Think Clearer

How to Develop Critical Thinking Skills and Think Clearer

Every day, we are bombarded by information. From the morning paper to news and on social media throughout the day. We might not think of it much now but, that’s an overwhelming amount of information.

And it can be dangerous in some cases. From fake news or inaccurate information, or the information heavily biased.

This, in turn, impacts you. It impacts who you vote for, what you buy and maybe how you feel. In a sense, the information we consume dictates our entire life.

As a result, critical thinking skills become our saving grace in our lives. It’s a skill that so many of us lack in our lives and yet it’s one of the most critical.

The Importance of Critical Thinking Skills

First off they help with critical thinking, a skill I said that many people lack these days. Critical thinking is merely our ability to be thinking, and present evidence for our ideas.

How is this different from how we typically think?

Well, most of us tend to gravitate towards our own personal reasoning. We cling to information and ideas naturally without checking them. And of course, we develop a bias, pushing away other ideas and only accepting ideas and opinions that support our existing belief.

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To see that in motion, consider a CEO similar to the man I read about in an article published in Harvard Business Review.[1] He was very confident in himself and believed he was the market leader of a company. But eventually, he lost one of their largest clients.

How did that happen? Because the CEO was certain his clients wouldn’t leave and that leaving would be expensive. He didn’t consider the possibility they could leave.

Another way to think of critical thinking is that it’s a self-directed, self-monitored, self-disciplined, and self-corrective method of thinking.

Why this is important boils down to several reasons:

  • A universal skill – Regardless of occupation, having critical thinking skills helps. True, some jobs need it more than others but there is always a time and place to use this skill anywhere. It’s why many people value this talent regardless of field.
  • Improve language and presentation skills – Critical thinking can also determine how we best articulate and present our ideas.
  • Promote creativity – Critical thinking often demands we think creative.[2] Whether it’s finding a middle ground between ideas or presenting an idea outright, how we get there is through a creative process.
  • Improve self-reflection – If critical thinking demands self-correction, there is some level of self-reflection involved. You can’t present ideas using critical thinking skills unless you’ve spent time reflecting.
  • Solve problems before they become bigger – Critical thinking allows us to look at situations and to digest them in different ways. We can identify problems before they become larger issues.

Examples of Critical Thinking Skills

As I said, critical thinking skills aren’t restricted to specific occupations or scenarios. Examples of this way of thinking at work are:

  • A manager considers customer feedback and uses that information to create training sessions for employees in customer service.
  • A real estate agent reviews the home and surrounding area to determine how to best sell to their customers.
  • A stock investor keeps an eye on the news to determine whether to sell their shares or invest in a company.
  • An attorney reviews evidence to devise a strategy to win the case or whether this matter should be settled out of court.
  • A group of nurses analyze patients’ medical conditions to determine which order each patient should be treated.

Another great example of critical thinking is actually an exercise that you can do as well. It forms the basis of critical thinking skills.

In this example, think about something someone told you recently. Follow that up with the following questions. The questions in parentheses dive deeper:

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  • Who said it? (Someone you know? A manager? Does it matter who told you this?)
  • What did they say? (Was it a fact or opinion? Did they present all the information or did they leave something out?)
  • Where did they say it? (Public or private area?)
  • When did they say it? (Is timing important? Was it before, during, or after an important event?)
  • Why did they say it? (Did they explain their opinion? Was the goal to make someone look good or bad?)
  • How did they say it? (Recall their tonne and body language. Were they happy, indifferent or sad? Could you make out everything they said?)

This exercise is simple but it adds perspective to what critical thinking is like.

How to Develop Critical Thinking Skills

Anyone can develop critical thinking skills, the big question is how to do it. Asking yourself questions is a good start and ensuring you dig deeper, however, consider these other techniques.

1. Ask Meaningful Questions

The questions mentioned above are solid, but you can go deeper. But before asking them, it’s key that you don’t take everything you read or hear as the absolute truth.

This sets asides biases and favouritism, and helps you to ask those important questions such as:

  • What’s the problem?
  • What are all the solutions to this problem?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of each one?

You still have to believe in something, however by setting aside biases and ask those meaningful questions, you feel confident about your decisions.

2. Look at Motives

Information and conversations always have a motive. After all, people are the ones who control that and there is always some agenda. Yes, no one isn’t always going to tell you outright what that is, but it’s safe to think there is one, malicious or not.

But understanding others’ motives can be tricky and have several pitfalls as motives can often be conflated with personality and character, or disguised by emotions.[3]  And that’s all the more reason to evaluate information based on where it’s coming from. This should also determine how you act on it- if at all.

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3. Do the Research

Critical thinking skills demand information. And while information is overwhelming at times, it’s also the most powerful tool around. It becomes incredibly powerful when you decide to make your own decisions.

Do research when you have a problem you need to solve or have a decision to make. Google about the subject, and read books about it. Do so until you have a grasp and understanding as that’ll better prepare you for the future.

4. Never Assume You’re Right

We all love to be right and naturally, we think we’re right most of the time. And why wouldn’t we? We naturally have a bias to place ourselves in the best light possible. But while that feeling is definitely good, it’s that very feeling that can lead us down the wrong track: Why Our Minds Can’t Be Trusted And What We Can Do With It

Critical thinking demands self-reflection and self-monitoring, and sometimes, we have to accept that we’re wrong. Thinking this way allows us to embrace other perspectives. It helps us to develop empathy and understanding of parties involved.

If your form of thinking is taking someone’s thoughts and comparing them to your own, you’re not really doing much thinking. And it’s definitely not thinking critically.

5. Make It Simple

Occam’s razor[4] is a term used in the hypothesis step within the scientific community. What this theory suggests is that the hypothesis that provides the simplest explanation is likely the one that fits all the facts. It’s what we would call the most obvious explanation. And this obvious explanation is the truth until it’s proven wrong.

But the point here is that Occam’s razor is basically a theory that has a bias towards the common sense answer. However, it has other applications outside of science.

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For example, you turn on the TV and you see an ad promoting a high-priced anti-ageing cream. It’s something that many are excited for. The big hook is that this cream will make you look 10 or 20 years younger.

But you can break that down using Occam’s razor. Have you ever heard of that product before? If not, how can it be such a big hit if it’s so new? It’s also fair to say that there is a high chance that the company behind the product hired a younger model to promote this too. Meaning it’s likely the cream is bogus and over-hyped.

Final Thoughts

Developing critical thinking skills isn’t as simple as asking questions. It’s a deeper process that places a lot of weight on you. You need to develop deeper skills and to set aside your own thoughts and opinions.

However, by doing this, you are opening the door to a lot of self-growth and fulfilment. After all, so many people are looking for people who can think for themselves and to think in more creative and critical ways.

More About Thinking Smarter

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

7 Most Efficient Note Taking Methods What Is a Habit? Understand It to Control It 100% How Setting Personal Goals Makes You a Greater Achiever The Lifehack Show: Overcoming Anxiety Through Personal Agency with Dr. Paul Napper How to Delegate Tasks Effectively (Step-By-Step Guide)

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Last Updated on December 9, 2019

15 Brain Foods That Will Super Boost Your Brain Power

15 Brain Foods That Will Super Boost Your Brain Power

These days, there are so many food choices. Every marketing trick is used to make you buy brain foods, all-natural, fat-free or gluten-free products.

Could you blame them? They need to make a profit to keep existing and delivering their goods to the consumers.

But does this mean that foods with these labels are just regular products or do brain foods really exist?

That’s when research came in and proved that brain foods (meaning: foods that have a positive effect on the brain) really do exist.

In this article, you will find 15 brain foods you should be eating to keep your mind sharp.

1. Blueberries

One of the greatest gifts of Mother Nature — blueberries. Blueberries are known as the king of antioxidants[1] and are used to detox the body.

There are not a lot of studies that tried to prove the relationship between blueberries and the improvement of brain function. But there’s one study that consisted of 9 elderly people. They found that consuming blueberry juice on a daily basis for 12 weeks improved memory function.[2]

If this is not reasonable enough to include blueberries into your diet, you should read the following article on other benefits of blueberries: 10 Benefits of Blueberries That Will Impress You

As with every single one of the brain foods listed here: Consuming more than necessary can also lead to side effects, this is the same with blueberries.[3]

When including blueberries in your diet along with other brain foods; make sure to eat no more than 0.5 cups (4 oz./113 grams) a day.

2. Broccoli

The first vegetable on the list, broccoli. Whatever you do with it; roast, steam, blanch or saute.[4] It will still improve the sharpness of your brain.

There are two main nutrients in broccoli that makes it one of the brain foods on this list. Vitamin K, which is also found in lower amounts in blueberries, helps strengthen cognitive abilities.[5] The nutrient Choline improves your memory.[6]

There’s six times more vitamin K in broccoli than in blueberries. The downside is that blueberries are a bit tastier.

Include some broccoli with every warm plate you eat in a day, and your brain will turn into a SUPER brain.

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3. Walnuts

Walnuts are the best choice of all the nuts when it comes to improving cognitive function. They have the same benefits as every other nut, but walnuts also contain omega-3 fatty acids.[7]

Beside the improvement of heart health,[8] walnuts also provide a sharper memory (at least to women).[9]

Consuming walnuts also help slow mental decline[10] because of the Vitamin E that is found in walnuts.[11]

Next time you crave a snack, buy a bag of unroasted and unsalted walnuts. In the future, this will be the replacement of all unhealthy snacks like Twix.

Brain foods are not brain foods because they contain a lot of sugar. Brain foods usually consist of a high amount of vitamins and antioxidants. That’s how you can recognize them.

4. Green Tea

Some of us are coffee drinkers while others prefer tea. You don’t have to choose one or the other because both of them made it to the list (you’ll read later about coffee in number 11 of brain foods).

Green tea contains more than just caffeine; it contains L-theanine which essentially lowers the anxiety levels.[12] It also increases the levels of dopamine and alpha wave production (relaxation).

The lower levels of caffeine in green tea compared to coffee makes this a perfect brain function drink. Caffeine and L-theanine show synergistic effects that work best with the amount of caffeine found in green tea.[13]

People who drink green tea have proven that they have a more stable energy level and increased productivity compared to when they drink coffee. So, if you’re looking for brain foods that will enhance your productivity; green tea is the way to go.

5. Oranges

Orange has a high amount of Vitamin C in it. One large orange is enough to fulfill 100% of your daily Vitamin C intake. Vitamin C has a lot of benefits:

  • Vitamin C reduces the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease[14]
  • It may help fight against high blood pressure[15]
  • Vitamin C boosts immunity by increasing the production of white blood cells[16]
  • The most important of all: high levels of Vitamin C are found to be related to the improvement of memory and thinking. People suffering from dementia has been shown to have low levels of Vitamin C.[17] This may mean that by consuming enough Vitamin C, you will be able to prevent dementia.[18]

To learn more about everything related to Vitamin C, read the following article: All You Need To Know About Vitamin C Benefits (and Recipes To Boost Your Daily Intake)

6. Avocados

Avocados fit very nicely in your salad, or you may even like it on toast.

Avocado is a source of healthy fats; monounsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fat is believed to contribute to healthy blood flow which in turn means a healthy brain.[19]

Besides that, avocados also lower blood pressure which will prevent a decrease in cognitive abilities.[20]

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Adding 1/4 or 1/2 avocado daily should do the trick and help your brain function as a superhero.

If you need practical ways to include avocado in your daily diet, check this out: 50+ Super Easy Avocado Recipes At Home Now

7. Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a multi-functional oil; some bathe in it, some put it all over their skin, and it’s also used for cooking. To get the following benefits out of it; you should consume it orally (but that’s up to you of course).

When it comes down to improved brain function; coconut oil has proven to boost brain function in Alzheimer’s patients.[21] Although it isn’t shown to work on people without Alzheimer’s; it can never hurt.

Besides that, there are many more benefits to coconut oil.

8. Spinach

One research found that when elderly consumed one (or two) daily serving of spinach (or other leafy greens for that matter) for an average of 5 years had the same cognitive abilities as someone 11 years younger who never consumed leafy greens.[22]

This all is thanks to Vitamin K that is found in leafy greens like spinach, kale, collards and mustard greens.

Popeye looks impressive from the outside, and you will look impressive from the inside once you consume your daily spinach: 6 Mouth-Watering Spinach Recipes You Should Not Miss

9. Oatmeal

Known for its use as breakfast, oatmeal is one of many kinds of cereal that contains more than just sugar.

There’s a reason why oatmeal is often used as breakfast. It is because of the many carbohydrates that are in it which act like a shot of glucose that spikes your blood sugar levels.

Glucose is sent immediately to the brain to help it function. In essence, this means that the higher the concentration of glucose in your blood, the better you can focus and remember things.[23]

If you suffer from low blood sugar levels in the morning and can’t function without having a big breakfast immediately upon waking, oatmeal is going to be your best friend.

10. Raisins

Children often consume them as healthy snacks because it’s sweet. But did you know raisins promote brain function?

Raisins are the number one source of boron of all brain foods. The research found that the level of boron is related to hand-eye coordination and short-term memory.[24] Increased levels of boron improves both.

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Besides that, raisins also heal wounds faster and prevent deficiency in Vitamin D.

11. Coffee

We touched on the benefits of green tea earlier, but that doesn’t mean coffee can’t serve its purpose to brain function as well. If you prefer coffee over tea; listen (actually read) closely.

There’s something about coffee that most people don’t even know. The point is that most of us consume more antioxidants through coffee than any other of the mentioned brain foods.

This is not because there are more antioxidants in coffee; it’s because coffee is consumed the most of all brain foods.

These antioxidants protect your brain from cell death which in turn protects you from dementia and related diseases.[25]

Not to mention that caffeine may also prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s.[26][27]

You don’t have to give up your coffee; except for all the sugar and milk you put in it. Drink your coffee black and keep it to a maximum of 3 per day and you should be okay.

12. Almonds

Earlier we touched upon walnuts, but most nuts are generally good for your health (as long as you don’t overdo it).

Almonds are most known for their potential of enhancing memory and delaying Alzheimer’s progression.[28][29] Of course, they share the same benefits with the walnuts, but almonds are lower in omega 3 fats.

If you forget things on a daily basis, maybe a handful of almonds per day can help you.

Five to six almonds a day should do the trick. If you’re not watching your weight, you can just grab a handful. But don’t overdo it because there’s a lot of fats in nuts.

Here’re more benefits of almonds you should know: 10 Benefits of Almonds That Will Surprise You (+Healthy Recipes)

13. Lentils

Lentils for the vegans among you is one of the best sources of protein among legumes. Besides that, it is a rich source of various essential nutrients like iron, Vitamin B6, and folate (Vitamin B9).

Besides the fact that they make a terrific combination with rice; lentils also serves its purpose in the brain. All the essential nutrients improve brain function in their own way:

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  • Folate (Vitamin B9) keeps your mind sharp while you get older.[30]
  • Iron plays an essential role in cognitive functioning with pregnant women.[31]
  • Zinc is well known for boosting memory.[32]
  • Vitamin B6 and thiamine give you more energy and focus.[33][34]

As you can see; lentils make up one of the best brain foods on this list. But this also depends on your preference as some of you might’ve never even eaten lentils.

14. Strawberries

Most berries and other related fruits like strawberries (which are technically seen not berries) are all known to have beneficial effects on the brain.[35] They help prevent age-related memory loss and may even slow the progress of Alzheimer’s.[36]

Another thing that is more strawberry related is the amount of potassium in it. Potassium is related to increased blood flow thus improved cognitive function.[37]

Eight strawberries per day should do the trick and give you many benefits besides these brain-enhancing benefits: 10 Amazing Benefits of Strawberries that You Probably Never Knew

15. Red Wine

Last but not least, red wine. Although alcohol itself is not related to any improvement in brain functioning; some studies show that there are benefits to drinking lightly or moderately.

Out of all the alcoholic beverages, red wine is the one with the most favorable results. Research shows that red wine may even slow aging[38] and it can also decrease the risk of dementia.[39]

Although these results are based on research, the researchers don’t recommend that any non-drinkers start drinking. Especially younger people shouldn’t aim to drink red wine as the most benefits (or no increased risks) are found in the elderly.

If you think about drinking red wine, you should drink maximum 1 glass of red wine per day as a woman and maximum of 2 glasses of red wine per day for men. One glass of red wine should contain 175ml, don’t overdo it.

Keep in mind that there are also potential risks to drinking alcohol. Such risks include addition, depression and weight gain when you’re not drinking carefully.

Conclusion

“You are what you eat.”

One of the oldest sayings ever expresses all you need to know.

Every food on this brain foods list is put on this list because it enhances brain functioning in some way. So, whichever food on this list you choose to eat after reading this article doesn’t matter.

What matters most is that you read everything closely and choose one of the brain foods that fit your goal the most.

Enjoy eating your next brain food!

More About Boosting Brain Power

Featured photo credit: Melissa Belanger via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Wild Blueberries: Wild Blueberries Antioxidants
[2] NCBI: Blueberry Supplementation Improves Memory in Older Adults
[3] Good Health All: 8 Major Side Effects OF Eating Too Many Blueberries
[4] Skinny Ms: How to Make Broccoli Taste Good, Each and Every Time
[5] Wellness Resources: Vitamin K Enhances Cognitive Function During Aging
[6] The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: The relation of dietary choline to cognitive performance and white-matter hyperintensity in the Framingham Offspring Cohort
[7] The Journal Of Nutrition: Role of Walnuts in Maintaining Brain Health with Age
[8] NCBI: Cardiovascular risk factors and cognitive function.
[9] NCBI: LONG-TERM INTAKE OF NUTS IN RELATION TO COGNITIVE FUNCTION IN OLDER WOMEN
[10] NCBI: Vitamin E and cognitive decline in older persons.
[11] NCBI: Vitamin E-gene interactions in aging and inflammatory age-related diseases: implications for treatment. A systematic review.
[12] NCBI: The neuropharmacology of L-theanine(N-ethyl-L-glutamine): a possible neuroprotective and cognitive enhancing agent.
[13] NCBI: L-theanine and caffeine in combination affect human cognition as evidenced by oscillatory alpha-band activity and attention task performance.
[14] NCBI: Effect of five-year supplementation of vitamin C on serum vitamin C concentration and consumption of vegetables and fruits in middle-aged Japanese: a randomized controlled trial.
[15] NCBI: Effects of vitamin C supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.
[16] NCBI: Association between nutritional status and cognitive functioning in a healthy elderly population.
[17] NCBI: Dietary antioxidants and dementia in a population-based case-control study among older people in South Germany.
[18] National Institute of Health: Vitamin C
[19] JOURNAL OF NEUROCHEMISTRY: Dietary intake of unsaturated fatty acids modulates physiological properties of entorhinal cortex neurons in mice
[20] National Institute on Aging: High blood pressure is linked to cognitive decline
[21] NCBI: Effects of beta-hydroxybutyrate on cognition in memory-impaired adults.
[22] News Wise: Eating Green Leafy Vegetables Keeps Mental Abilities Sharp
[23] PNAS: Stoichiometric coupling of brain glucose metabolism and glutamatergic neuronal activity
[24] NCBI: Nothing Boring About Boron
[25] NCBI: Neuroprotection and antioxidants
[26] NCBI: High Blood caffeine levels in MCI linked to lack of progression to dementia.
[27] NCBI: Hypoxia/reoxygenation impairs memory formation via adenosine-dependent activation of caspase 1.
[28] Science Direct: Repeated administration of almonds increases brain acetylcholine levels and enhances memory function in healthy rats while attenuates memory deficits in animal model of amnesia
[29] Science Direct: Almond, hazelnut and walnut, three nuts for neuroprotection in Alzheimer’s disease: A neuropharmacological review of their bioactive constituents
[30] NCBI: Folic acid, ageing, depression, and dementia
[31] The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Iron treatment normalizes cognitive functioning in young women
[32] ResearchGate: A potential medicinal importance of zinc in human health and chronic disease
[33] ORA: Vitamin B6 for cognition
[34] Springer Link: Thiamine supplementation mood and cognitive functioning
[35] J. Agric. Food Chem: Berry Fruit Enhances Beneficial Signaling in the Brain
[36] NCBI: Dietary intake of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline
[37] Science Direct: Potassium 2-(1-hydroxypentyl)-benzoate improves learning and memory deficits in chronic cerebral hypoperfused rats
[38] NY Times: New Hints Seen That Red Wine May Slow Aging
[39] NCBI: Moderate alcohol consumption and cognitive risk.

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