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Published on March 5, 2020

11 Characteristics of a Critical Thinker

11 Characteristics of a Critical Thinker

One of the most valued skills to have in life is the ability to think critically. It’s valued by many employers as it allows someone to sift through information and discriminate between what’s useful and what’s less useful.

Overall, it’s our ability to analyze information and for us to make a reasonable judgement call.[1] But what exactly does that entail? What characteristics of a critical thinker do we need to focus on?

It’s important to know this because a critical thinker has a specific set of characteristics and mindset. After all, a critical thinker isn’t all about gathering information. They’re analyzing it and using it to make decisions and fix problems.

If you want to evaluate your critical thinking, it’s easy. Since this is considered a skill, you can turn to skill tests in this area. Consider the Critical Thinking Test or Wabisabi Learning’s Critical Thinking Assessment, which covers 6 categories: Questioning abilities, Use of information, Keeping an open mind, Drawing conclusions, Communication & collaboration, and Self-awareness.

But one other alternative is comparing your current skill set with the characteristics that I’ll provide below. Now, there are several skills that form the characteristics of a critical thinker, but so long as you are comparing the appropriate skill to the other, you should be able to develop yourself further in this area.

Here you will find 11 characteristics of a critical thinker:

1. Having Curiosity

If you want to be an effective critical thinker, you need to be curious about your surroundings and of the world. Those who are curious begin the learning process as they first ask a question and begin looking for the answer.

But the thing is they do this for a wide range of topics rather than in one niche area. So it’s also fair to say that they have a healthy curiosity about the world and people as well. They have an appreciation and even fascination for cultures, different beliefs and views that differ from their own but also are aligned with theirs.

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2. Being Compassionate

Critical thinking isn’t all about having a lot of intelligence. While it’s important to have those skills, it’s important to remember that we’re still human, and we have emotional and instinctual aspects.

The world today is already full of judgement and segregation, so you’re not helping much if you only focus on the information and parsing it.

Remember, everyone has a story that made them into who they are. We’ve all gone through challenges and trials that have shaped our lives into what we are today. Critical thinkers know this and celebrate the uniqueness of everyone.

3. Having High Awareness

Awareness also plays an important role. This characteristic allows us to know when to use critical thinking.

The more you are aware of everything, the more you begin to see the opportunities to apply these skills. For all of this to happen, you need to be tuned in to the world and be present.

Critical thinkers also have a healthy skepticism. They don’t take things at face value. They will fall onto other skills. Whether it’s asking questions – showing curiosity – or something else.

This characteristic forms the foundation of problem-solving skills as a critical thinker.

4. Being Decisive

Often times, problems that call for critical thinking also demand that we take quick and decisive action. Critical thinking is about weighing our options and imagining the potential outcomes from the decisions, and how fast they can be set in motion.

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To do this, set aside your own fears when making decisions. Sometimes, you have to accept the fact that you’re not going to have all the information you need. Accepting not every decision is the best is important.

5. Having Total Honesty

Honesty is a good policy as they say but, it’s key as a critical thinker too.

Moral integrity, ethical consideration and the actions that we take are all hallmark characteristics of critical thinkers. And it all stems from them being honest.

Honesty also extends to how we look at ourselves and embrace who we are. It requires managing our emotions and controlling impulses, as well as recognizing when we are deceiving ourselves. These things are what make us human, so it’s not something we can remove.

As such, critical thinkers are accepting of not only others around them, but to themselves too.

6. Having Willingness

This is a characteristic that goes hand in hand with flexibility.

Think of this similar to the growth mindset, if we don’t have willingness or flexibility, our attitude towards learning is going to be non-existent. We will also be resist to change and believe whatever we or others tell us. This behavior is similar to a fixed mindset.

On the other hand, when we have these skills, we learn to revise opinions, make changes, and have an eagerness to learn and develop further in other areas. We have a keen eye for growth.

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7. Being Creative

While you wouldn’t think critical thinkers are creative people, they are. Creativity is quintessential for a critical thinker as so many positions demand new and creative solutions.

Think about marketing, building professional relationships, these things require creativity. Consider the idea of innovation which is nothing but taking the norms of a specific industry and rearranging them into something new.

8. Thinking Analytically

Of course, being able to analyze information is another important aspect of critical thinkers. Critical thinkers look at various forms of information and analyze it; be it reports, statements, business models, or relationships.

Good use of analytical skills is being able to break information into sections and evaluating them alone and collectively.

9. Drawing Inference

Not all information is spelled out for us. There’s a lot of things that are inferred. It’s important to be able to assess information and base conclusions on the data and evidence.

However, there is a difference between inferring something and making assumptions. For example, if I told you I weigh 230 pounds, what would you think?

An assumption would be that you determine that I’m overweight or am unhealthy. But inferring would be looking at other data points like height and body composition in determining what a healthy weight for a person is.

10. Communicating Clearly

Critical thinkers communicate clearly. They are able to explain and communicate in a concise manner. As a result, they are also attentive and active listeners.

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Critical thinking is the tool to build thoughts and express them; this means explaining the line of reasoning and the thought process.

11. Determining Relevance

One last characteristic of a critical thinker is determining what is and isn’t useful. This comes down to determining the relevance of information.

To grow this skill, piece together what information is the most important, meaningful and relevant to your situation. There are so many cases where information may seem important but isn’t important in this particular situation. On the other hand, the information could be meaningful and relevant, but it might not be important in solving the current issues.

All in all, you’ll need to be able to look at the source information and determine if it’s logically relevant to what you’re dealing with.

Final Thoughts

The characteristics of a critical thinker is vast and there is no particular bath of skills that make critical thinkers. Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Henry Ford and many others were critical thinkers. But how they approached their problems and challenges were all completely different.

Remember that we don’t need to be like them; rather, focus on some of the traits that defined them as great thinkers. The characteristics I mentioned above should help you in this journey.

More Tips about Thinking Smarter

Featured photo credit: Thought Catalog via unsplash.com

Reference

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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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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