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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 November 2, 2020

How to Use Your Unconscious Mind to Get What You Want

How to Use Your Unconscious Mind to Get What You Want

I get my best ideas when I’m not trying—when I’m zoning out in the shower or taking my dog for a walk. Suddenly, something I’ve been racking my brain to figure out seems to just come to me. It may seem like magic, but it’s actually just my unconscious mind coming through for the win.

What Is Conscious Thought?

Let’s start by explaining what the unconscious mind is not. I want you to think about what your dream house would look like if money were no object. Then, think about where you were the first time you can remember feeling joy.

That voice in your head that was talking you through those two tasks is your conscious mind. Simply put, any thought process that you are aware of (conscious of) is part of your conscious mind. I’m using my conscious mind as I sit here and write this article.

One of the major brain centers for conscious thought is in your prefrontal cortex. This is on the outside of your brain behind your forehead. Some of the downsides of conscious thought are that it’s energetically taxing and finite. What I mean is, your conscious mind can only think one thing at a time, and it burns through a lot of glucose to do so.

Try to figure out the square root of 2400 while creating a grocery list. You can skip back and forth between those two tasks, but your conscious mind can’t wrestle with both simultaneously.

Also, think of a time when you were utilizing your conscious mind for an extended period. Maybe you were in classes all day or busy with a tough work task late into the night. You were probably exhausted after such intensive and extended conscious thought.

What Is the Unconscious Mind?

That’s why the unconscious mind is such a valuable resource. It isn’t energy taxing, and it is virtually limitless. Your unconscious mind could be trying to figure out thousands of problems right now.

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The downside is that you aren’t conscious of any of it until you are—until your unconscious thoughts make it into your consciousness.

That’s why it behooves us to figure out how to create the right environment for our unconscious minds to flourish.

System 1 and System 2 Thinking

Daniel Kahneman’s seminal book Thinking, Fast and Slow gives us another way to think about the difference between the unconscious and conscious minds. Kahneman describes two different modes of thought called System 1 and System 2.

System 1 is quick, emotional, and intuitive, while System 2 is slow, methodical, and logical. System 1 works in tandem with System 2.

For example, if you see someone looking at you, your System 1 might assume they are upset with you. Then, your System 2 takes over to process information and discern what might actually be going on at that moment.

Kahneman warns us that System 1 and System 2 are metaphors for how the mind works.[1] It would be an oversimplification to try to explain specific regions where System 1 and System 2 thinking takes place. However, System 1 and 2 is a powerful way of thinking about different modes of thinking. Kahneman calls System 1 automatic thinking and System 2 effortful.

The idea of focus is key here. In a famous experiment, participants were told to watch a video and count how many times people in the video passed a ball to each other. This required their System 2 thinking. However, the intense focus required for this experiment caused most people to miss the fact that while the people in the video were passing the ball, a person in a gorilla suit slowly made his way through the shot.

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How to Make Your Unconscious Mind Work For You

Focusing too intensely can cause us to miss details and solutions better suited to our unconscious mind. That’s why we sometimes have to stop and chill out, instead of forcing solutions.

Here are five ways to make your unconscious mind work for you.

1. Manage Stress

Your unconscious mind is not a big fan of you being stressed out, overworked, or overwhelmed. Managing stress is important if you want to be able to come up with those effortless “aha!” ideas.

Imagine that you’re under a strict work deadline. Your anxiety is compounded by the fact that you’re worried about losing your job and that your entire family relies on your income. This is an incredible amount of pressure that makes it tough for your unconscious mind to break through with that effortless creativity.

Think back to the video where the person in the gorilla suit sneaks through all the people passing the ball around. Most people are so focused on the task at hand that they don’t see the most interesting part of the video. Stress and pressure can lead to a kind of tunnel vision that works the same way. Our attention becomes so narrowly focused that we aren’t able to zoom out and connect the dots between broader patterns and ideas.

That’s why it’s crucial to find ways to manage stress. I recently spoke with humor engineer Drew Tarvin who explained the 4 R’s of managing stress.[2]

First, try to reduce stress by eliminating stressors from your life. This might mean finding a less stressful job or leaving earlier for work.

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Next, reframe the stresses that you can’t eliminate. Reframing isn’t pretending that your stress doesn’t exist; it’s trying to think differently and change your perspective about stressors that do exist. This might mean looking at the bright side or trying to see the bigger picture. If I don’t want to quit my stressful job, I can try to reframe by thinking more about the money I make or the times I feel fulfilled at work.

The third step is to relieve stress. This means finding ways to relax throughout the day. You might try meditating or watching funny cat videos on YouTube to clear your head and relieve your stress.

Finally, refresh. Find ways to take more extensive breaks where you completely de-stress. Pre-COVID, this might have meant taking a vacation to a beach somewhere. But now, you’ll have to get more creative as you find ways to put your phone down, forget about work, and come back completely refreshed.

2. Take Breaks

Part of stress management is taking breaks. But taking breaks is also an important part of tapping into your unconscious mind.

When I’m trying to figure out how to structure an article or put together ideas for a larger project, I schedule in time to completely put the project down. This allows my unconscious mind the freedom to come up with some truly novel solutions, and unlike conscious thought, it feels effortless.

This is that experience of the light bulb suddenly going on while you’re showering or driving to work. When you aren’t focused on anything in particular, your unconscious mind has the quiet it needs to bubble up to become conscious thought.

So, take breaks. One strategy is what’s called the Pomodoro Technique, which is when you stop to take a five-minute break after every 25 minutes of work. This allows you to recharge. Plus, by systematically easing your intense focus, you are giving your unconscious mind opportunities to come up with some truly novel ideas.

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3. Get Creative

The unconscious mind is great at effortlessly seeing patterns and finding interesting solutions, but for this to happen, it needs some inspiration. That means creating and consuming as much creativity as you can.

Pick up an artistic or creative hobby. Paint, write, build, or dance. It’s also helpful to consume creativity. Go to museums, read poetry, and walk in nature. Taking in creativity with your conscious mind will give your unconscious mind all the inspiration it needs to be able to do its thing.

4. Don’t Force It

The most crucial takeaway about the unconscious mind is that you can’t force it. You can struggle and strain all you want when you’re using your conscious mind, but the unconscious mind can only bubble to the surface when you aren’t trying so hard.

Think back to that phenomenon of having an aha moment while you’re showering or walking your dog. The unconscious mind is better able to break through when you aren’t focused so intensely on whatever it is you’re trying to solve.

So, relax and give yourself some time and space. That’s when your unconscious mind is most likely to breakthrough.

5. Play

Finally, don’t forget about the power of play. Play is inherently fun, and a playful mode of thinking allows your unconscious mind more of a chance to innovate. If you turn your task into a game, you’ll be more relaxed, have more fun, and collaborate better with your colleagues. That means you’ll be more likely to riff and get to a more creative “unconscious mind” solution.

You can also add play throughout your day to tap into this freer, less constrained kind of thinking. Turn your commute into a game, play hide and seek with your children, or join a local bowling league. This will help you get reacquainted with your childlike sense of joy, wonder, and curiosity—all key ingredients to nurturing and fostering your unconscious mind.

Final Thoughts

Dealing with and utilizing your unconscious mind is very different from doing so with your conscious mind. Tapping your unconscious mind is a technique that, when done right, can help you get what you want by untapping your potential.

Featured photo credit: Katerina Jerabkova via unsplash.com

Reference

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