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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

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on September 18, 2020

How to Improve Memory: 7 Natural (and Highly Effective) Ways

How to Improve Memory: 7 Natural (and Highly Effective) Ways

Memory plays an integral role in our lives, both in the short and long term. If you’re wondering how to improve memory, I’m here to tell you that there are natural and effective ways to do so.

Despite what you might think, improving your ability to recall information is certainly possible. You just need to know the right ways to do it.

Let’s dive straight into the first of seven easy ways to improve memory efficiently and reduce the risk of memory loss.

1. Meditate

We live in a world of non-stop, 24/7 information. It’s like a waterfall that’s endlessly pouring news, data, facts, and figures into our conscious minds.

Unfortunately, our brains are not designed to absorb this tremendous amount of information. It’s no wonder, then, that most people struggle to remember information and recall things.

Even if you believe you have a good memory and are comfortable with multi-tasking, you’ll also be aware that there’s only so much information your brain can process at one time. Research suggests that the more information and distractions you receive, the harder it is for you to transfer information to your long-term memory[1].

Fortunately, meditation can help.

Even if you just meditate for 10 minutes per day, you’ll boost your ability to focus, which, in turn, will make it easier for you to remember important facts.

While any amount of meditation will do something to help your memory, one study pointed out that “8 but not 4 weeks of brief, daily meditation decreased negative mood state and enhanced attention, working memory, and recognition memory as well as decreased state anxiety scores”[2].

Therefore, if you’re looking for the most benefits, try sticking with a meditation practice for at least 8 weeks.

However, meditation doesn’t just have to be closing your eyes and sitting in a lotus position. Some people prefer to simply take a short walk in nature. This clears and calms their mind, and still provides the all-important boost to their focus.

2. Get Plenty of Sleep

If you’re sleep deprived or have not been sleeping well, then it’s likely that you’re not able to remember well either. This is because sleep and memory are intimately connected.

If you have a busy life and regularly find yourself not getting enough sleep, then this will negatively impact your cognitive abilities, including your memory.

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If you want to learn how to improve memory, how much sleep should you be getting?

Well, according to the National Sleep Foundation[3], you need a minimum of seven to nine hours of sleep per night. If you get this amount of sleep regularly, then within just a few days, you’ll see a tangible improvement to your ability to remember and recall things[4].

If you want to improve memory, get plenty of sleep.

    Maintaining a proper sleep cycle is not always easy (especially when the latest Netflix series has just been released!), but if you care about improving your long and short term memory, then it’s critical that you try to get at least the recommended amount of sleep every night.

    Try these three things to naturally improve your sleep cycle:

    • Have a fixed bedtime (preferably before 10pm)
    • Don’t eat too late
    • Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible

    Sleeping is a precious activity. It regenerates your body, clears your mind, and helps with the storing and retrieval of information.

    However, don’t sleep just yet, as I want to tell you about another great way to increase memory.

    3. Challenge Your Brain

    When was the last time you challenged your brain?

    I don’t mean challenged in the sense of overeating or under-sleeping. I’m referring to stretching your mental capabilities through things like crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and memory games.

    To expand your memory bank, and to make your recall razor-sharp, you need to continually challenge your brain.

    Feedback from Lifehack readers such as yourself has suggested that brain training apps are a super-effective way of doing this. Used regularly, these apps can enhance your focus, attention span, problem-solving ability, and memory.

    There are hundreds of these apps available (most of them for free), but I recommend starting out with one of the big three:

    • Peak (Android/iOS, free, 10 million+ downloads)
    • Lumosity (Android/iOS, free, 10 million+ downloads)
    • Elevate (Android/iOS, free, 5 million+ downloads)

    If you normally spend a chunk of your week playing computer games, then instead of shooting and killing your enemies, why not let some of them live while you put your attention into boosting your brain power!

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    Challenging your brain will strengthen your neural pathways and enhance your mental abilities. But don’t just take my word for it; try one of the apps above and see the positive benefits for yourself.

    4. Take More Breaks

    When I think back to my days as a budding entrepreneur, I distinctly remember working all the hours under the sun—and many under the moon, too!

    At that time, I believed that breaks were for the weak, and to become wealthy and successful, I needed to shed blood, sweat, and tears.

    However, if you want to know how to improve memory, taking regular breaks is the best way to keep yourself productive, creative, and alive to opportunities. It’s also the best way to learn new information.

    Typically, when studying lots of new information, most people will spend hours reading it in an attempt to learn and remember the content as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, they’ve overlooked something.

    One 2011 study from the University of Illinois concluded that “the brain is built to detect and respond to change…and prolonged attention to a single task actually hinders performance”[5].

    This is based on something called the “vigilance decrement.” This can be applied to many things. For example, we often don’t notice the feeling of clothing touch our bodies because our brain becomes accustomed to the sensation. However, if you change clothes, you’ll likely notice the difference in texture and temperature for a few minutes.

    When you take a break from memorizing information, it refocuses your attention and energy, leading to increased focus overall.

    It’s similar to physical exercise. You wouldn’t attempt to train vigorously for four hours in a row. Instead, you’d take regular breaks to give your lungs, heart, and muscles adequate time to recover. Failing to do this will result in muscle cramps and overexertion.

    Basically, make sure you take regular breaks when learning new information. I recommend at least a 10-minute break every hour. (You may also want to take a look at the Pomodoro Method.)

    5. Learn a New Skill

    I love this quote, as it’s 100% true but frequently overlooked:

    “Learning never exhausts the mind.” -Leonardo da Vinci

    From my experience of helping to develop the careers of dozens of Lifehack employees, I can definitively say that participating in meaningful and purposeful activities stimulates the mind. It also reduces stress and enhances health and well-being.

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    Let me give you an example of this:

    Imagine you work for a global financial institution in one of their call centers. You take over 100 calls a day, many of them complaints. When you started the job a few months back, you were excited to be in full-time employment and working for a household name.

    Unfortunately, your initial enthusiasm quickly turned into frustration.

    The endless complaint calls began to take their toll on you. And the supervisors irritated you too, as they were far too interested in micro-managing you rather than letting you work in your own way.

    Now, in the story above, the ending could be that you put up with a job you didn’t like and led a dull and frustrated working life for years and years. However, an alternative ending is this: you channeled your dissatisfaction into learning a new skill (computer coding).

    It took you a year or two to get up to speed, but it allowed you to successfully upgrade your career, and the ongoing learning made the call center job much more bearable.

    Clearly, learning new skills gives you impetus, focus, and something to aim for. Your brain loves to learn, and you should tap into this by always seeking out new information. When learning becomes a habit, you’ll find your ability to remember and recall things effortlessly becomes a habit, too.

    If you want to know how to learn something new every day, check out this article.

    6. Start Working out

    If you’re not already working out regularly, then here’s another reason to do so:

    Exercising for 20-30 minutes three times a week will improve your long-term memory[6].

    Regular physical activities increase blood flow in your body and supplies the brain with extra oxygen and nutrients. A well-nourished brain is a well-functioning brain!

    Even if you don’t have much time, research has shown that a daily burst of 60 seconds of high-intensity exercise offered many of the benefits of the longer exercise routines[7].

    Interested in getting started?

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    Here are five different ways that will help you work out:

    • Join a gym
    • Join a sports team
    • Buy a bike
    • Take up hiking
    • Dance to your favorite music

    7. Eat Healthier Foods

    I’m sure you’ve heard the expression: “You are what you eat.”

    This applies to your brain, too.

    The food that you eat helps determine your brain’s capacity to store and recall information. A poor diet (think junk food + soda!) harms not just your physical health, but your mental health, as well.

    Fortunately, there are several foods that are especially good for your brain and your memory. These include: blueberries, celery, and dark chocolate. But any fruits, vegetables, or foods high in antioxidants will have a positive effect on your brain and memory. Here’re some ideas: 15 Brain Foods That Will Super Boost Your Brain Power

    Conversely, highly-processed foods and those loaded with sugar will have a negative impact on your memory. This is due to them providing insufficient nutrients for your brain, leading you to easily suffer from mental fatigue.

    If you want to improve your mental health, eat and drink an abundance of these for brain health:

    • Turmeric – Helps new brain cells grown
    • Broccoli – Protects the brain against damage
    • Nuts – Improves memory
    • Green tea – Enhances brain performance, memory and focus[8]
    • Fish oilFish oil supplements can increase your brain power

    Here’re more brain food options that improve memory!

    Also, remember that your brain is about 75% water, so dehydration can have a huge effect on the way your brain functions. Stay hydrated if you really want to improve memory!

    Final Thoughts

    I sincerely hope these seven memory boosting ways that I’ve covered in this article will be helpful for you.

    You don’t need to implement them all, but you can try out the ones that appeal to you.

    But, if you’re serious about dramatically improving your memory and avoiding cognitive decline, then make a start right now on adopting one or more of the ways I’ve suggested.

    More on How to Improve Memory

    Featured photo credit: Eric Ward via unsplash.com

    Reference

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