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Published on March 6, 2020

How To Learn Critical Thinking And Improve Brain Power

How To Learn Critical Thinking And Improve Brain Power

Are you someone who acts on emotions? Do you find yourself struggling to form ideas or communicate better? All of these things can be solved when you discover how to learn critical thinking.

When we become critical thinkers, we can often turn one-sided arguments into legitimate debates. We provide our own thoughts and opinions in a way that can make a larger impact.

The catch is that learning how to engage in critical thinking isn’t so simple. To help, I’ll be covering what critical thinking is and some skills and methods that you can apply to develop it.

What Is Critical Thinking?

The Foundation for Critical Thinking has an apt description for this concept:[1]

“Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”

In other words, critical thinking is the act of taking information and processing it in such a way that we can make better decisions. Those decisions are better because we have a firmer grasp on a given situation.

You may find the above definition quite wordy, but this is because critical thinking demands the application of a wide variety of tools. They are there to handle any kind of information thrown at us.

Why Is Critical Thinking Important?

Now that you know what it is, why is critical thinking so important? For one, it is different than our usual thinking. We’re stopping and thinking deliberately in these situations.

This kind of thinking provides some perks over regular thinking:

1. You Can Engage With Material Beyond a Superficial Level.

We can formulate stronger opinions, which will allow us to have more informed discussions. This is far different than memorizing information from articles or textbooks and then regurgitating that same information.

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2. You Can Create Worthy Arguments.

When we have solid arguments, we can back them up with more confidence. There is a difference between arguing on a topic we’re not familiar with versus one we are knowledgeable about and can stand behind.

3. You Can Better Evaluate Your Work.

Once we have a clear idea of the strong and weak parts of our work, we can work to improve it. This can shift our life, boost performance, and more.

How to Boost Critical Thinking

With all this in mind, what are some things that we can start doing to improve our critical thinking skills?[2] Going back to the phrase the FTC provided, we can use that regarding how to learn critical thinking and improve it at the same time.

Critical thinking involves:

  • Conceptualizing
  • Analyzing
  • Synthesizing
  • Evaluating

That information we obtain stems from:

  • Observing
  • Experiencing
  • Reflecting
  • Reasoning
  • Communicating

All of the above guide our beliefs and actions. Using these points, here are some activities that you can do regularly to enhance the skills involved in critical thinking.

1. Question Your Assumptions

The greatest innovators have been the people who take certain notions and assumptions and question them. People like Newton and Einstein are people we remember because they were people who had different perspectives, which led to some of the greatest discoveries in history.

This is the spark of innovation.

While we don’t need to be a modern-day Einstein, it is important that we look at our assumptions and question them from time to time.

What is blocking you from achieving your goals and dreams? Whatever that answer is, begin to question it and evaluate your beliefs.

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2. Stretch Your Mental Processes

Another way regarding how to learn critical thinking is to stretch your mental processes. This is a powerful method because humans are natural-born short thinkers.

What I mean by that is our brain uses something called heuristics — mental shortcuts — to give context to our surroundings. In the past, our ancestors used this to great advantage for hunting or fighting.

However, in the modern era, where we make more complicated decisions, this becomes a problem. This is why voting can be a challenge, as it involves many of the skills and concepts mentioned above. To come to a realiable conclusion, we have to stretch our thinking and incorporate several complex skills.

The idea, then, is that you should be aware of your shortcomings and look for ways to stretch them. This means that when you have an answer, look at your biases and ask why you have arrived at a particular choice or answer.

3. Be Self-Critical

They say we are our own worst critic, and some people take view this as a negative thing. I disagree as self-reflecting is one of the most important aspects around.

Reflection can stem from various sources, but one of the most important for us is self-reflection. All that matters is how you are shaping your thoughts.

Where most people are tearing themselves down with negative criticism, I look to asking myself questions. For example, I can ask, “Why do I believe that?” This will lead me to an answer that I can approach with constructive criticism.

When you ask yourself these kinds of questions, you begin to grow as you look at what we know objectively and formulate opinions. This is moving information away from technical book-stuff to forming opinions through deeper thinking processes.

A final important aspect of being self-critical is an ability to be aware of your biases, strengths, weaknesses, and personal preferences. You can use those to approach situations from different perspectives.

4. Listen Actively

Active listening is another method to be a better critical thinker. When you listen in this manner, you are taking the time to process everything coming your way, including ideas, arguments, criticism, and more.

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This is important because many people listen to others in order to formulate a response or reaction. The problem is that it uses your brainpower and takes attention away from what’s being said.

Another way to think of active listening is listening with empathy. When you read or hear a person’s perspective, you can take that information and begin analyzing it instead of coming up a response or reaction.

5. Evaluate Evidence and Facts

Another part of how to learn critical thinking is through evaluation. How can we properly evaluate facts and evidence? Simple. Start by questioning it as we have been doing thus far.

Begin by looking into who gathered the evidence and how they did it. Lastly, ask why did they did it in the first place.

Consider all the studies you hear in the news. In some cases, the studies could have a small sample size that doesn’t reflect the population. Or maybe it was funded by a company or industry with a vested interest in making the study look good. You won’t know until you start to look into the study and interpreting it yourself.

6. Think for Yourself

All of this leads to being able to think for yourself. This is important to maintain now and moving forward. We are in the information age after all, and there are a lot of opinions, thoughts, ideas, and information being thrown around.

It’s very easy to get bogged down with all the information coming your way. It can sometimes be so much that you can get lost and forget to think for yourself.

At the same time, you don’t want to be so overconfident that you ignore everything. Bring in other people’s opinions and thoughts, but make sure that the final decision is down to you and that you’re satisfied with it.

It is also important to evaluate each situation to decide whether you need external sources or not.

7. Think Critically When It Matters

While discovering how to learn critical thinking, it’s important to understand that this isn’t a skill you constantly engage in without rest. While your thinking processs can sometimes get in the way, making you want to change them, it’s important to pace yourself.

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Thinking still requires a lot of brainpower, and if we’re constantly exercising it, we’ll create mental strain.

Recognize that critical thinking is nothing more than a tool. Use it only when you have bigger or tougher situations you need to respond to.

When you are critically thinking, remember that you can make mistakes. Mistakes are part of the process, and that’s okay. What’s key is noticing these and how they started in order to avoid them in the future.

Final Thoughts

The road on how to learn critical thinking isn’t that difficult on paper, but it can be hard in practice. As you can tell, it’s a matter of looking at everything with a certain level of skepticism and evaluating your answers.

It’s not something that can happen instantly as we all have biases and our own thought patterns. What matters is recognizing them and making adjustments little by little.

Try to use it during the times that matter most. When we exercise it when necessary, we can start to see its various benefits. [3]

Being a critical thinker is a lifetime journey, but it’s a rewarding one as there is always more information out there for us to learn and develop from.

Featured photo credit: Oklahoma Academy Publishing via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] The Foundation For Critical Thinking: Critical Thinking: Where to Begin
[2] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Critical Thinking
[3] Semantic Scholar: A Framework for Critical Thinking, Rational Thinking, and Intelligence

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Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on March 25, 2020

How Systems Thinking Makes You a Smarter Person

How Systems Thinking Makes You a Smarter Person

There are several perspectives on the term systems thinking. The discipline goes beyond a collection of tools and techniques. A lot of individuals are fascinated by tools like brainstorming tools, structural thinking tools, dynamic thinking tools, as well as computer-based tools. They believe the system thinking tools can make them smarter and productive. However, it goes beyond that as systems thinking is more strategic and sensitive to the environment we find ourselves.

So what is systems thinking and why is it good for you?

What Is Systems Thinking?

Systems thinking is a diagnostic tool that can help you to assess problems before taking action. It helps you to ask questions before arriving at conclusions. It prevents you from making an assumption, which is the lowest level of knowledge.

A systems thinker is curious, compassionate, and courageous. The systems thinking approach incorporates the act of seeing the big picture instead of seeing in parts. It recognizes that we are connected, and there are diverse ways to solve a problem.

Characteristics of Systems Thinking

Systems thinking can help you in analyzing the connections between subsystems and understanding their potentials to make smarter decisions.

In a soccer team, the elements are the coach, players, the field, and a ball. The interrelationships are strategies, communications among players, and game rules. The goal is to win, have fun and exercise. We all belong to several systems and subsystems.

Some characteristics of systems thinking include:

  • Issue is important
  • The issue is familiar with well-known patterns
  • Attempts have been made to resolve the issue.

Given these characteristics, systems thinking goes beyond an operational tool; it is a strategic approach and a philosophy.

How to Use Systems Thinking

Here’re 3 ways you can use systems thinking:

1. Understand How the System Works and Use Feedback Points

The first task is to know what system is all about and identify the leverage points or feedbacks that influence its functioning. This is what will help in adjusting the system.

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If you want the system to be productive, enhance the feedback points. If you want it to be less productive, exhaust the same points.

A good example is that of a bathtub. The leverage points are the faucet and the drain. If you forget to close the drain, having turned on the water, the water will never stop flowing, and the tub will never overflow.

If you want more water, close the drain while you turn the water. If otherwise, turn the faucet off and open the drain. You can apply this to your personal development.

Once you discover the feedback points in your life, find your leverage or feedback points, then enhance those points. If you want to be fit, get a trainer, find a mentor, or eat healthy foods.

2. Discover the Patterns, Structure, and Events

Trends and patterns could be compared to clues for a crossword puzzle. As you aspire to enhance the system, trends and patterns offer you hints and cause to shift your paradigm. Usually, they can direct you to unusual and unexpected aspects, to ideas, people, or places you have never thought about.

Smart people watch out for trends and patterns so they can be conversant with changes.

You can view the world from 3 different perspectives:

i. The Event Perspective

If you consider the world from an event perspective, the best you can do is to be smarter is ‘react’. You tend to be smarter by reacting quickly, becoming more lighter on your feet, and flexible as you advance through life.

So how do you view the world from an event perspective? You ask a question like, ‘What happened?’.

There is the possibility of becoming more aware and seeing more at this level. An excellent technique to achieve this is by telling a story to a group. If you can see beyond each event, see beyond patterns and trends, you will be empowered to anticipate, predict, and plan.

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ii. Pattern Perspective

To view the world from a pattern perspective, you need to ask, ‘What has been happening?’

It is most times difficult to see the actual size of an iceberg (underlying structures that are the causes of events). The waterline dissects what’s visible from what’s not visible.

A systems thinker does not assume from what’s visible only; he or she seeks to know what has been happening.

Take a look at this video to understand more about the Iceberg Theory:

 

iii. The Structure Perspective

To view the world from a structure perspective, you need to ask, ‘what is causing issues?’ The answers will be the factors and forces responsible.

If you find yourself in a traffic jam, you don’t blame the next driver as a smart person; you could ask, ‘what’s been causing the traffic jam?

The usual answers could be a decaying road surface, careless driver, or high speed, but that would be the same things identified as trends. What makes the structure perspective different from others.

The structure is what propels your energy. It is what affects happenings. A systems thinkers make deductions based on internal structures to arrive at a conclusion

3. People Problems vs System Problems

Several issues ranging from security breaches, product flaws, poverty, to transportation inefficiencies are systemic.

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Even when you misbehave, there is usually an internal system to blame.

If you are not productive in your business, it may not be caused by you. There may be a system that you need to enhance.

Do you remember our feedback points? As soon as you assess the system, you can focus on people. Is a new hire causing lag in the packaging process? Is poor communication affecting the team’s performance? Reallocating job roles may be a perfect leverage point.

In the traffic jam example, there could be a system-based solution such as installing traffic lights and subsequently enforcing traffic laws in the area to penalize reckless drivers.

How to Foster Learning with Systems Thinking

Systems thinking helps you to appreciate the interrelationships of people, organizations, policies, decisions, ideas, and relationships.

Peter M Senge propounded five disciplines that foster learning in your DNA- whether you are leading an organization, starting a venture, or working as a freelancer.[1]

1. Gain Mastery

You can take online courses, attend conferences, read blog articles and books, listen to podcasts, converse with leaders within and beyond your industry, watch documentaries, learn from your team, and stretch yourself by improving your skills.

2. Discover Your Assumptions and Biases

There was this parable of four blind men who made different assumptions about an elephant. Their assumptions and biases hinder them from understanding how the animal looks like.

Biases can rob you of innovation and prevent you from experiencing personal growth. To become aware of your biases, you have to take an internal trip and engage breakthrough thinking.

3. Establish Your Vision

Systems grind to a halt when the goal or mission is not defined. You will not have the motivation to complete the online course if you don’t know why you subscribe in the first place.

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Is it for career advancement? To up your game or to gain general knowledge? Vision inspires you.

4. Learn in Groups

There is power in shared learning. There is a solidification of understanding when you learn in a group. You can have the lessons etched in your long term memory.

For instance, you can join learning groups where information is shared weekly.

5. Think in Systems

Systems thinking is about lifelong learning and improvement. It has also been linked to the Iceberg principle, which affirms that visible events are insignificant compared to what’s visible. There’s more ice below the waterline than what you can see with your physical eyes.

Anytime you are battling with a challenge, think in systems. Understand the details of the issue. Discover your leverage points. Assess, adapt, and keep improving your models.

After all. If you meet a lion in the wild, you need to understand what you are facing.

Final Thoughts

You can foster systems thinking by modeling your own environment. Participate in training, watch TED Talks, and create time to connect with others.

Also, practice critical thinking instead of making assumptions before you make a decision. The more you think systems, the more you will become smarter and productive in every aspect of your life.

More to Help You Think Smarter

Featured photo credit: Olav Ahrens Røtne via unsplash.com

Reference

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