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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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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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