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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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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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