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9 Ways to Train Your Mind to Think Critically

9 Ways to Train Your Mind to Think Critically

Our minds are flooded with information on a daily basis. The ability to think critically is crucial for sorting through this and deciding what information is truthful and what is deceitful; what is useful and what is garbage. Critical thinking is the ability to examine and reason through any claims, assertions, premises, and conclusions, and arrive at a decision regarding its truthfulness. Often tied in with formal logic and reasoning, the methodology and process can become very detailed, breaking down syllogisms and arguments into categories of valid, invalid, modus ponens, modus tollens, etc. However, you don’t need to go through a whole course on critical thinking to possess the ability detect fallacies in everyday life. Here are nine practical ways to train your mind to think critically:

1. The Use of Metaphors and Illustrations.

Giving great examples and illustrations is a powerful way to sway someone, even when the illustration has nothing to do with the point in question. For example, using the metaphor of, “A seed needs to die in order for new life to come,” to argue for inhabiting protected land may sound good, but the illustration does not correspond to the desired means or end.

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2. The False Dilemma.

This is a classic fallacy that finds its way into many conversations and discussions. It involves narrowing down the possible conclusion to any argument to an either/or form. Of course, the reality is that there may be multiple conclusions available. Next time you are pressured into choosing between two options, choose both—and then throw in a few more possibilities to bend their cookie cutter.

3. Motives and Biases.

In any dialogue, be sure to consider which angle the person presenting the argument is coming from. Almost always, they have a position that they are trying to prove and will bend all information toward supporting their agenda. Mentally acknowledging this to yourself will allow you to filter out any statements that simply serve to support their point.

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4. Personal Pride.

Step back from the need to be right. This can be very crippling for clear and critical thinking. A one-sided perspective will always search for information that bolsters your views and you become blind to what is really true or useful. Instead of wanting to be right, shift your mindset to wanting to understand more.

5. Question the Source.

Do not be fooled when people use phrases such as, “Doctor so and so says…,” or, “Experts tell us…” It should not be a surprise that even people with PhDs can be very illogical. Check the source. Then ask about the credibility of that source: Are they a respected person in their particular field? Has their research proven to be accurate?

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6. Avoid the Rabbit Hole.

It is very easy to go down a rabbit hole and get completely off topic from the original point of the conversation. This happens the longer a conversation progresses. Place a mental marker in your mind about what the initial point of the conversation was—have this as the anchor to keep from getting off track. Continue to string together the conversation mentally in your mind to keep from going off on tangents.

7. Time Out.

Cognitive scientists will explain that the brain typically holds between five to seven pieces of information at a time. Confusion happens when your mind has to start juggling too many pieces of information. Rather than having to come up with an answer or a conclusion, it is absolutely okay to say, “I don’t know,” or, “I need more time to think about that.” Give your mind a little more time to sort through what it has just heard and piece things together.

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8. Play the Devil’s Advocate

Before becoming dogmatic on any of your own beliefs, it is helpful to reason and argue with yourself. Take the oppositional view to your own beliefs and see whether your position would stand up against your own barrage of attacks.

9. Beware the Straw Man

A straw man is a fallacy that pops up a tremendous amount in monologues, such as in political speeches, for example. It involves taking an argument and erroneously rephrasing it or tweaking so that it easily torn apart by the person making the argument. This can also happen in general conversations when people take what you say and twist it. The way to deal with this is to restate and rephrase not only what you say, but also what the other person has said.

So the next conversation you have, or the next time you hear someone make an argument, begin using these different techniques to become a critical and effective thinker!

Featured photo credit: Portrait of smart female college student with books and bright light bulb above her head as a symbol of bright ideas via shutterstock.com

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Last Updated on May 22, 2019

The Pomodoro Technique: Is It Right for You to Boost Productivity?

The Pomodoro Technique: Is It Right for You to Boost Productivity?

If you spend any time at all researching life hacks, you’ve probably heard of the famous Pomodoro Technique.

Created in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, the Pomodoro Technique is one of the more popular time management life hacks used today. But this method isn’t for everyone, and for every person who is a passionate adherent of the system, there is another person who is critical of the results.

Is the Pomodoro Technique right for you? It’s a matter of personal preference. But if you are curious about the benefits of using the technique, this article will break down the basic information you will need to decide if this technique is worth trying out.

What is the Pomodoro Technique?

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management philosophy that aims to provide the user with maximum focus and creative freshness, thereby allowing them to complete projects faster with less mental fatigue.

The process is simple:

For every project throughout the day, you budget your time into short increments and take breaks periodically.

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You work for 25 minutes, then take break for five minutes.

Each 25-minute work period is called a “pomodoro”, named after the Italian word for tomato. Francesco Cirillo used a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato as his personal timer, and thus the method’s name.

After four “pomodoros” have passed, (100 minutes of work time with 15 minutes of break time) you then take a 15-20 minute break.

Every time you finish a pomodoro, you mark your progress with an “X”, and note the number of times you had the impulse to procrastinate or switch gears to work on another task for each 25-minute chunk of time.

How the Pomodoro Technique boosts your productivity

Frequent breaks keep your mind fresh and focused. According to the official Pomodoro website, the system is easy to use and you will see results very quickly:

“You will probably begin to notice a difference in your work or study process within a day or two. True mastery of the technique takes from seven to twenty days of constant use.”

If you have a large and varied to-do list, using the Pomodoro Technique can help you crank through projects faster by forcing you to adhere to strict timing.

Watching the timer wind down can spur you to wrap up your current task more quickly, and spreading a task over two or three pomodoros can keep you from getting frustrated.

The constant timing of your activities makes you more accountable for your tasks and minimizes the time you spend procrastinating.

You’ll grow to “respect the tomato”, and that can help you to better handle your workload.

Successful people who love it

Steven Sande of The Unofficial Apple Weblog is a fan of the system, and has compiled a great list of Apple-compatible Pomodoro tools.

Before he started using the technique, he said,

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“Sometimes I couldn’t figure out how to organize a single day in my calendar, simply because I would jump around to all sorts of projects and never get even one of them accomplished.”

Another proponent of the Pomodoro Technique is Sue Shellenbarger of the Wall Street Journal. Shellenbarger tried out this system along with several other similar methods for time management, and said,

“It eased my anxiety over the passing of time and also made me more efficient; refreshed by breaks, for example, I halved the total time required to fact-check a column.”

Any cons for the Pomodoro Technique?

Despite the number of Pomodoro-heads out there, the system isn’t without its critics. Colin T. Miller, a Yahoo! employee and blogger, tried using the Pomodoro Technique and had some issues:[1]

“Pomodoros are an all or nothing affair. Either you work for 25 minutes straight to mark your X or you don’t complete a pomodoro. Since marking that X is the measurable sign of progress, you start to shy away from engaging in an activity if it won’t result in an X. For instance…meetings get in the way of pomodoros. Say I have a meeting set for 4:30pm. It is currently 4:10pm, meaning I only have 20 minutes between now and the meeting…In these instances I tend to not start a pomodoro because I won’t have enough time to complete it anyway.”

Another critic is Mario Fusco, who argues that the Pomodoro Technique is…well…sort of ridiculous:[2]

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“Aren’t we really able to keep ourselves concentrated without a timer ticketing on our desk?… Have you ever seen a civil engineer using a timer to keep his concentration while working on his projects?… I think that, like any other serious professional, I can stay concentrated on what I am doing for hours… Bring back your timer to your kitchen and start working in a more professional and effective way.”

Conclusion

One of the best things about the Pomodoro Technique is that it’s free. Yeah, you can fork over some bills to get a tomato-shaped timer if you want… or you can use any timer program on your computer or phone. So even if you try it and hate it, you haven’t lost any cash.

The process isn’t ideal for every person, or in any line of work. But if you need a systematic way to tackle your daily to-do list, the Pomodoro Technique may fit your needs.

If you want to learn more about the Pomodoro Technique, check out this article: How to Make the Pomodoro Technique More Productive

Reference

[1] Aspirations of a Software Developer: A Month of the Pomodoro Technique
[2] InfoQ: A Critique of the Pomodoro Technique

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