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9 Ways to Train Your Mind to Think Critically

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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.

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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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Thai Nguyen

Thai's a Mindfulness-Meditation Coach, a 5-Star Chef and an International Kickboxer.

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Last Updated on October 21, 2021

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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