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9 Ways to Train Your Mind to Think Critically

9 Ways to Train Your Mind to Think Critically
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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 July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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