1. Ask Basic Questions: It’s tempting to imagine that good critical thinkers ask erudite, convoluted questions when they’re trying to solve a problem. However, the truth is actually the opposite. The better you are at critical thinking, the more fundamental and clear your questions become. To enhance your questioning when problem-solving (and thereby improve your critical thinking abilities), make sure you break questions down.
Suppose you encounter a new problem, in work or life, and aren’t sure what to do. Start by asking the following:
What information about this problem do you already have?
How do you know the above information?
What is your goal and what are you trying to discover, prove, disprove, support or criticize?
What might you be overlooking?
These types of questions encourage you to get right to the heart of a problem, interrogating it for simple solutions before assuming complexity.
If it helps, try writing down the answers to the above four questions when faced with a problem, to help yourself remember your process as you go through it. You can use the same strategy to try and coax someone else through a problem when they bring it to you.
Once again, this shows how critical thinking is important from an interpersonal perspective, not just a cognitive perspective.
2. Be Aware Of Your Mental Process: People who assume they’re good critical thinkers often turn their analytical abilities outwards, arrogantly critiquing other people. However, being a genuinely skilled thinker involves a lot more self-reflection.
In particular, you want to keep an eye on your own mental process; where it started, what it looks like, and where it’s going. Our brains are incredibly impressive and can sort through information at an amazing rate, but this lightning-fast work can encourage us to ignore important factors.
3. Adjust Your Perspective: As noted above, being more mindful of your own biases is a great help in critical thinking. However, it’s only step one in a gradual perspective shift.
One useful thing you can do is read the literature on biases and how they operate. For example, in the field of “CV studies”, researchers show how identical CVs can receive different evaluations depending on whether the name placed on the top sounds male or female, foreign or familiar, and so on.
Meanwhile, there are is all sorts of interesting work on how situational factors influence our seemingly staple character traits. For example, we make different decisions depending on things like hunger, the color of a room, whether we had to climb a flight of stairs, and so on.
4. Think In Reverse: Thinking in reverse is another fascinating and effective technique, especially when you’re stuck trying to puzzle through a difficult problem.
Thinking in reverse won’t always get you an immediate solution to a problem. However, it jolts you out of perceiving the problem in the same old way, which is often all you need to get onto the road to success. Further, flipping the assumed direction of causation is a particularly useful trick in relationships, one that discourages blame
5. Develop Foresight: While one of us are likely to become psychic anytime soon, we can get a lot better at predicting the impact of the choices we make (and the things we say). Consider that good foresight is an asset no matter what you’re trying to achieve. Whether you’re at a job interview, trying to market a business or attempting to date, you’ll be better able to make the right decisions if you can already see the consequences further down the line.
How do you develop your capacity for foresight, thereby improving your critical thinking more broadly? Make sure you take the time to look at all angles of a potential decision.