13 easy steps to improve your critical thinking skills
With the sheer volume of information bombarding us on a daily basis – and the proliferation of fake news and social media bubbles – the ability to examine evidence, assess the credibility of a source and think critically is more important than ever. This is why, for me, critical thinking is one of the most vital skills to cultivate for future success.
Critical thinking is not about being constantly negative or judgmental about everything. It’s about objectivity and having an open, inquiring mind. To think critically is to analyze issues based on hard evidence (as opposed to personal opinions, biases, etc.) in order to build a full understanding of what is Really ongoing. And from that place of thorough understanding, you can make better decisions and solve problems more effectively.
To put it another way, critical thinking means coming to your own carefully considered conclusions rather than taking information at face value. Here are 13 ways you can cultivate this valuable skill:
1. Always check new information with a careful eye. Whether it’s an article someone has shared online or data related to your work, always check the information you’re presented with. Good questions to ask here include: “Is this information complete and up-to-date?” “What evidence is presented to support the argument?” and “Whose voice is missing here?”
2. Look at where the information is coming from. Is the source reliable? What is their motivation for presenting this information? For example, are they trying to sell you something or get you to take a certain action (like vote for them)?
3. Consider more than one point of view. Everyone has their own opinions and motivations – even highly intelligent people who make reasonable arguments have personal opinions and biases that shape their thinking. So when someone presents you with information, consider whether there are other sides to the story.
4. Practice active listening. Listen carefully to what others are telling you and try to form a clear picture of their perspective. Empathy is a really useful skill here, as putting yourself in someone else’s shoes can help you understand where they’re coming from and what they might want. Try to listen without judgment – remember, critical thinking is about keeping an open mind.
5. Gather additional information where necessary. Whenever you find gaps in information or data, do your own research to fill those gaps. The following steps will help you do this objectively…
6. Ask lots of open-ended questions. Curiosity is a key characteristic of critical thinkers, so channel your inner child and ask lots of ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘why’ questions.
7. Find your own trusted sources of information, such as established news sites, non-profit organizations and educational institutions. Try to avoid anonymous sources or sources with an ax to grind or a product to sell. Also, be sure to check when the information was posted. An older source may inadvertently provide incorrect information simply because events have moved on since it was published. confirm the information with a more recent source.
8. Try not to get your news from social media. And if you see something on social media that piques your interest, verify the story’s accuracy (via trusted sources of information, like above) before you share it.
9. Learn to spot fake news. It’s not always easy to spot false or misleading content, but a good rule of thumb is to look at the language, sentiment, and tone of the piece. Does he use emotionally charged language, for example, and try to make you feel a certain way? Also, see sources for facts, figures, images and quotes. A legitimate news story will clearly state its sources.
10. Learn to spot biased information. Like fake news, biased information may appeal more to your emotions than logic and/or present a narrow view of the issue. So ask yourself, “Is there more to this subject than what is presented here?” Do your own reading around the subject to build the full picture.
11. Challenge your own prejudices too. Everyone has biases and there is no reason to pretend otherwise. The trick is to think objectively about your preferences and beliefs and how they might affect your thinking.
12. Form your own opinions. Remember, critical thinking is independent thinking. So after evaluating all the information, form your own conclusions about it.
13. Continue to work on your critical thinking skills. I recommend looking at online learning platforms like Udemy and Coursera for courses on general critical thinking skills as well as courses on specific topics like cognitive biases.
Read more about critical thinking and other key skills in my new book, Future Skills: The 20 Skills and Abilities Everyone Needs to Succeed in a Digital World. Written for anyone who wants to ride the wave of digital transformation – rather than drown in it – the book explores why these vital future skills matter and how to develop them.