Why Critical Thinking Is a Key Skill in Life, and How to Improve Yours
Critical thinking can help you do better in life. From learning how to communicate with your boss better when you don’t understand something, to helping you figure out why a romantic relationship didn’t work out. While some people are born with this ability, it’s absolutely something you can learn to do.
You’ve probably heard at some point in your life that critical thinking is the key to solving complicated problems. It applies to both issues in our everyday life as well as situations that happen at work. It can affect personal relationships, work relationships, and even interactions with strangers on the street or customer service people. But understanding what that looks like in real life can be a bit hard.
Decades of cognitive science confirm that critical thinking is… well, critical. It’s an essential skill for living a meaningful life. But, what does it mean to think critically? And how do you develop this skill?
Let’s break down some of the elements of critical thinking and go over some actual things you can do to improve yours, so you can apply it to your everyday life.
- Critical thinking allows you to identify the key root of a problem, and then figure out what the best way to fix it is.
- Both at work and in your personal life, understanding how to think critically can help you be a better person.
- You can learn how to think critically by doing things like not overthinking and making time to understand yourself first.
What is Critical Thinking?
The first step is to define what critical thinking actually is. Essentially, it’s your ability to identify and solve problems by gathering information, analyzing and evaluating evidence, discovering patterns, and reasoning logically. A complete process that most of the time takes place only in your head and can be done in seconds.
Without the ability to think critically, you basically can’t make any rational observations about a person or situation. In other words, critical thinking lets you think for yourself and not be manipulated by other people’s opinions. It makes sure you use your own mind as a tool to both understand the world in a deeper way, and make better choices.
Here are some things critical thinking helps you do:
- Understand how ideas connect with each other.
- Identify, build, and understand arguments.
- Find inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning.
- Solve problems systematically.
- Understand the real meaning behind different ideas.
What does Critical Thinking Look like at Work vs. your Personal Life?
While critical thinking is a life skill that you will use in every aspect of your life, there are so differences between how you apply it at work versus at home. The main difference is how you relate to the subject. Critical thinking in daily life is about personal growth. When you think critically in everyday life, you’re going to be tackling questions that don’t have easy answers or working through problems that are messy and complicated. The end goal, however, is improvement. Whether that’s improving relationships with others, improving your health, or improving your skills at something.
When you apply critical thinking to your job duties, you’re also trying to improve things for yourself and for the people around you. That said, it happens often that the pressures of deadlines and responsibilities can get in the way of creative problem-solving. It’s also an important skill for business success. Being able to look at situations objectively can help you make better decisions about the direction of your business, avoid mistakes and improve your customer service.
What are Some Real-Life Examples?
It can sometimes help us understand concepts better if we have a real-life example. So, here are two of how critical thinking can make a difference in your personal and professional life:
- Picture the last relationship you were in. You might have ended it because you were blinded by love. Critical thinking means you asked yourself why the relationship didn’t work, and even if it was actually as good as you thought it was in the first place. You might also have questioned your partner’s behavior and motivations or thought critically about what kind of relationship dynamic would work better for you in the future.
- At work, your boss gives you instructions on how to build a report from start to finish. It’s an important one so you don’t want to make any mistakes. But those instructions aren’t as clear as you need them to be. You could just do exactly what she says at the risk of mistakes happening, or you could think critically about what you’re being asked to do first. You could also decide that asking questions for more information is a good idea. Which would also be your critical thinking in action.
5 ways you can Improve your Critical Thinking Skills Right Away
If you’ve done any research about critical thinking, you might have stumbled across the concept of the 5 Critical Thinking Strategies. They are basically 5 specific things you can do to improve and keep improving your critical thinking skills.
Strategy 1 – Always be learning
The biggest obstacle to critical thinking is the assumption that you already know everything. If you go through life without questioning anything, how can you expect to expand your knowledge? Always take every opportunity to learn more about yourself, others, and the world around you.
Strategy 2 – Choose based on what most people want
This might be counterintuitive, but it’s actually a pretty good rule of thumb in everyday life. You don’t have to let other people make choices for you, but it’s important to consider the needs and desires of other people in your life before making a decision. This is especially important when you’re leading a team at work.
Strategy 3 – The strangest option might be the best one
This is key for managers and bosses. No idea should be passed over just because it seems too strange or different from what’s been done before. While you may think something has been tried already or won’t work for one reason or another, don’t shoot down ideas without giving them proper consideration first. A lot of the time, the reason you have a team in the first place, is to have access to different thoughts when problems arise. Take advantage of that!
Strategy 4 – Don’t overthink things
The best way to start improving your critical thinking is by learning not to overthink things. We know – that’s easier said than done. But if you try to analyze everything around you at once, it will slow down your ability to reach rational conclusions. Instead, focus on one thing at a time. Think about everything you know about the problem before moving on to another issue that might need your attention.
Strategy 5 – Analyze yourself first
Critical thinking is about being as objective as possible. That can only be done if you understand yourself first. You need to be comfortable with knowing that you will have unconscious biases that can influence your decision-making process. Plus, knowing those biases are there can be the first step to getting rid of them. Analyzing yourself first will also help you understand how to separate emotions from logic when making important choices.
Getting People Right (GPR) is an educational website providing professionals from all types of businesses with practical education in entrepreneurial leadership. To keep evolving your leadership toolkit, additional GPR resources below will be useful: