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How to Improve Critical Thinking Skills

Three Methods:Honing Your Questioning SkillsAdjusting Your PerspectivePutting It All Together

Critical Thinking is the art of using reason to analyze ideas and dig deeper to get to our true potential. Critical thinking isn't about thinking more or thinking harder; it's about thinking better. Honing your critical thinking skills can open up a lifetime of intellectual curiosity. But the journey isn't all rosy. Critical thinking requires a lot of discipline. Staying on track takes a combination of steady growth, motivation, and the ability to take an honest look at yourself, even in the face of some uncomfortable facts.

Method 1
Honing Your Questioning Skills

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    Question your assumptions. We make a lot of assumptions about almost everything. It's how our brain processes certain pieces of information, and how we get along in everyday life. You could say they are the foundation of our critical framework. But what if those assumptions turned out to be wrong, or at least not entirely truthful? Then the whole foundation needs to be re-built, from the bottom up.
    • What does it mean to question assumptions? Einstein questioned the assumption that Newtonian laws of motion could accurately describe the world.[1] He developed an entirely new framework for looking at the world by redescribing what he thought had happened, starting from scratch.
    • We can question assumptions in a similar way. Why do we feel the need to eat in the morning, even when we're not hungry? Why do we assume that we'll fail when we haven't even tried?
    • What other assumptions are we taking for granted that might crumble upon further examination?
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    Don't take information on authority until you've investigated it yourself. Like assumptions, taking information on authority can be useful. Instead of double-checking everything anyone says, we tend to label information as either coming from a trustworthy or not trustworthy source. This keeps us from double-checking every piece of information that comes our way, saving time and energy. But it also keeps us from getting to the bottom of things we perceive as coming from a trustworthy source, even when they don't. Just because it was published in a magazine or broadcast over TV doesn't mean it's necessarily true.
    • Get in the habit of using your instinct to investigate questionable pieces of information. If your gut isn't satisfied with an explanation, ask the person to elaborate. If you don't question a fact, read about it or test it yourself. Soon enough, you'll build up a pretty good sense of what deserves more research and what you've determined to be true in your own judgment.
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    Question things. You've already read about questioning assumptions and questioning authority figures. Now you're about to be told to question...everything? Asking questions is perhaps the quintessential act of critical thinking. If you don't know what questions to ask, or don't ask the questions in the first place, you may as well not get the answer. Finding the answer, and finding it elegantly, is what critical thinking is all about.
    • How does ball lightning work?
    • How do fish fall from the sky in the middle of Australia?[2]
    • How can we take meaningful steps to fight global poverty?
    • How do we dismantle production of nuclear weapons worldwide?

Method 2
Adjusting Your Perspective

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    Understand your own biases. Human judgement can be subjective, frail, and spiteful. One recent study found that parents who were given corrected information about the safety of vaccines were less likely to have their children vaccinated.[3] Why? The hypothesis is that parents given this information accept that the information is true, but push back people it damages their self-esteem — something that is very important to most people. Understanding what your biases are and where they may affect how you deal with information.
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    Think several moves ahead. Don't just think one or two steps ahead. Think several. Imagine you're a chess grandmaster who's dueling with someone with the capacity to think dozens of moves ahead, with hundreds of permutations. You have to match wits with him. Try to imagine the possible futures the problem you're working on may take on.
    • Jeff Bezos, CEO of, famously understood the benefits of thinking several steps ahead. He tired Wired Magazine in 2011: "If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that."[4] When the Kindle first hit stores in 2007 it was more than three years in development, at a time when e-readers were on nobody's radar.[5]
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    Read great books. Nothing beats the transformation of a great book. Whether it's Moby Dick or Philip K. Dick, great writing has the power to frame debate (literature), enlighten (nonfiction), or unleash emotion (poetry). And reading isn't only for bookworms. Elon Musk, the tech giant, said he mastered rocket science by pretty much "reading and asking questions."[6]
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    Put yourself in other peoples' shoes. Empathy can also help you develop your critical thinking skills. Whether it's improving your negotiation tactics or understanding literature better, putting yourself in the shoes of others will help you imagine their motivations, aspirations, and turmoils. You can use this information to get leverage, be persuasive, or just plain be a better person. Empathy doesn't need to be heartless.
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    Set aside at least 30 minutes a day to improve your brain function. Carve out 30 minutes in your busy day to make your brain more sleek and powerful. There are dozens of ways that you can do this. Here are just a few ideas:
    • Solve a problem a day. Spend a little bit of time figuring out a problem and then try to solve it.[7] The problem could be a theoretical or a personal one.
    • Find the time to exercise consistently. 30 minutes of aerobic exercise — as little as a walk around the neighborhood — can help improve brain function.[8]
    • Eat the right kinds of foods. Avocados, blueberries, wild salmon, nuts and seeds, as well as brown rice play an instrumental role in keeping your brain healthy.[9]

Method 3
Putting It All Together

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    Understand all your options. When you want to use your critical thinking skills to act — because armchair philosophy can get old after too long — it helps to know what your options are. Lay them all out there, and then weigh the options. We often pigeonhole ourselves into believing that we're stuck with only one option, when other options
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    Surround yourself with people smarter than you. You want to be the big fish in the little pond, because it makes your ego feel good. Well, throw away your ego. If you really want to learn, get better at something, and develop critical thinking skills, hobnob with people smarter than yourself. Not only can you bet that the smart people themselves rub shoulders with people smarter than they are, you can also bet that some of that intelligence is going to permeate your perspective.
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    Fail until you succeed. Be fearless in the face of failure. Failure is just another way of figuring out what doesn't work. Use failure to your advantage by learning from your lessons. The popular myth out there is that successful people never fail, when the truth is that successful people fail until they succeed, at which point their success is the only thing that's visible.


  • Don't be absolute, yet don't be timid in your criticism: Try to avoid absolutes like "never", and use them only when you're completely sure. However, at the same time, be assertive in your criticism. Think how much less motivating this saying would be: "Slow and steady, in certain cases, wins the race."
  • Be diplomatic. Your aim is not the person himself, but the proposal he puts forward.
  • Ask for other people's opinions. They most likely will offer a new perspective which could change your approach. Consider people both from different age groups and different occupations.
  • Practice critiquing, as you'll get better at it. Take notice if others critique your critique.
  • Read other people's critiques in newspapers and books, and learn from their mistakes and strengths to improve your own style.
  • Distinguish between inductive and deductive reasoning, that is, to know when a discussion is conducted from the particular to the general, or from the general to the particular.
  • Perform a hypothetical-deductive reasoning. That is, given a particular situation, apply the relevant knowledge of the principles and constraints, and display, in the abstract, the plausible consequences that might result from the different variations that you can imagine imposed on the system.
  • Use libraries and the Internet, to find out information on the topic you're critiquing. An uninformed critique is sometimes worse than one merely executed badly.
  • You can critique something much, much better if it's within your field of expertise. For example, who better than a painter to critique a painting? Or who better than a writer to properly analyze another writer's works?


  • Or utilize the 'sandwich method': compliment, suggestion, compliment. Criticism is received better, using this approach. Also, use the person's name, smile (genuinely), and look them in the eye
  • Give criticism in a non-offensive way, as people can get defensive if something they pride themselves on gets attacked. Therefore do not antagonize a hard-core abortion supporter by giving a heated anti-abortion speech. It will only make him go on an offensive to defend his beliefs, totally ignore your arguments, and strengthen his resolve to support abortion. Prefacing criticism with praise usually works well.

Article Info

Categories: Thinking Skills