Critical Thinking

Developing the Skills for Successful Thinking

© iStockphoto/joecicak

How often do you think about how you think?

For most people, the answer is "not very often." And yet, every day, we each make decisions, generate ideas, draw conclusions, evaluate other people's opinions and so on. These are things that often need careful thought.

Even when using tools and techniques to help with this, we tend to think about specific techniques of 'decision making' or 'idea generation' rather than the wider process of thinking.

These techniques are very helpful, but sometimes things can fall between the cracks: If you use an incorrect assumption when you evaluate something, your final conclusion may be flawed. If you allow your emotions to cloud your analysis, you risk making a biased decision. If you don't have all the facts, you may miss the best solution. And if you unthinkingly accept what you hear or read from other people, you risk being manipulated. That's where critical thinking comes in.

Critical thinking is the discipline of rigorously and skillfully using information, experience, observation and reasoning to guide your decisions, actions and beliefs. This means questioning every step of your thinking process. Have you considered all the facts? Have you tested your assumptions? Is your reasoning sound? Can you be sure your judgment is unbiased? Is your thinking process logical, rational and complete? This kind of rigorous, logical questioning is often known as Socratic questioning, after the Greek Socrates who is considered to be the founder of critical thinking.

By developing the skills of critical thinking, and bringing rigor and discipline to your thinking processes, you stand a better chance of being "right". And so you are more likely to make good judgments, choices and decisions in all areas of your life. This is an important part of "success" and "wisdom."

Critical Thinking Skills*

By thinking critically, you aim to ensure that the thinking processes you choose and follow are rigorous and complete. To do this effectively, you need to develop skills to:

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