8 MIN READ

Critical Thinking

Developing the Right Mindset and Skills

 

We make hundreds of decisions every day and, whether we realize it or not, we're all critical thinkers.

We use critical thinking each time we weigh up our options, prioritize our responsibilities, or think about the likely effects of our actions. It's a crucial skill that helps us to cut out misinformation and make wise decisions. The trouble is, we're not always very good at it.

This article introduces you to a wide range of tools that you can start using straight away to develop your critical thinking skills.

What Is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is the discipline of rigorously and skillfully using information, experience, observation, and reasoning to guide your decisions, actions, and beliefs. You'll need to actively question every step of your thinking process to do it well.

Cut through the noise to find the truth with critical thinking.

Developing Your Critical Thinking Skills

Prime yourself for success by adopting an appropriate mindset before you work on developing specific critical thinking skills.

Being willing and able to explore alternative approaches and experimental ideas is crucial. Can you think through "what if" scenarios, create plausible options, and test out your theories? If not, you'll tend to write off ideas and options too soon, so you may miss the best answer to your situation. Our article on Opening Closed Minds can help you to stay receptive.

You'll overlook important information if you allow yourself to become "blinkered," so stay up to date with facts and trends, and seek clarification when things are unclear.

It's also important to emphasize logic over emotion. Emotion can be motivating but it can also lead you to take hasty and unwise action, so try to control your emotions and to be cautious in your judgments. Know when a conclusion is "fact" and when it is not. "Could-be-true" conclusions are based on assumptions and must be tested further. Read our article, Logical Fallacies, for help with this.

Tip:

One particularly useful tool for critical thinking is the Ladder of Inference. It allows you to test and validate your thinking process, rather than jumping to poorly supported conclusions.

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14 Key Critical Thinking Skills

Focus on the following areas to develop your critical thinking skills:

  1. Gather Information – Do you know how to gather information that's relevant to the task at hand? 
  2. Observe – You'll need to be curious and notice the details within the mass of information. Work on practicing your powers of observation.
  3. Infer – You must be skilled at reasoning and extending logic to come up with plausible options or outcomes.
  4. Rationalize – This is about applying the laws of reason (induction, deduction, analogy) to judge an argument and determine its merits. Take a look at our article, Rational Thinking, for information about how to do this.
  5. Reflect – Regularly step back from the detail of your decision or problem, and look at the bigger picture. Consider what you've learned from your observations and experience.
  6. Create – Use creative thinking tools to balance cold logic.
  7. Classify and Sequence – Group and order items or ideas according to their characteristics, to help you to sift through the data.
  8. Compare and Contrast – Once you've determined how similar or different things are from one another, Paired Comparison Analysis can help you to choose between them.
  9. Analyze Cause and Effect – How does the motive or reason for an action or event (the cause) relate to its result or outcome (the effect)? Cause and Effect Diagrams can help you to work this out.
  10. Synthesize – Identify new possible outcomes by using pieces of information that you already have.
  11. Evaluate – Weigh up the options to make an informed final decision.
  12. Predict – You'll need to find, analyze and extend trends to make sensible predictions about the future.
  13. Prioritize – It's essential that you can determine the importance of an event or situation and put it in the correct perspective. The Action Priority Matrix can help you to make the best use of your personal time and resources.
  14. Summarize – Reflect on what you have learned and what you found challenging.

Combine these skills with the appropriate mindset so that you can make better decisions and adopt more effective courses of action.

Key Points

Critical thinking involves rigorously and skilfully using information, experience, observation, and reasoning to guide your decisions, actions and beliefs.

You'll need to be open-minded to explore alternative possibilities, have a desire to stay informed and accurate, and manage your emotions so that they don't interfere with your decisions or actions.

There are 14 practical skill areas that you can add to this mindset to ensure that you demonstrate a high level of critical thinking.

Infographic

Click on the thumbnail image below to see Critical Thinking represented in an infographic:

Developing Critical Thinking Infographic

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!

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Comments (5)
  • Over a month ago charlieswift wrote
    Take a look at this revised version of the Critical Thinking article - new structure, more links! - Charlie Swift and the Mind Tools Editorial Team
  • Over a month ago BillT wrote
    Hello pmvirgil,

    I also can't find the tool. Thank you for bringing this to our attention - I'll bring this to our technical team.

    Bill
    Mind Tools Team
  • Over a month ago pmvirgil wrote
    I went to link in Six Thinking Hats (last in list) and did not find anything. Can someone tell me if it is on this site.
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