Critical thinking is a powerful tool for navigating complex situations and making sound decisions.
At its heart, it’s all about questioning instead of accepting, investigating instead of assuming, and analyzing rather than overlooking.
Critical thinkers have some things in common, and there are things they always do. Let’s unravel their secrets.
1) Embrace curiosity
Many critical thinkers I know have a natural curiosity and go out of their way to learn new things. They ask questions and are open to exploring different ideas and perspectives.
This continuous pursuit of knowledge expands their intellectual horizons and contributes to their personal and professional growth.
It’s also what fueled famous explorers like Marco Polo, Jacques Cousteau, and Roald Amundsen, for instance.
Critical thinkers aren’t satisfied with surface-level understanding but quite literally delve deeper, further, and higher into subjects, aspiring to uncover the underlying principles, motivations, or causes.
This curious, some would say, nosy mindset promotes a spirit of exploration, which is essential for critical thinking.
2) Challenge conventional wisdom
If you’re sticking to the beaten path and aren’t questioning established wisdom and authority, chances are, you aren’t a critical thinker.
You see, critical thinkers do this all the time. In fact, they’re willing to question and challenge widely accepted beliefs, practices, and norms.
They recognize that just because something has been traditionally done a certain way doesn’t mean it is the best or most logical approach.
She raised awareness about the harmful effects of pesticides on the environment and human health, leading to significant changes in environmental policies and regulations.
3) Adapt their thinking strategies
Another important thing critical thinkers are good at is they’re quick to adapt their thinking strategies.
They know that not all problems can be solved using the same approach and are willing to employ different methods or perspectives to find solutions.
Albert Einstein, for instance, was known for his extensive use of thought experiments to explore complex scientific concepts.
He would constantly imagine hypothetical scenarios and visualize the outcomes to deepen his understanding of the laws of physics.
4) Consider the context
But Einstein, like other critical thinkers, also considered the context in his scientific work and philosophical reflections.
He understood that the interpretation of physical phenomena could be influenced by the broader context of space, time, and gravity.
For example, his theory of general relativity integrated the idea that gravity is not solely a force acting at a distance but rather a curvature of spacetime caused by massive objects.
This perspective emphasized the interplay between matter, energy, and the universe’s geometry. Or, in other words, the broader context of things.
But there’s another vital thing critical thinkers can’t overlook.
5) Consider multiple viewpoints
And that’s looking at things from different perspectives and asking for input from their peers.
Let’s stay with Einstein for another moment. It’s safe to say that he valued collaboration and exchanging ideas with fellow intellectuals.
He’d seek out opportunities to engage in conversations and collaborations with other brilliant minds, fostering an environment of intellectual stimulation and exchange.
He also actively collaborated with numerous scientists, researchers, and colleagues throughout his career.
This collaboration was essential to his scientific work, allowing him to exchange ideas and refine his theories.
6) Practice reverse thinking
Many regular people can’t stand criticism, let alone a debate. On the other hand, critical thinkers and problem solvers engage in reverse thinking by intentionally considering the opposite or contradictory views of an argument or situation.
This helps them challenge their assumptions and biases, leading to a more well-rounded understanding of the topic.
It also encourages intellectual humility and helps them avoid cognitive biases that might interfere with an unbiased analysis.
The list of cognitive biases is more than 180 items long (!) and includes the following:
- The Misinformation Effect
- The Anchoring Bias
- The Hindsight Bias
- The Confirmation Bias
- The False Consensus Effect
- The Halo Effect
- The Self-Serving Bias
It’s a fascinating topic, and I recommend you check it out.
7) Monitor their own thoughts
Another thing critical thinkers always do is reflect on their own thinking and challenge their own beliefs.
They’re aware of how they arrive at conclusions, evaluate evidence, and make decisions. This awareness allows them to improve their critical thinking skills continuously.
Problem solvers also actively challenge their own beliefs and consider ideas that may contradict their current views.
They know how personal biases impede critical thinking and are open to adjusting their beliefs based on new evidence and logical reasoning.
For instance, did you know that the author of the famous hymn “Amazing Grace” was a former slave ship captain and slave trader, John Newton?
He renounced his involvement in the slave trade and became a strong advocate for abolition. He was ordained as a cleric, served as a parish priest for two decades, and wrote hymns.
You see, critical thinkers apply critical thinking to their own thought processes. They’re aware of cognitive biases and fallacies and actively work to identify and overcome them.
8) Document their insights
Critical thinkers almost always document their insights, observations, and reflections as part of their thinking process.
This probably should have been higher on the list because it’s really important.
Documenting insights helps retain thoughts and ideas over time. Recording them in writing or other forms creates a tangible record that can be referenced later.
This is especially valuable when dealing with complex topics where insights can be easily forgotten or muddled.
Documenting insights and ideas includes writing in journals, maintaining research notes, creating concept maps or diagrams, recording audio or video reflections, or using digital tools for note-taking and organization.
Ultimately, documenting insights supports critical thinkers in structuring their thoughts, promoting and stimulating intellectual growth, and communicating their ideas effectively.
9) Communicate complex ideas in accessible ways
Another characteristic of critical thinkers is breaking down and communicating complex ideas in a way that’s easy to understand.
They do this by adapting their communication style, vocabulary, and level of detail to match the audience’s level of understanding.
Popular science educators like Neil deGrasse Tyson, or Carl Sagan before him, use language and examples that resonate with their listeners or readers, ensuring their ideas are accessible and relatable to a broad audience, especially kids.