Scholar Skill: Introduction to Critical Thinking

 

Above all else, to develop scholar skills we have to be capable of critical thinking.  This article is an introduction to the core concepts of critical thinking and will give you the initial tools you need to start expanding ability to think critically.

Characteristics of a Critical Thinker

Every critical thinker has some common attributes and characteristics that help enable their application of critical thinking skills.

Having an Open Mind

The ability to see things from opposing views is a great indicator of an open mind.  In law enforcement and legal circles we often say there are three sides to every story: your side, their side, and the truth.  By being open to not just hearing the other side’s point of view, but also understanding it, you increase the odds of gaining deeper more valuable insights.

  • Try arguing for a position you strongly disagree with

Using Healthy Skepticism and Avoiding Cynicism

Skeptics and Cynics are not the same.  Skeptics seek to understand through logic and reason while a cynic is a just a cranky whiner.  Both question the status quo, but the intent is completely different.  The skeptical mind questions things to learn.  The cynic questions things as a way to complain about them.  Don’t be a cynic… there are enough of them already.

  • Asking “why do I want to know” is a way to mentally check for cynicism.

Knowing You Can’t Know Everything

A good critical thinker knows their brain power is a finite resource and no matter how hard you work at it… there is always someone who knows something you don’t.  This is a good thing.  Giving up the impossible mission of feeling like we have to know it all allows us to recognize the capability and expertise that exists in others.

  • Pick one thing you are really proud of for knowing a lot about.  Go find a recognized expert in that field of study and eat a slice of humble pie.

Being a Free Thinker

To be a free thinker requires courage in the pursuit of knowledge by not allowing social pressure to influence you.  It is in our nature to go along in order to get along, but thinking critically will often require us to stop the momentum of the herd in order to seek deeper understanding.  In these situations you have to be prepared for potential conflicts to arise.

  • Next time you are in a situation where everyone seems to just be going along, stop the momentum by asking an open ended question.

Driven by the Pursuit of Understanding

There is a difference between the pursuit of knowledge and the pursuit of understanding.  A critical thinker is motivated not just by knowing facts, but by understanding the logic and reason supporting those facts.  This requires a higher level of motivation and a deeper effort to drive passed the surface details and into the ground truth.

  • Don’t be lazy.  Go after the deeper understanding.

The Core of Critical Thinking

The core of critical thinking is made up of standards and traits.  Knowing these standards and traits will allow you to start building the mental processes for active critical thinking.

Standards

Clarity – Don’t be ambiguous or talking around the topic at hand

Accuracy – Get your facts and details right

Precision – Avoid being vague and generalizing

Relevance – Stay on topic and on target

Breadth – Get all the relevant information on the table

Depth – Cover the information with the proper amount of detail

Logic – Be aware of bias, assumptions, and lazy thought processes

Fairness – Get outside your own perspective and consider other viewpoints

Traits

Humility – knowing that you don’t and can’t possibly know everything

Courage – Taking the right action in the face of adversity

Empathy – Genuinely caring for another person’s perspective

Autonomy – Staying free from outside influence

Perseverance – Stick with it even when it is hard

Fair Minded – giving all viewpoints an equal standing

Confidence – Trusting in the benifits of applied critical thinking

Further Research and Recommended Reading

www.criticalthinking.org – The Critical Thinking Community:  Deep dive the concepts of Intellectual Standards and Traits.

Think Critically

Educating Intuition 

How We know What Isn’t So

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What do you do to help enhance your abilities to think critically?

Come on over to our closed facebook discussion group to share your thoughts and join in the discussion.  Or you can email me directly at Jon@masteryofskill.com.  If you are interested in further reading check out other Food for Thought articles and learn all about the Archetypes of Skill.  You can also sign up to receive The Friday Huddle, a short weekly email from me that gives you the tips, insights, and musings that have gotten me through the week.

Live Skillfully!

-Jon

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