How to Develop Critical Thinking

Andrew is planning to build a house on a small plot near his home. It’s on a traditional street with old houses, and he wanted the new house to be respectful of what is already there.

But when he got the architects’ plans, he found the design was for a modern property. When he asked the architects about it, they said the house was low energy, and conformed to modern building regulations. It was what people wanted. Making it look old would cost money, so he would lose money on the sale.

At this point, what would you do? Accept what the experts say? Or challenge them? And if so, how? This is where critical thinking comes in.

People will try and manage you. They do it in advertising, with fad products that make false claims about weight loss or health pills. Politicians come up with comments that sound plausible, but are they? Colleagues will give you facts, but are they cherry picking? And social media is littered with misinformation about social and political issues.

You can end up confused and not knowing what to think. And the problem gets worse when you’re confronted with people who sound as though they know what they’re talking about. Maybe they’re using clever devices to persuade you to adopt their way of thinking, or make you agree with what they’re saying? It can leave you controlled by other people.  

This is especially important if you’re trying to make a change in your life, because some people will try to talk you out of it. And while you’re exploring how to change, others will want you to adopt their solution. Say you decide to emigrate. People and websites will tell you which country is best, how to apply for a visa, and where to buy or rent a house.

But are they a ‘disinterested party’? That’s unlikely. They may want to sell you something. And if they don’t, their views may be biased or lack complete knowledge. Maybe they live in one of the places you’re thinking of emigrating to, such as Australia. Perhaps they’re only familiar with a particular part of Australia, but not the whole country? And maybe they have a relationship with a particular car dealership, but not others. 

You don’t need to follow the crowd. Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s right for you.

Armed with critical thinking skills, you can boost your self confidence, make better decisions, and lead your life the way you want to.

How to think more critically

Ask simple questions.

  • Why are they saying this?
  • What are they trying to prove?
  • Do they have a vested interest in the outcome?
  • Are they trying to dissuade me from a particular goal?

Question their assertions

  • Is this true? How sure are we?
  • What’s the evidence?
  • What might go wrong?
  • Are there alternatives?
  • What are the drawbacks?

Be aware of your biases

  • Avoid wishful thinking. Are your hopes blinding you to reality? If something is too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Are you taken in by someone’s apparent honesty and professionalism (aka slickness)?
  • Is ‘confirmation bias’ making you see only those things that support your hopes or beliefs?

Beware of misleading statistics and statements

  • Because X and Y are similar doesn’t mean that one causes the other. It could be the other way around. Or there might be no correlation at all. Here are some fun spurious correlations.
  • People can take a small sample and extrapolate it to the world. A bigger sample might prove the opposite. Here is an interesting link.
  • Graphs sometimes have axes that exaggerate quite small trends.
  • ‘Up to 70% off’ could mean that only one item is reduced by that amount. Everything else could be full price or reduced by only 5%.
  • Beware of exaggeration and extreme language. Words like ‘original, ‘fresh’, ‘new’, exceptional value’ are meaningless.
  • Beware of being bumped into a decision by scarcity. If a deal is available for only today, it’s probably a sale technique. The deal will doubtless be available in a week’s time if you were to ask then. The same applies to ‘limited quantity’

Do you want help with achieving change in your life? We have a coaching programme that could help you. Learn more.