How to develop critical thinking in 3 steps?

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Louise Hay

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The development of critical thinking is not a completely spontaneous process, it largely depends on our attitude towards life and our desire to seek answers beyond convention. In fact, much of our daily thinking isn't exactly critical.

And this makes sense. If we were to consciously think about every action, from breathing to what to eat for breakfast, we would no longer have energy for the important things. Therefore, automatic thinking is not necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary, it is necessary to relieve the cognitive load.

The problem begins when we let automatic thought processes determine the important decisions. When we stop questioning things. When we take what others say as absolute truths. When we allow ourselves to be limited by ingrained beliefs. When we don't go beyond appearances.

If we don't develop critical thinking, it is easier for people to manipulate us and we are more likely to fall into extreme ways of thinking that lead to blind fundamentalism. Without critical thinking we also run the risk of living on autopilot, without questioning the relevance of some things, which can doom us to perennial dissatisfaction. To avoid these pitfalls, but also to make the most of our potential, it is essential to develop critical thinking.

Develop critical thinking to move away from conformity

1. Question everything we take for granted

When we are children, we take nothing for granted. The world is a place to be discovered. As the years go by, our minds become filled with preconceptions that other people have passed on to us, from our parents to teachers or even our peers. Many times we do not question these ideas, but we assume that they are true or valid.

However, the world changes, so ideas that might have been valid a few decades ago may not be now. It is even likely that many of these ideas are actually prejudices, stereotypes, or unverified experiences that do not contain the seed of truth.

Therefore, to develop critical thinking we must start from an examination of conscience that allows us to question everything we have always taken for granted, from the notions of homeland that have been transmitted to us to religious ideas, without forgetting gender stereotypes or of any other nature.

We cannot think critically if our thinking is still tied to preconceptions that we have never questioned. We need to ask ourselves where these ideas come from, who they benefit from and if they are valid right now or if they help us grow as people.

Since many of these preconceptions are so ingrained in our minds, it is sometimes difficult to analyze them from an objective perspective. If so, we can question them by resorting to alternatives. We can ask ourselves: what would happen if you change your mind? What if the exact opposite happens? These kinds of questions will help us develop a new perspective.

2. Reasoning with logic

Emotions can play against critical thinking. When a subject touches our most sensitive fibers, it is difficult to think clearly. Indeed, it is not unusual for us to get caught up in pointless discussions, resorting to meaningless arguments, just because we have not been able to think rationally.

Logic can move us away from the emotional traps that hide behind experiences, expectations and desires to take the necessary psychological distance that allows us to think more autonomously. We can use it to reverse our thinking process, opening up new possibilities.

For example, when it seems obvious to us that X causes Y, we might ask, what if Y causes X? We must also ask ourselves: is this thesis supported by evidence? Do I have enough evidence to allow me to reach a solid conclusion?

We can apply the Socratic method, which consists of asking ourselves a series of questions about a central theme or idea and answering the other questions that appear. The interesting thing about this method is that it requires us to split up, becoming defenders and at the same time opponents of the idea, in order to be able to banish the emotions that could bind us to a point of view.

3. Diversify thinking to open it up to new ideas

In a society of opposites, we tend to think that there are good and bad ideas. Obviously ours is always the "good" idea. We even go so far as to identify with those ideas, so that we feel that different ideas are an attack on our identity.

In the long run, we end up feeling so comfortable with those ideas that we build a wall around them so that different ideas don't creep in. We meet people who think and act like us. And we exclude everything that is different.

That line of thinking is the most direct route to cognitive rigidity. It is diametrically opposed to the development of critical thinking, which feeds on new and different ideas. Approaching diametrically opposed ideas with an open attitude will allow us to understand them better and to absorb what they contain positive.

This means getting out of the paradigm of good and bad, putting aside the dominant thought to make room for other ways of thinking and seeing the world. We need to get out of the paradigm that leads to "ignorant certainties", the belief that all questions have certain and correct answers.

Instead, we must assume that critical thinking leads us to change our minds when we find better arguments. This involves having enough intellectual humility to recognize when we are wrong and admit that others are right.

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