There is no danger that Titanic will sink. The boat is unsinkable.
Phillip Franklin, White Star Vice-president, 1912
Every day we make many, many decisions. Some are trivial, such as what size and flavor of coffee to drink. Other decisions are weighty when they involve substantial sums of money or resources. We strive to make the best decisions possible yet often are swayed by our assumptions and biases into flawed conclusions. Mr. Franklin’s statement above is a graphic example of an assumption that was terribly wrong.
Critical thinking is a mindset and skillset that causes us to examine our decision-making process to surface faulty logic, erroneous assumptions and biases. When we think critically, we approach a situation rationally, with healthy skepticism and evaluate the factual evidence to form a sound judgment. This thoughtful analysis would be foolish and unnecessary on trivial decisions yet absolutely essential for those with great consequences.
The emergence of the concept of “fake news” these past few years has really raised the ante on critical thinking. News is considered “fake” if it does not match my views and beliefs on the subject. By labeling news fake, we dismiss any information that does not fit with our current assumptions and biases. Confirmation bias, or only accepting as fact information that supports my opinion, is a particularly nasty faulty logic.
Here are my top 3 practices for becoming a more critical thinker:
- Rigorously practice self-awareness. Audit your past decisions for evidence of bias and faulty assumptions. Having biases is human, being blind to them is foolish. Look for instances where your biases both helped you achieve a good decision or hindered you from examining all sides of the story. One very subtle bias is to align ourselves with people who are like us (think gender, age, cultural background and so on.) Know thyself and your bias blinders is the first step in being able to think critically.
- Be your own devil’s advocate. Before finalizing a decision, argue the opposite position. Invert the logic you used to see if it’s opposite gives you new insight. I love practicing reversing assumptions. For example, if I assume that adherent to a strict budget is sound financial practice, what would it look like if I had no budget and spent based on want or need? Once you think in the opposite for a while, go back and examine your original decision to see if new insight surfaced.
- Seek out and regularly consume information from sources that do not align with your values or beliefs. True confession – I lean left on my news consumption. For the past year, I’ve made it a habit to regularly read conservative journals. I may not agree with the premises in the articles but I’ve developed respect for their journalist rigor and sound logic.
These practices will shift your mind from relying on what you know and believe to looking at a broader field of evidence. Once you start thinking critically about the information you receive, your decisions will be evidence-based rather than swayed by the emotions of the moment.