Developing critical thinking skills is a worthwhile practice for everybody. They serve us well in school, in work, and in life. But aren't we talking about a life study here? Don't they take incredible discipline and hours of daily practice to achieve and improve?
Well, they certainly can if you're so inclined, but they don't have to.
In fact, critical thinking ability can become unconscious within us, starting with small steps.
That's exactly what the purpose is with these proactive and positive critical thinking habits we suggest for you. They can be done in minutes a day and practiced for a lifetime. Best of all, they can lead to bigger and better results with your critical thinking.
7 Daily Critical Thinking Habits That Work
1. Explore a Question
Critical thinkers ask questions—lots of them. It's only through having solid questioning habits that we'll find what we seek. This applies to everything from easy tasks like choosing a clothing colour, to making a significant financial decision like purchasing a home.
Even if we begin on a small scale, it develops mindsets that prime us for tackling more prominent and more in-depth questions. However, critical thinking also involves knowing both how and where to look to find the answer.
As always, practice makes perfect. So begin your daily exercise by thinking about something you want to know about, which could be anything you choose.
What are you curious about? What do you want to know more about?
The next step from there is to phrase it as a question. Doing this will help you pinpoint specifics about your inquiry, and help you narrow the focus to make a search easier.
Finally, it's time to do some research and find out what you want to know. You might use the Internet, or perhaps a combination of online and more traditional sources. This is where the skills of Information Fluency come into play. No matter what, practicing the art of asking questions and locating the information that answers them is one of the simplest and best daily critical thinking habits you can get into.
2. Manage an Ordered List
Organizing tasks and setting their level of priority is a great way to make a complicated day more streamlined.
When we have a sense of order, everything just feels better, and we're often able to accomplish more.
This is in stark contrast to the ready-fire-aim approach of getting stuff done.
Since part of adopting good critical thinking habits means organization and prioritization, try getting into the custom of using lists for busier days. A great set of tips for list-making can be found at Notebook Love, from Sir Richard Branson. You don't have to follow them all, but see which ones can work in your daily routine:
- Write down every single idea you have, no matter how big or small.
- Always carry a notebook.
- Find a list method that works for you. Doodles, bullet-points, charts. What suits you best?
- Make a list of small, manageable tasks to complete every day.
- Mark off every completed task. You'll find making each tick very satisfying.
- Make your goals measurable, so you know if your plans are working.
- Set far off, outlandish goals. What do you want to have achieved by 2020? How about 2050?
- Include personal goals in your lists, not just business.
- Share your goals with others. You can help motivate each other further.
- Celebrate your successes then make new lists of new goals.
If you're going digital, there are some useful apps for making lists and organizing tasks that you might enjoy using. Here at Wabisabi Learning, we're fans of Todoist. Here are some others to try:
3. Engage in a Conversation
Conversation is more than just about exchanging ideas and sharing dreams. In the end, it can involve deep listening, impactful learning, and solid action planning. It is a circle of experiences without sides and is completely open in its heart to bold new ideas and challenging viewpoints.
A good conversation should have us looking differently at others and at ourselves. It should inspire us to think differently, consider broadly, and view wisely. That's the power of true dialogue, and why it's a key habit that critical thinkers engage in regularly.
If you're not much of a talker but would like to be more of one, getting involved in a conversation is a great way to start. It can help you express your ideas and feelings better, and help you feel safer doing so with others. Once again, critical thinking habits like this come down to practice.
Here are some quick tips on having better conversations. You can learn more about them from the article 9 Simple Tips to Having Really Good Conversations:
- Be excited about who is in front of you
- Ask more thoughtful questions
- Don't have all the answers.
- Share your struggle
- Be present
- Turn your phone off, or at least turn it over
- Be mindful of your body language
- Don't be a Reality Checker
- Don't be a One-Upper or a Me-Monster
4. Pinpoint a Weakness and Plan to Improve it
Is there something in your experience that you want to get better at? Everybody has strengths and weaknesses, but our weak points can always be improved upon. So think about an area of your life you want to improve on and begin taking small steps to make it happen.
For instance, maybe you want to become a better listener. Maybe you want to get more exercise or start eating healthier. Perhaps you want to improve your abilities as a writer, artist, or musician. You may want to become more social and less introverted, or maybe you want to try being less overbearing or impatient.
Whatever you want to improve about yourself, approach it like a critical thinker: recognize the weakness, make a proactive plan to improve, and act on it.
The most important consideration to make is what you can easily begin doing right now, within your ability and capacity. However, to avoid going from zero to sixty and getting discouraged too quickly, start small. Let's say you want to walk more. Instead of trying to do too much at the beginning—like one hour five times a week—begin with thirty minutes twice a week, and build up slowly.
5. Set a Goal
To many, goal-setting is an important part of leading a successful and fulfilling life. When we have goals, we strive to push ourselves to be more than we are and to build our minds, bodies, and spirits in equal measure. Besides, nothing feels better than looking back at an accomplishment that seemed impossible and saying to yourself, "I did it."
Critical thinkers are prudent and patient when it comes to setting goals for themselves. Whenever you begin to set a goal to achieve, it helps to look at it from a SMART perspective.
Think about something you want to achieve, and then ask yourself the SMART questions:
- Is my goal specific? (S)
- Can I measure my success in achieving it? (M)
- Is it attainable for me? (A)
- Does the goal seem realistic? (R)
- Can I complete it within a specified timeframe? (T)
Just like improving a weak point, start small and work your way up. Set the standards you know you can achieve and go from there. Before you know it, you'll be building up to the goals of your dreams.
6. Solve a Simple Problem in Your Life
Critical thinkers are natural problem-solvers, and solving a problem engages us in disciplined critical thinking. No matter how big or small the problem, our thinking skills can benefit from solving a problem a day.
Every single problem we face can be applied to the framework of Solution Fluency, the ultimate problem-solving process. It consists of the following stages:
- DEFINE exactly what it is that needs to be solved, and give proper context to the problem.
- DISCOVER background on the problem by researching, gathering, and analyzing information.
- DREAM about the possibilities of a solution the way you want to see it.
- DESIGN the actual mechanics of your solution and help them to take shape.
- DELIVER the product (Produce), or present the proposed solution (Publish).
- DEBRIEF the ways you succeeded, and ways you could improve your approach in future situations.
It looks complicated, but it's not. The truth is Solution Fluency is a process that can take from seconds to years, depending on the scope and severity of the problem. So what are some of the little things niggling at you that need a solution? Apply this process to them and see what happens.
7. Learn Something New
All throughout our lives, we never stop learning. There is always something new to discover, no matter where we are in life.
In fact, it was Henry Ford who warned us that "anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty."
Being a learner for life does, in fact, keep the mind fresh and young, and thus, it is one of the most essential critical thinking habits to have. That said, there are countless different ways to experience learning in life. You can learn something in a random conversation, a breaking news story, or a book or magazine that interests you. You can also watch an online tutorial, listen to a podcast, or visit a blog.
However, simply acquiring information isn't learning. In other words, you have to combine it with action. To reinforce what you learn, practice and play with your new skills. Write down and repeat those important points that help you make sense of the new input. Better yet, a surefire way to cement learning into your brain is to teach what you've learned to someone else.