- Thinking critically means considering other perspectives and analyzing facts from different sources.
- Good critical thinking skills can help you avoid generalizations and decisions you later regret.
- To sharpen your skills, try asking questions, considering consequences, and practicing mindfulness.
For instance, you're thinking critically when deciding whether a story is credible by analyzing and evaluating all the information you find rather than only considering one perspective.
Consequently, critical thinkers often have a more balanced and rational view of the world.
If that sounds like something you're interested in, read on to learn how critical thinking can benefit your career, emotional health, and overall well-being, plus get a few strategies for boosting your own critical thinking skills.
The benefits of critical thinking
Plus, you'll probably have an easier time getting along with people who have varying personalities, says Judy Rosenberg, Clinical Director and clinical psychologist at the Psychological Healing Center.
Critical thinking skills can help you:
- Succeed in undergraduate and graduate school across disciplines, from engineering to art.
- Identify reliable sources of information and determine which news articles or people to trust.
- Understand your own biases to better understand yourself and those around you.
- Stay invaluable in a fast-paced or knowledge-driven workplace. Critical thinking is considered a top skill for success in the fastest-growing jobs in the U.S.
- Improve other life skills like communication, creativity, and self-reflection.
Last but not least, one 2017 study of U.S. adults found that participants with higher critical thinking scores tended to experience fewer negative life events. The study authors concluded that critical thinking seemed to be a better predictor of good life decisions than intelligence.
"If we can evaluate information effectively, we can feel secure and trust ourselves in various life situations," says Amanda Butler, a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice.
In short, critical thinking can have benefits across multiple areas of life.
If you want to reap the benefits above, try these strategies from experts to boost your critical thinking skills.
1. Slow down and ask more questions
"If you have doubts, ask yourself more questions. What is it that doesn't quite seem believable?" Butler says. Doing so can help you decide if these doubts and concerns are warning you about something important, like red flags in a romantic interest.
While you might want to believe the new person you've just met is your perfect match, it's healthy to question their behavior before deciding, Butler says.
"Let's say a potential partner is not responsive to texts, frequently says hurtful things, or is unwilling to communicate about relationship issues," Butler says. She notes that thinking critically about these behaviors can help you break things off if needed to avoid more heartbreak down the road.
You might find you've been engaging in wishful thinking, where your hopes about a particular person or situation get in the way of any tell-tale warning signs.
2. Say no to the status quo
You might feel tempted to hop on board with the latest viral trend. But by challenging the status quo, you can boost your critical thinking skills.
Fad diets, for example, tend to promise a quick way to lose weight. However, if you practice critical thinking by digging a little deeper into the research, you may find they're not only ineffective long-term but may also lead to a number of health risks, from impaired bone health and infertility to disordered eating.
To challenge the status quo in any circumstances, Butler suggests asking yourself:
- "Are the claims too good to be true or otherwise unrealistic?"
- "Have you seen similar claims made before?"
3. Do your own fact-checking
You may not always have enough information on hand to make an informed decision in the moment.
"Be willing to do more research on something if you're not sure," Rosenberg says. You might, for example, read online reviews of a product, service, or workplace you're considering.
Let's say you're trying to decide if an article your mom shared on Facebook is accurate, something you might not be able to tell from just reading the story.
Thinking critically, then, might involve checking for signs of inaccuracy and errors, such as:
- A lack of references
- Sponsored content
- Biased authors, like the founder of a supplement company stating their supplements are the solution to your health ailments
4. Consider long-term consequences
"Look beyond the immediate situation. Something that might be advantageous now might not be in the future. Ask yourself what's on the line," Rosenberg says.
This can be particularly important when making big decisions like:
- Moving to a new city
- Selling your home
- Saying yes to a new job
- Accepting a marriage proposal
For instance, if you have two job offers where one involves more hours but higher pay than the other, then you'll need to decide whether you value financial security over more free time, or vice versa. You may also want to evaluate the day-to-day responsibilities and people you'll work with closely.
Considering all of these factors can help you decide if it's really the right fit and avoid circumstances that aren't a good match, Butler says.
5. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is a type of meditation where you focus on your present thoughts, feelings, body, and environment through an accepting and non-judgmental lens. In short, you let go of "good thoughts" and "bad thoughts," along with ruminations on the past or fixations on the future.
One 2016 cross-sectional study of 178 university students via questionnaires and executive functioning tasks found that dispositional mindfulness, the ability to focus on the present moment with an open attitude, facilitated critical thinking.
Studies also suggest mindfulness can help you develop self-control, knowledge, and wisdom by improving your attention and emotional regulation.
Mindfulness might feel counterintuitive to critical thinking because it involves letting go of things outside the present. But it can actually boost critical thinking, in the end, since it can help you increase your attention span and better understand your biases.
A few ways to practice mindfulness include:
- Body scans: Bring attention to each part of your body, one at a time. This helps you notice sources of tension and your body's needs gently, which can empower you to take better care of yourself and make healthier choices moving forward.
- Mindful breathing: Focus on your breath: Breathe in through the nose for three seconds, hold for two seconds, then out through the mouth for four seconds. This practice can improve your concentration and help you center yourself when big emotions threaten to overtake you.
- Walking meditation: Find a peaceful place to walk for 10 to 20 feet and pay attention to your body and environment while you move. This can help you improve your sense of control over yourself and respond in more productive ways when you feel overwhelmed.
6. Improve your skills with outside help
Like any other skill, critical thinking can improve the more you practice it.
Just know it's not unusual to hit a wall and find it tough to further critical thinking skills on your own. "You should find learning new things challenging. It's the same as working out at the gym: no pain, no gain. The discomfort and difficulty of thinking enhance your capacity for critical thought and problem-solving," Rosenberg says.
A mental health professional can offer guidance on developing critical thinking skills when you find yourself stuck, Butler says. "Many therapeutic approaches are based in looking at and changing how a client thinks about certain things in their life, so therapy can be a great resource for developing new ways of thinking," Butler says.
Ultimately, critical thinking can help you get some distance from internal biases and emotional judgments. As a result, you might find it easier to make well-reasoned decisions and determine which sources to trust.
Developing this skill can strengthen your relationships with others and boost your professional marketability. But critical thinking can also help you make the best choices for your health, values, and long-term happiness.
"Critical thinking allows you to evaluate information for yourself and form your own opinion on it, rather than just taking it at face value. This helps you know yourself, what you want, and what you really need," Butler says.