My purpose in writing this is not to change your opinion, or to bring you around to my way of thinking. I’m not trying to tell you what to think.
What I am interested in doing is helping you think better. A big part of succeeding at life involves constantly improving your ability to think. Something we don’t spend enough time doing.
I can’t remember what I expected to learn in college, can you?
20 years removed from it, I’m not sure I learned anything that I wouldn’t have learned anyway.
What I do know is what I’d do if I could do it over again.
I would pursue a double major in philosophy and English. I’d spend those four years learning how to think and how to write. I’ll talk about writing in another post, but today I want to talk about how to become a better thinker.
Philosophy literally means love of wisdom. It helps you expand how you think, there’s a lot of it, and it requires you to commit to lifelong learning. That’s why I’d study it.
What would our world look like if everyone were skilled at taking in information, thinking about it, developing a position on it, and engaging in actual conversations about it? Because that’s not what’s going on today.
Today, the majority of people aren’t interested in doing their own thinking. They outsource it to others. Instead of doing their own thinking and developing their own positions on a topic, they simply take in a parrot back someone else’s narrative.
Imagine a world where the majority of people could honestly and confidently say, “This is what I think about X ” because they’d done the work of thinking about it for themselves. It still wouldn’t be perfect, but I think it’d be a lot better.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- What is critical thinking
- How to do it
- How to have worthwhile conversations
Let’s get started.
What is critical thinking
Critical thinking helps us to interpret the world. Our ability to do this has never been more important.
What do you think about vaccine mandates, intervening in foreign conflicts, the best way to educate our kids, how to police our communities, and Roe versus Wade? I don’t know about you, but I like to make up my own mind. So how best to do it? Enter critical thinking.
Start by identifying the issue or problem, and try to get to the root cause of it. More often than not, we get bogged down thinking about, or trying to fix the symptoms.
Recognize there are multiple sides to every argument. I’m fond of saying there are three sides, mine, yours and the truth. But it’s also helpful to remember there are three sides to a coin; the front, back, and side.
Fact find. Work to separate truth from opinion.
Interrogate your reality. We all have blind spots or biases that we bring with us into everything. Ask yourself, “what if the opposite I believe were true.”
Prioritize information. It’s very possible and common for multiple things to be true at the same time. But certain facts or pieces of information will be more relevant than others.
Come to your conclusion. After weighing the validity of as much of the information as you can, you’ll make a determination as to what is most accurate, and what you believe to be the truth.
How to do it
Take in information from as many different places as possible, and from as many different perspectives as possible. For example, if you’re looking at a political issue, look to CNN as well as Fox.
Trust but verify. When taking in new information, consider any agendas or motivations the presenter may have. Are there financial or political motivations behind their position? At some level, the answer may always be yes. But it’s always valuable to ask the question.
Eliminate false or worthless information. I remember learning how, when taking a multiple-choice test, you should first look for clearly incorrect options. If you’re able to eliminate a choice, you’re increasing your odds of successfully answering considerably. When searching for the truth, look to eliminate certain perspectives/thinking just as you would on a multiple-choice test.
Write about it. Journaling/writing helps us organize our thinking. This needn’t be a formal process, just get a pen and paper and start by writing the problem you’re working to solve. Write out the arguments on both sides, and start prioritizing them. This will help your thought process.
How to have worthwhile conversations
Once you’ve taken in new information and spent time processing, it’s time to put your new thinking to the test. We do that by engaging in conversation.
Part of the problem we’re currently experiencing is that we’re trying to win conversations instead of having genuine conversations. We’re trying to score points and to come out on top.
You’ve certainly engaged in the experiment of trying to put the “like poles” of two magnets together, and having them repel one another. This is the current state of our discourse; two people enter a conversation unprepared and unwilling to change their minds. It’s more asynchronous than it is synchronous.
When you change your approach, you find the “opposite poles” attract one another. This is how we want to have conversations. To be working together to find some common ground or solution.
You do this by going into every conversation with an open heart, an open mind, and with genuine curiosity. Assume you can learn something from everyone you’re talking to.
When we stop trying to win, we can have real conversations.
We must give one another the space to make mistakes, to work through ideas, and to change our thinking. Jordan Peterson and Russel Brand are amazing at this. They have the thinking skills to do it, but more importantly the courage to do it. And that can’t be discounted.
Having a real conversation with someone you disagree with requires courage by both parties. It requires a genuine desire to explore ideas, and to challenge thinking. It requires us to extend one another grace to make mistakes, and to change our minds without threat or worry of cancellation should we make a verbal misstep.
The more we can explore and practice our thinking, the better we get. The better we get, the greater the impact we can have.
Another important part of this process is to gain clarity on our core values. While these will change and evolve through life, the sooner we can decide on what’s most important to us, and what we believe to be true, the better.
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