The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled. The current times are going nowhere near easy on human minds. Today’s world has so many visual, auditory, and emotional stimuli. Our minds often feel like a zoo with all the animals set loose. That one assignment is due by tonight, the exam you failed, grocery shopping for dinner, and so on. However, sometimes, the only thing you have control over is perspective. You don’t have control over your situation, but you have a choice about how you view it. Every day is a choose-your-own-adventure story. Let practical thinking be your guide to the thrilling twists and turns!
All you have to do is pause, reevaluate, and restart.
Practical thinking is like a turbo booster for your decision-making engine. It helps you narrow down your options, dodge bad choices, and skirt your way through many challenges life throws.
So let’s dive deeper into the dos, don’ts, and hows of effective and practical thinking, shall we?
Why Optimise Your Thinking?
Optimizing your thought process is like giving your mind an upgrade. It is not about making life more accessible but about turning everyday challenges into opportunities. It is also about making routine activities more productive and gaining the most out of everything. On the other hand, it provides cognitive tools and tricks needed to tackle complex activities. Think of it as your ticket to promotion. If you are a critical thinker at work, you can propose innovative solutions, be a better leader, and be better equipped with up-to-date knowledge.
A practical thinker will indeed have quick reflexes when it comes to detecting problems and looking beyond surface-level issues. They can set goals and make practical strategies to reach them. Effective problem-solving skills enable you to think creatively and bring out non-conventional solutions. Problem-solving is a valuable skill to hold onto. It helps you in professional settings and enables you to perform daily activities smoothly. It also makes you reliable in the eyes of friends and family. (It also makes you stand out from the crowd and make a striking impression.)
Developing Critical Thinking
Making decisions by evaluating, understanding, and analyzing data, statistics, and little details is the art of critical thinking.
It is a skill that comes in handy in various situations. For example, interpreting recent news from digital and social media, choosing parenting techniques, self-learning, and formal education.
Strategies For Improving Critical Thinking
To improve your critical thinking skills, challenge yourself in real-time settings often. For example, enroll yourself in short courses that require and encourage the use of critical thinking skills, or you can grasp every such challenging opportunity at your workplace and volunteer for it.
What you do during your free time has a massive impact on the fireworks of your brain. Play games that require the skills of critical thinking and analysis. By doing this, you can fool your brain into believing that you are having fun when you are honing your talents.
When polishing any skill, you need to be a constant learner. This includes reading, talking to people or professionals, listening to lectures, or attending seminars and workshops. Consistently learning and absorbing new information will give you an immense grasp on a subject when solving a problem.
Another tip that many people find helpful is always to have room for adjustment. Make sure to distinguish being a critical thinker from a perfectionist. Critical thinkers always have a plan B. They always ensure their plans have enough flexibility to accommodate adjustments later on. This crucial factor often saves the whole operation from going down the drain.
Common Thinking Errors And How To Avoid Them
Now, it is imperative to keep a check on your thoughts’ direction. One thought leads to another, and before you know it, your brain is deeply stuck in making assumptions and building narratives. However, you are not alone in this. These thinking errors are so common that there are scientific terms for them. Let’s see some examples:
All or no thinking
Aka black and white thinking. You may find categorizing yourself or your achievements as successful or failed. This type of thinking is common among perfectionists. Because of this, a minor inconvenience may leave you feeling like a total failure.
“I failed this interview. I’m such a failure.”
“she failed her MCAT. She’s a lost cause.”
Jumping to conclusions based on a small piece of information, which is mostly negative. Or predicting the outcome of something based on a small aspect of it.
” I failed this interview. I’ll never be successful in life.”
” she always finds a way to mess up.”
Discounting the positive
This means you do not acknowledge and take credit for your achievements or the good things that happened to you. You often think your achievements are not because of your hard work but are mere luck. It takes the joy out of life and deprives you of little moments of pride and happiness. It also leaves you with low self-esteem.
” oh, it was just beginner’s luck that I won the match.”
“Who cares if she scored well on this test? She’s going to fail the course anyway.”
Its name says it all! It means labeling or ascribing a name to someone or yourself based on one of their qualities or even your assumption. Labeling theory says that people often do what the labels describe them as. This theory can be devastating for some, especially if they’re weak-hearted.
If someone at your school is labeled as incompetent and “dumb,” they may eventually give up trying.
“Why should I try if I am still gonna be called dumb?”
” his brother is an addict, so probably he is an addict too.”
Self-blame/ blaming others
This theory suggests that an individual plays the victim card whenever he faces a downfall—or simply thinks every downfall is their own or someone else’s fault.
” how am I supposed to score well if the teacher is incompetent?”
” it is my fault that the teacher is angry with the whole class.”
However, a fine line exists between self-blame and accepting your fault/ holding yourself accountable. Self-blame or blaming others does not always have negative consequences, especially if it makes you try harder and strive to make yourself better.
We all often face this situation. It often comes as a phase and leaves us depressed. And it depends on us to ensure that it is just a phase, not your temporary thinking process. In certain situations, it is normal to feel hopeless for a while. However, it is you who has to pick yourself up. After all, there is no medicine like hope and no tonic as powerful as the expectation of something good tomorrow.
It is a condition in which you let your emotions take control of your perspectives and make conclusions—or make assumptions about someone or a situation just because you “feel like it.”
” I feel like they are going to lose the match. There is no point cheering for them.”
“I think she’s lying, I don’t believe a word she says”
Do you often find yourself making these thinking errors? We all often use a different lens to interpret many things in life. Our brain is a wild horse; it will run in whichever direction it wants unless you learn to control it. Here is a simple technique that enables you to take control over and untie the knots in your thoughts!
Every time you see yourself making a thinking error, follow these simple steps:
- Isolate the thought
- Write it down. Or ponder upon it for a while
- Recognise how it makes you feel
- Try to think of alternatives for the thought that will turn it into a positive one, I.e., reframe your thoughts. Try to come up with a more reasonable alternative.
For example:” I failed this interview. I am such a failure”. Reframe this thought: “I may have failed this interview, but I will identify my lacking areas and not make the same mistakes.”
Persistence and patience are essential when regaining control over your thoughts and steering them in the correct path. Change doesn’t happen overnight!
Boosting Creative Thinking
Thinking beyond the box is the foundation of creative thinking. It is about ditching conventional approaches and developing innovative solutions to even the simplest problems. It enables you to unleash your inner explorer and make everything you do fun! So here are some tips on how to bring out your creativity;
Broaden your mindset. Approach everything with an open mind. Always be willing to approach every problem with a new perspective.
Embrace the playful side of everything. Feel free to explore. Bringing out your curiosity is the key to developing creative thinking!
Integrate! Try to combine ideas that don’t even seem distantly related. You might end up brewing a new innovative idea!
Active brainstorming is another component of creative thinking. It is about collecting your thoughts and generating a large pool. Here are some proven brainstorming techniques that you might want to apply to yourself ;
Brainwriting: It is essentially just writing down every idea in your mind related to the project you are working on. It helps with tangled ideas and thoughts and allows you to get them straight. Creating a mind map is also an effective technique of brainwriting.
The 5 Whys: Try reasoning every idea you jot down. This helps you weigh down the pros and cons of each, along with interpreting various aspects of every idea.
The 5 Wh questions: Have you ever noticed toddlers ask a series of why, When, What, Where, and how questions? Start interpreting ideas from a toddler’s point of view, and you will end up with some mind-blowing facts and figures you may not have thought of before.
Divergent vs Convergent Thinking
This is another theory that depicts standard thought processes.
Convergent thinking means coming up with one logical and straightforward conclusion with the information available. Convergent thinking enables you to utilize the available information and narrow your conclusions.
On the other hand, Divergent thinking implies the idea of looking at the bigger picture and generating more than one conclusion. It encourages creativity and flexibility and helps you come up with ingenious ideas.
Now you might be thinking which one is better. None of these theories is superior to the other. Instead, both are better suited to different situations. For example, divergent thinking enables you to think outside the box. However, convergent thinking allows you to make quick and calculated decisions.
SCAMPER is an abbreviation for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Purpose, Eliminate and Rearrange. It is a brainstorming method used by teams to enhance their teamwork and develop better solutions.
Substitute: this allows the team members to reflect on alternative solutions.
Combine: this means combining various aspects or ideas to make one more effective one.
Adapt: this refers to a healthy discussion that aims to adjust any idea, eventually leading to a better output.
Modify: This refers to adjusting the process or the bigger picture.
Purpose: This means using your current resources and putting them to another use or repurposing them.
Eliminate: as the name indicates, this refers to eliminating any possible ideas that may better impact the outcomes.
Rearrange or reverse: this leads to exploring innovative perspectives or new potential.
Also known as horizontal thinking, lateral thinking applies to thinking of out-of-the-ordinary solutions to a problem. It refers to ignoring the typical and predictable solutions and the traditional step-by-step method of problem-solving. Here are some easy techniques of lateral thinking:
Recognize thought patterns: this enables you to eliminate any bias or thinking errors.
Consider all alternatives: obviously, collecting all ideas and alternatives in one place is always best.
Consider stimuli that boost concentration: concentration is the key to effective problem-solving using lateral thinking. Use noise-cancelling headphones, lofi music, or anything that makes you concentrate better.
Reframe your ideas: instead of dismissing a complicated idea, try to reframe it into a more practical one.
Benefits Of Lateral Thinking
Lateral thinking allows you to consider ideas that may initially seem impractical or nonsense. It allows you to find better and more effective ways to defy everyday problems that were previously being tackled in conventional ways. This helps you come up with creative solutions to problems.
Mind mapping is an excellent way of collecting and organizing every single minute thread of ideas that might be rampaging in your mind. It helps you turn abstract ideas into material form, which is better perceived by your brain.
How To Create A Mind Map
The most effective way is to grab a paper and pen. Write down your topic of interest in the center and disperse your significant chunk of ideas around it. Write your related ideas around each main idea and draw lines to connect them.
However, many of us have now switched to digital note-taking. So here are some digital mind-mapping software:
If you take hold of your brain’s control system, you will easily manage your time efficiently, focus during your study sessions, manage stress better, and polish your communication skills.
The greatest revelation of all time is that people’s attitudes and thoughts can alter their destinies.
Sources And References
Here are some books that may encourage critical thinking:
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by author Kahneman
- Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
- The art of thinking clearly by author Rolf Dobelli
Here is an online course that you can take to enhance your critical thinking and problem-solving skills: https://www.coursera.org/learn/creative-thinking-techniques-and-tools-for-success