avatarKurtis Pykes


How to Be an Effective Critical Thinker in 5 Simple Steps

How to Make Reasoned Judgments

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We’re bombarded with tons of choices daily.

It’s estimated the average adult makes around 35,000 remotely conscious decisions per day.

Each one of those decisions carries with them a varying degree of consequences, which may have a net positive or negative impact on our lives.

With so many choices, it’s virtually impossible to make the perfect decision every time.

… But it’s possible to improve our chances of making a good decision most of the time with critical thinking.

Critical thinking is the art of making reasoned judgments based on objective analysis and evaluation.

It’s about eliminating feelings from decisions and leveraging various tools to subject all available options to scrutiny and skepticism.

This 5-step approach will make you a much better critical thinker and help you solve a multitude of problems with much less mental energy being wasted.

1. Formulate the desired outcome

You can’t be a critical thinker without a clearly defined desired outcome.

This is why most people never become effective decision-makers — they don’t understand how they want things to turn out.

Critical thinking is only a means to an end, and a problem is simply something obstructing an ideal scenario.

The only way to make objective decisions is to understand precisely what you want.


Every decision you make has a consequence attached (as you’ll see later)…

Your role as a critical thinker is to ensure the consequences of your actions do more to push you toward your desired outcome.

This is why you must get super clear on what you want…

As Robert Brault would say, “We’re kept from our goal not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal.

A well-defined desired outcome creates a clear path while simultaneously reducing resistance created by a lack of clarity.

Clearly defining what you want also exposes the problem.

As we learned from former General Motors head of research, Charles Kettering, “A problem well stated is half solved.

2. Do your research

Stephen Covey highlighted a common flaw in humanity when he said, “We see the world, not as it is, but as we are──or, as we are conditioned to see it.

The statement emphasizes the fact nobody on the planet has an objective perspective.

We’re all just an accumulation of experiences and environments we’ve been exposed to for extended periods of time…

This can heavily influence the potential outcomes you come out with.

For example, a business person may optimize solutions to align with metrics related to the business, whereas a data scientist may optimize solutions to align with metrics related to data science.

You must deal with your biases to combat this.

The way to do it is by finding several sources of information that present you with various points of view.

This gives you a more holistic picture of the situation at hand; it allows you to ask, “How would [insert name] solve this problem?” which may result in solutions you would’ve never previously considered.

Critical thinking requires you to be willing to let go of former beliefs —remember, we see the world not as it is but as we are.

Taking your time to do research allows you to see the world from other people’s perspective.

3. Consider the implications

Samantha Agoos presented the following scenario in a TED-Ed piece:

Imagine it’s election time, and you’ve selected a political candidate based on their promise to make it cheaper for drivers to fill up on gas. At first glance, that seems great. But what about the long-term environmental effects? If gasoline use is less restricted by cost, this could also cause a huge surge in air pollution – an unintended consequence that’s important to think about.

She was illustrating the consequences of decisions.

Every decision you make has a net positive or negative consequence attached.

A positive outcome moves you closer to your desired outcome without violating your values.

A negative outcome doesn’t move you closer to your desired outcome.

You must weigh up the pros and cons of each potential solution and opt for the one that favors you most without compromising your values.

4. Break down your plan of action

After selecting the solution you want to implement, you must break it down.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to plan, you are preparing to fail.

The point he was making is that success doesn’t happen by accident…

You must know where you’re going at all times.

A plan creates structure, which enables you to guide your actions toward a desired outcome.

The way it works is simple:

  1. Determine all the action steps
  2. Put the actions in order of priority (the most important task goes first)
  3. Start taking action!

By breaking down tasks in this manner, you can focus on being practical instead of being overwhelmed by the size of the problem.

5. Accept you’re not always right and commit anyways

The only thing guaranteed in life is death.

We’re all going to pass away at some point.

Everything else is just about chances.

The most you can do is try to tilt the odds in your favor, but this doesn’t guarantee you’ll succeed...

Even if you have an elaborate plan and flawless execution, there’s still a chance things might not work out.

You must accept this reality.

This means you must be willing to take action, fail, and learn from your failures to make a more informed decision on your next attempt.

This is the essence of being a critical thinker…

It's about making reasoned judgments based on objective analysis and evaluation.

Final thoughts

We’re bombarded with tons of choices to make daily, and each decision we make carries consequences with it.

While it may be impossible to make the right decision of every occasion, it’s possible to improve your chances of making a good one, most of the time, by improving your critical thinking skills.

In the 5-step approach I shared, to achieve this, you must:

1. Formulate the desired outcome 2. Do your research 3. Consider the implications 4. Break down your plan of action 5. Accept you’re not always right and commit anyways

By improving your ability to think critically, you’ll be much more capable of solving a multitude of problems, and you’ll be able to do so without wasting plenty of mental energy.

Thanks for reading!

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