Every day, a sea of decisions
stretches before us. Some are small and unimportant, but others have a larger impact
on our lives. For example, which politician
should I vote for? Should I try the latest diet craze? Or will email make me a millionaire? We’re bombarded with so many decisions that it’s impossible to make
a perfect choice every time. But there are many ways
to improve our chances, and one particularly effective technique
is critical thinking. This is a way of approaching a question that allows us to carefully
deconstruct a situation, reveal its hidden issues,
such as bias and manipulation, and make the best decision. If the critical part sounds negative
that’s because in a way it is. Rather than choosing an answer
because it feels right, a person who uses critical thinking subjects all available options to scrutiny
and skepticism. Using the tools at their disposal, they’ll eliminate everything but the most
useful and reliable information. There are many different ways
of approaching critical thinking, but here’s one five-step process that may help you solve
any number of problems. One: formulate your question. In other words,
know what you’re looking for. This isn’t always as straightforward
as it sounds. For example, if you’re deciding
whether to try out the newest diet craze, your reasons for doing so may be obscured
by other factors, like claims that you’ll see results
in just two weeks. But if you approach the situation with a clear view of what you’re
actually trying to accomplish by dieting, whether that’s weight loss, better nutrition, or having more energy, that’ll equip you to sift through
this information critically, find what you’re looking for, and decide whether the new fad
really suits your needs. Two: gather your information. There’s lots of it out there, so having a clear idea of your question
will help you determine what’s relevant. If you’re trying to decide on a diet
to improve your nutrition, you may ask an expert for their advice, or seek other people’s testimonies. Information gathering helps you
weigh different options, moving you closer to a decision
that meets your goal. Three: apply the information, something you do
by asking critical questions. Facing a decision, ask yourself,
“What concepts are at work?” “What assumptions exist?” “Is my interpretation of the information
logically sound?” For example, in an email that promises
you millions, you should consider, “What is shaping
my approach to this situation?” “Do I assume the sender
is telling the truth?” “Based on the evidence, is it logical
to assume I’ll win any money?” Four: consider the implications. 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. Five: explore other points of view. Ask yourself why so many people are drawn to the policies of
the opposing political candidate. Even if you disagree with
everything that candidate says, exploring the full spectrum of viewpoints might explain why some policies that don’t
seem valid to you appeal to others. This will allow you
to explore alternatives, evaluate your own choices, and ultimately help you make more
informed decisions. This five-step process is just one tool, and it certainly won’t eradicate difficult
decisions from our lives. But it can help us increase
the number of positive choices we make. Critical thinking can give us the tools
to sift through a sea of information and find what we’re looking for. And if enough of us use it, it has the power to make the world
a more reasonable place.