- Engaging in Activities that Require Critical Thought
Keep trying new things.
A great way to improve reasoning skills is to keep trying new things. The mind is like any other muscle. It requires exercise and stimulation. Make a point of trying out new hobbies and activities on a regular basis.
- Pick activities that are vastly different from one another. If you’re already an outdoor enthusiast, instead of taking up hiking consider learning to crochet. If you’re big into crafts and working with your hands, consider trying to do crossword puzzles or Sudoku in your spare time.
- Take classes if possible. Taking a pottery class or poetry class at a local community centre can be a fun way to challenge your brain and encourage you to try new things.
Physical exercise actually has an effect on memory and thinking. Many studies indicate the parts of the brain responsible for thinking and reasoning are bigger in those who exercise regularly. Also, exercise reduces stress and anxiety and boosts mood, which can make it easier to concentrate and learn. Strive to incorporate regular physical activity into your day-to-day routine. This can lead to an improvement in critical thinking skills. While researchers are still unsure if one form of exercise is better than another, some research indicates aerobic exercise is most helpful to mental stimulation.
Daily journaling can actually help improve critical thinking skills. In addition to helping you revisit your day, journaling encourages reflection and thought.
- Writing is an active endeavour. It forces you to expand and explore your thoughts. Keeping a journal that details your day, your feelings, and anything you thought about throughout the day can make you a more introspective, aware person. This can lead to higher reasoning skills.
- Make time to journal every day. Schedule regular journaling time into your day-to-day life as you would brushing your teeth, showering, and eating dinner. It may be helpful to schedule journal time after an activity you’re accustomed to doing every day, as this will make it easier to remember to keep up with your journal.
Reading in general is great for improving critical thinking. However, fiction specifically can allow you to be more comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. This can lead to more sophisticated thinking as well as more creativity.
- Fiction can force you to become more insightful about other perspectives due to the focus on character. This can make you more in tune to the cultures, belief systems, and skill sets of those around you. You may be better at, say, reasoning with those around you as you’ll have a greater capacity for empathy.
- Black and white thinking is also lessened through reading fiction. People who read fiction over time may have more sophisticated thought patterns as they’re able to navigate and accept the ambiguity in a variety of situations.
Play games that require reasoning skills.
There are a variety of games that require you to reason. Strategic board games, games like chess, and word games all help reasoning skills.
- Look for board games that rely on more than just look. Explore in depth strategy games where decision making is a key part of the process. Schedule a regular game night with friends and aim to play games that require thought and attention. Clue and Risk require critical thought. Games like Scrabble and Boggle teach you to analyse information quickly.
- Chess and checkers all require reasoning skills. Consider joining or starting a chess club.
- Consider games you can play on your own. You can play certain card games alone online. Purchase a Rubik’s Cube and spend time trying to solve it.
Forcing yourself to create on a regular basis can improve reasoning skills. You don’t necessarily have to be highly adept at a creative activity but forcing the mind to try new things can increase reasoning skills. Try to play a musical instrument. Take up drawing. Write a poem. Compose a short song.
- Altering Thought Patterns
Pay attention to the purpose behind your actions.
Each time you make a decision throughout the day, there is some purpose behind it. Given the hectic demands of day-to-day life, people sometimes lose track of the purpose and goals behind their actions. Try to be aware of the inherent purposes driving you throughout the day.
- Focus on larger goals at work or school. Where do you want to be in five years? Two years? One year? How are your current actions serving this goal? Do your actions make sense reasonably given your larger purpose? Answering these questions can help you improve your reasoning skills.
- Try to make sure your actions are actually serving some purpose. Oftentimes, people get caught up in the idea something has to be done in a particular way or they have to follow a particular path. Actions then become unreasonable. Try to keep the end in mind when you take a certain action.
Identify your biases.
Everyone has biases, whether they are aware of them or not. If you want to improve reasoning skills, try to identify your biases.
- A major bias is that people often only consider a situation or a problem from one point of view. When dealing with an issue at work, school, or home pause and ask yourself a few questions before taking action. Ask, “What do I believe about the situation? Why do I believe this? What assumptions might I be making about the thoughts and ideas of others?”
- It’s important to take steps to be self-aware of your own biases. This can help you avoid having those biases obstruct your judgment. It may even be helpful to ask a close friend about your gaps in thinking. Approach a friend with a question like, “What are some ways I sometimes behave irrationally?” Ask for honesty and openness.
Consider the implications of your options.
Each time you make a choice, there are consequences. A good way to improve reasoning skills is to make a point of stopping to consider those consequences on a conscious level.
- Use your imagination. Before making a choice in a given situation, pause to imagine a variety of possible outcomes. How do you feel about these outcomes? What’s the worst case scenario? Best case scenario? What is reasonably most likely to happen? Why?
- Also, do not neglect to consider the viewpoints of others affected by your decision. This can help you explore your decision through a variety of angles
- Recognizing Irrational Thoughts
Watch for over-generalizations.
Many people over generalize without realizing it. This is toxic to rational thinking. Try to be aware of any over-generalizations you may make in day-to-day life.
- Over-generalizations are taking one particular event and seeing it as evidence of how things have always been or always will be. For example, if you do bad on one test you may think, “I’m stupid and always fail at school.” In making this statement, you’re glossing other academic success you have had in the past in the light of one event.
- All-or-nothing thinking is a form of generalizing where you see things in black and white terms. All-or-nothing thinking places things in only one or two categories: good or bad, success or failure, etc. This results in missing the shades of gray in a situation. For example, if you get a mixed review of your performance at work you may see yourself as a failure. In reality, you’re likely a competent worker with some areas that need improvement.
- Filtering out positive is a thought pattern in which too much focus is placed on the bad aspects of a situation. If 20 good things happen in a day followed by 1 bad thing, you may focus entirely on the negative. For example, say you make a single mistake during a musical performance but otherwise play perfectly. You might be tempted to declare the performance a disaster. In reality, you are probably the only person who noticed a single wrong note.
Do not make assumptions.
People make assumptions about all kinds of situations. This can lead to unreasonable thinking. Strive to be aware of any assumptions you make.
- Sometimes, people engage in mind-reading. That is, you make assumptions about what others think of your or a situation. In reality, it’s impossible to know what another person is thinking without asking. For example, you may find yourself thinking “I bet everyone thought I was an idiot in that meeting” or “I bet that co-worker thinks I talk too much.” If you notice yourself engaging in such thoughts, try to remind yourself that you are probably not as good at reading people’s opinions as you think you are.
- Fortune telling is a form of thinking where you think you know what will happen in the future. This can be in the form of a defeatist attitude. For example, “I’ll never be able to stick to a diet and lose weight” or “I know I’m going to sound like an idiot during my presentation tomorrow.” Keep in mind that, in reality, you cannot know what will happen tomorrow or in the coming weeks.
Avoid catastrophic thinking.
Many people catastrophize situations when they’re upset or stressed. For example, you might think you’ll be financially bankrupt forever if you need to pay for car repairs one month. If you get rejected romantically, you might decide you’re not destined for love. Try to keep in mind that one setback or misfortune is not necessarily indicative of things to come.
Pay attention to how you read situations.
Oftentimes, people unconsciously read situations in an irrational way. Watch how you think and perceive situations in day-to-day life.
- Labelling is the tendency to put a name on a situation. For example, “This person made a mistake” or “I made a bad choice.” This leads you to put people and situations into categories based on solitary instances. Try your best not to categorize and avoid the temptation to judge.
- Personalization is the tendency to take situations and other people’s reactions personally. For example, you may assume a co-worker is mad at you if she doesn’t stop to chat in the break room. In reality, she may just be busy. Try not to take situations personally.
- Oftentimes, you hold yourself to an unreal ideal. You might see someone else’s success as evidence of your shortcoming. Try to keep in mind everyone is different and moves at a different pace.