For everything our brain does every day, it is surprising psychologists call our brains “lazy machines”. A 2017 study by  Duke University showed that our brains like to take mental shortcuts whenever possible. 

In psychology, these mental shortcuts are called “heuristics” and they ensure that the brain conserves its energy and works more efficiently. However, these heuristics can lead to irrational and biased decision-making

Is there a way to avoid these errors in your thinking? Yes, you can develop the vital skill of critical thinking!

Critical thinking is the process of systematically and consciously processing information that allows you to make unbiased and effective decisions. It has several benefits. It allows you to deeply engage with the material, create strong arguments and even become a better judge of your work. 

Additionally, in this age of information overload, critical thinking is an absolute necessity to ensure that you don’t drown in the sea of information that you are exposed to on a daily basis and are able to think for yourself. Here are three techniques that can assist you in your critical thinking process:

Climb the Ladder of Inference

The Ladder of Inference is a thinking process that you may use unconsciously every single day while making decisions. The rungs of the ladder reflect our thinking stages, which begin from selecting available data to finally making a decision. The error in thinking occurs when your beliefs influence the data you select, leading you to ignore the reality and true facts in some cases. By skipping crucial steps in your thinking process, you may jump to conclusions and make erroneous decisions.

The Ladder of Inference is a step-by-step reasoning framework that helps you avoid this. You learn how to utilize the real facts and use your beliefs in a positive manner, rather than letting them narrow your judgment. This way, you can make better conclusions and even challenge the incorrect conclusions of others.  

Think backward 

Thinking backward about a situation is another effective critical thinking technique. You can utilize this whenever you face difficulty in reaching an appropriate solution to a problem. 

For example, let’s say you have recently started a YouTube channel and want to gain more subscribers. When thinking backward, you need to rephrase the question and ask yourself how you can achieve the opposite of your goal. If you’re all out of ideas for increasing the subscribers, try asking yourself: what would make me lose subscribers? You will come up with specific factors that will lower your subscriber count. Now, check to see if you’re doing any of these things. The final step of this technique is to create an action plan to fix any errors you’re making.

Expand your perspective

This technique requires you to acknowledge and become more conscious of your biases. The most crucial step in overcoming your biases is to accept that you may be a victim of them in the first place. Once you have done this, you need to challenge your biases by viewing situations from the perspective of others. You may develop this perspective over time by interacting with people from different walks of life, reading more books or even watching films that give you a glimpse of the lives of others. 

These are simple yet effective changes you can make to your cognition. Please remember that thinking critically all the time can be exhausting. Therefore, you can use these tools when you have to make key decisions in your life or solve important problems. Learn more about how you can become a critical thinker in Harappa’s Thinking Critically course!

Akanksha Singh is an Associate Specialist in the Curriculum team at Harappa Education. A postgraduate in Social Cognition, Akanksha spends her free time binge-watching animated movies and telling people that she can’t read their minds. 

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