Do we think enough?

Wednesday, 18 April 2012 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally. It includes the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking. Someone with critical thinking skills is able to do the following:

  •  Understand the logical connections between ideas
  • Identify, construct and evaluate arguments
  • Detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning
  • Solve problems systematically
  • Identify the relevance and importance of ideas
  • Reflect on the justification of one’s own beliefs and values

What are the common problems to people?

  • Relationship problems
  • Organisational problems
  • Family problems
  • Financial problems etc.

Critical thinking process

The critical thinking process starts out with knowledge. All thinking starts with knowledge, whether you have a little bit or a good understanding of your thinking topic. For example, if you were thinking about how to fix a machine, you would want to have a good understanding of how it works and what the problem is.

The next step in the process is comprehension. It is the understanding of what you think about. If you can’t comprehend what you’re thinking about, you can’t think about it effectively. Another important step is application. If you can’t apply your thoughts and knowledge to anything, what good is thinking about it? Find something useful to think about.

The next step that you need to take is to analyse what you’re thinking about. Divide information up into categories and subcategories. Select the more important aspects and solve them first. The second to last step of the critical thinking process is synthesis. Syntheses is organising, constructing, composing, and creating your finished result.

The last step is evaluation. See if you like your finished product. If not, go back through the process with different objectives and goals, keeping in mind what you didn’t like. If it comes out to your liking, use it!

Nine tips to become a better critical thinker

  •  Be open-minded to new ideas
  • Know that people have different ideas about the meaning of words
  • Separate emotional and logical thinking
  • Question things that don’t make sense to you
  • Avoid common mistakes in your own reasoning
  • Don’t argue about something that you know nothing about
  • Build a strong vocabulary to better share and understand ideas
  • Know when you need more information
  • Know the difference between conclusions that could and must be true

Good critical thinking involves the mastery of a set of thinking skill. Like the acquisition of many other skills, there are three components: theory, practice, and attitude.


If we want to think correctly, we need to follow the correct rules of reasoning. Knowledge of theory includes knowledge of these rules. These are the basic principles of critical thinking, such as the laws of logic and the methods of scientific reasoning etc.

It would also be useful to know something about what not to do if we want to reason correctly. This means we should have some basic knowledge of the mistakes that people make. First, this requires some knowledge of typical fallacies. Second, psychologists have discovered persistent biases and limitations in human reasoning - an awareness of these empirical findings will alert us to potential problems.


However, merely knowing the principles that distinguish good and bad reasoning is not enough. We might study in the classroom about how to swim and learn about the basic theory, such as the fact that one should not breathe under water. But unless we can apply such theoretical knowledge through constant practice, we might not actually be able to swim.

Similarly, to be good at critical thinking skills it is necessary to internalise the theoretical principles so that we can actually apply them in daily life. There are at least two ways of doing this:

  • Do lots of good-quality exercises. Exercises include not just exercises in classrooms and tutorials. They also include exercises in the form of discussion and debates with other people in our daily life.
  • The other method is to think more deeply about the principles that we have acquired. In the human mind, memory and understanding are acquired through making connections between ideas.


Good critical thinking skills require not just knowledge and practice. Persistent practice can bring about improvements only if one has the right kind of motivation and attitude. The following attitudes are not uncommon, but they will not help you improve your thinking:

  • I prefer being given the correct answers rather than figuring them out myself
  • I don’t like to think a lot about my decisions as I rely only on gut feelings
  • I don’t usually review the mistakes I have made
  • I don’t like to be criticised

To improve one’s thinking one must recognize the importance of reflecting on the reasons for belief and action. One must also be willing to engage in debate, to make mistakes, to break old habits and to deal with linguistic complexities and abstract concepts.

  • Causes for negative attitudes
  • Limiting beliefs
  • Negative family/friends
  • Unsatisfying circumstances/life

The consequences of negative attitude

Negative attitude shortens your life: the more often you become angry, upset or frustrated, the fewer days you will have left to live. I know this is extreme, but that’s how it is. You are shortening your life every time you let negative emotions overtake you.

Such attitude creates an unpleasant future: your present actions determine your future. If you constantly moan and are dissatisfied with your circumstances, in the future you are sure to meet with more of the things you are unhappy about. The more you complain, the more things you will find to complain about.

It harms others: your negative mood affects people around you. You should never make others feel bad because by doing so you are contributing not only to your own misery, but to the unhappiness of others as well.

Such attitude produces negative effects: every cause has an effect and so your negative attitude (cause) produces negative circumstances. Mostly people think it’s the other way round, but that’s not the case. Your thinking causes your circumstances.

How to change negative attitude

It is possible to change negative attitude, but it will not be easy. If you lived your life seeing only dark colours, you cannot turn this around in a day. However, by taking small and consistent steps you will gradually become a happier person.

The best way to change your mental state is by understanding the outcome of negativity. Carefully read the consequences of negative attitude and they will serve as reminders as soon as your mood goes down. You will think twice before getting upset, angry or depressed. And yes, you cause your own mood and you can change it by simply focusing on the good aspects of your life or imagining something positive. You are not at the mercy of different kinds of negative feelings that visit you when you least expect. You can control how you feel.

As soon as you spot a negative aspect of a situation or thing, try your best to find its positive aspect instead. For example, if you oversleep, you will think that you will be late for work. Instead try to find something positive that you gain from over-sleeping. You may realise that your efficiency will increase significantly because of the extra hours of sleep. So always look at the positive aspects of any situation that you find yourself in.

You should try to understand what causes your negative attitude. It might be that you live with a person who constantly ruins your mood or it may also be something to do with your past. Maybe something happened to you that made you deeply upset and you have not recovered from that incident since. Try to understand that the incident is long gone, and you should not live in the shadow of it. Your past can only have influence on your present if you let it. Remember, your whole power is in the present moment.

Positive thinking is not enough. If you cannot find the cause of your negative attitude, you will only cover this attitude with positive words which will do no good to you. So try to find the cause of it and this will allow you to change your negative attitude.

Sometimes causes are internal rather than external. In fact, any external cause will lead you to the deeper, internal cause. For example, you might understand that you are negative because your family makes you negative. But when you dig deeper, you may realize that you feel unworthy as a person and you project this unworthiness onto your family and that makes you angry at them. It’s true that the qualities you don’t like in other people are yours, so it’s not others that are at fault but you. So in this example you uncover that it’s your limiting belief of unworthiness that makes you negative. The next step will be to eliminate it and then your attitude will improve.

Types of negative attitude

There are certain types of people that indulge in negative states of mind. They are all different in some ways of thinking and acting but the unifying feature of all of them is their constant negativity. Here are several types of such personalities:

The miserable type: such people are grumpy from the start of the day. They meet with failures as soon as they wake up, which sets their day to be full of anger and hopelessness.

Silent killer: such people usually understand psychology quite well. They use this knowledge to gradually introduce hatred, anger and low self-esteem in others. They do this by making remarks about how others behave or look. They know that their remarks are destructive, but others may not realize that. For example, your friend casually implies that you should not wear this type of suit because it emphasizes your waist. Do you see the real intention behind the advice?

Drama queen: this is the most common type. Their emotions range from anger to self-pity and every small incident can be turned into a storm. They seem to like the fact that they can change how others feel and be the centre of attention. This kind of behaviour is the result of neediness and low self-esteem.

Woe is me: such people love to talk about their failures to everyone who would listen. They do that purely to get attention and sympathy of others.

Paranoid type: they perceive others to be constantly trying to worsen their lives. If they go shopping, they think that shopkeepers are trying to rip them off; if someone wants to befriend them, they think that s/he wants something in return for the friendship. This negative attitude is mainly caused by self-doubt and poor self-image.

Trigger type: such people seek ways to release their anger or self-pity. An example would be a person who gets into the conversation with someone who is sure to make him feel angry or hopeless. This way he destroys his mental balance and health. Another example could be a person who tries to spark an argument. He starts accusing someone of doing something insignificant and continues with his/her accusations until another person finally breaks down.

Further discussion

Traditionally, critical thinking is usually associated with general education or philosophy in various educational institutions. However, the best way to teach and improve critical thinking ultimately is a matter of psychology and cognitive science. The design of a suitable curriculum should take into account empirical findings on cognitive development and learning.

Thomas Edison is often called an inventor, but he mostly developed basic discoveries into better solutions for commercialisation. Often credited with inventing the light bulb, Edison really conducted extensive experimentation and analysis to find the optimal conditions under which the tungsten wire in a bulb would glow continuously without interruption.

While Edison did his own share of exploration, his basic strength and passion was in taking what was already known and refining it until it could solve some problem. Alternatively, Einstein thought mostly outside the box of the prevailing wisdom of his day, or what was known at the time, and such exploration is the essence of solving problems in untried and untested ways.

His theory of relativity questioned key assumptions of Newtonian physics. Einstein even characterised himself as a little strange - but strangeness is what it takes to solve ill-defined problems, or to solve fairly well-defined problems in new and unusual ways.

It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stay with problems longer – Albert Einstein

Nalin Jayasuriya is the Managing Director & CEO, McQuire Rens & Jones (Pvt) Ltd. He has held Regional Responsibilities of two Multinational Companies of which one, Smithkline Beecham International was a Fortune 500 company before merging to become GSK. He carries out consultancy assignments and management training in Dubai, India, Maldives, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh. Nalin has been Consultant to assignments in the CEB, Airport & Aviation Services and setting up the PUCSL. He is a much sought-after business consultant and Corporate Management Trainer in Sri Lanka. He has won special commendation from the UN Headquarters in New York for his record speed in re-profiling and re-structuring the UNDP. He has lead consultancy assignments for the World Bank and the ADB. Nalin is an executive coach to top teams of several multinational and blue chip companies. He is a Director on the Board of Entrust Securities Plc.

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