Think It Over

Posted by Anthony E. Steele II on 2/24/2021

Think It Over

The human mind is an amazing thing. We have the ability to focus very intensely on the tiniest details while simultaneously handling most of our daily tasks without thought. By design, we can choose where to expend our mental abilities and when to relax them. Young or old, there is never a bad time to pause and — THINK IT OVER.

Some people are more inquisitive than others by nature. Critical thinking is a learned skill, but we need to be aware that choosing to be a critical thinker is a personality trait. If we so choose, there are techniques to develop the habits of mind to be more inquisitive, engaged, and analytical. 

It is all too easy these days to slog through life without much critical thought. We are busy, tired, and sometimes completely consumed by the daily routine. In that sense, not thinking comes as a welcome form of relaxation for an otherwise overworked mind. Technology has responded to this modern reality in a remarkably interesting way. Like no other time in history, social and mainstream media have elected to do much of our critical thinking for us, and it is very easy to accept that offer - we hardly perceive it is happening.

Sophisticated software, keywords overheard by our phones, “like” buttons, and the amount of time we pause on a particular headline or picture while scrolling makes it possible for our technology to “know us.” All of this algorithmic synthesis generates agreeable and satisfying content for our walls and feeds, ensuring that we see things we like, and in a calculated fashion, things we don’t like. The personalized content comes in the form of ads for appealing products, videos of interest, known and suggested music, attractive places to visit, and news stories chosen according to our biases. In many cases, our devices show us things we didn’t know we liked, but discover that we do! In totality, we are now able, if not encouraged, to do a whole lot less critical thinking.

It is more important than ever to embrace critical thinking. One could argue that it was never a bad idea to intentionally be more inquisitive and analytical. But these days, it provides a necessary counter-balance to the plethora of automated decisions and suggestions that are being made for us.

Let’s get down to basics and examine some of the habits of mind and techniques to become better critical thinkers. It doesn’t matter if you are forming an opinion on an argument, shopping for the best product to fit your needs, or anything in between; the same basic principles apply:

Be Proactive. Seek out information beyond what is conveniently available. It is your personal responsibility to be actively inquisitive; otherwise, someone or something will provide you with a filtered array of information.

Stay Open-Minded. We can usually sense our own bias, and we should always question it. In the end, we may return to our original position, but at least we engaged in a validation process and affirmed that we held that opinion for a good reason. The only real danger in bias and opinion is when we blindly follow it without scrutiny.

Flip It. One of my favorite techniques is looking at an argument from both sides, looking at the other person’s point of view, walk in their shoes, so to speak. Employ good listening, not to pounce on a counterargument, rather to understand and internalize opposing viewpoints. Try to disprove your conclusions, argue against yourself, and make the case that your original premise is wrong. It can be very revealing and enlightening to challenge your original standpoint in this way. When you return to your original point of view, it will be thoroughly analyzed and you will be prepared for counterarguments.

Proof Your Work. When you reach an analytical conclusion but it doesn’t completely make sense, then it probably doesn’t. If the line of reasoning doesn’t add up, then most likely you haven’t solved the full equation yet. Perhaps you need more data, some facts are missing or false, or you don’t have the whole story. Don’t settle for a conclusion built on doubt. There’s a good chance you haven’t solved the problem or completed your reasoning if you can’t proof your work. This concept works in analytical thinking just as well as it works in math.

Be Unique. It is human nature to go with the flow, join the hive-mind, get on the bandwagon and adopt popular thought. It takes guts, fortitude, and effort to stand alone in your opinions. Find that confidence and strength that allows you to forge your own beliefs, philosophies, and conclusions. Get comfortable standing alone. Eventually, you will find others who agree with you and validate your thinking – that always feels great – but never start there.

Stay Awake! Do not allow yourself to be lulled to sleep by the conveniences of modern technology. You have an incredible mind – use it! And if you catch yourself sleepwalking, let the memory of this article serve as your alarm clock.

Today’s parents and educators are the last generations to grow up without the influence of technology and the unfettered ability to think for ourselves. It is vitally important for us to embrace individual thought and emphasize its value to our children. We have a choice to be inquisitive and analytical. Please encourage others to habitually stop – and Think It Over!