5 Critical Thinking Strategies To Sharpen Your Thinking

Using critical thinking is one of the most powerful ways you can leverage your chief organ – the brain.

But besides critical thinking skills. You need one more ingredient to maximize your thinking skills.

You need critical thinking strategies.

After we spawn on a random place on the planet Earth. It takes years to come to our senses. To realize that everyone around us is trying to take advantage of us. To capture our attention and use it for their own selfish purposes.

I admit it. As a parent. I do it, too. I sometimes persuade my kid to do things against his will.

Sometimes it’s in his best interest – telling my kid that he can eat only one chocolate cookie a day because the cookie man can only produce one per day; explaining that he needs to slow down when he rides his scooter because otherwise, the cops will bring him in. Other times, it’s because I’m too freaking tired – sweet-talking him to sleep by saying that his toys are now asleep and he needs to hug the pillow, too.

Within a few months – a year tops. These persuasive techniques will no longer work. I will have to find alternative methods to keep my kid away from doing stupid things.

The problem, however, is that I can only help him to an extent. At a certain stage of his life, it will be up to him to keep his distance from harm. And harm, in the modern age. It’s not the ability to fight wild beasts. It’s expressed in poor decision-making and problem-solving.

Hopefully, I will do a good job at helping him obtain the needed thinking strategies to navigate around the hectic world. Plus, explain how he can use the holy internet so he can land on my website and see how his old man was mentioning him around the vast online ocean.

So, the critical thinking strategies below are not only for you. They are also for my son when he’s old enough to roam the busy online streets.

I’m going to walk you through the best critical thinking strategies. Strategies to develop critical thinking so you can reinforce your problem-solving judo, creativity kung fu, and curiosity jiu-jitsu.

Moreover, the powerful procedures are hand-selected. Curated and documented to allow the user to inflict philosophical fury on any foe foolish enough to stand in the way of his logic.

What Is a Critical Thinking Strategy?

Critical thinking strategies are well-crafted instructions. Directions that allow you to come as closes as possible to the truth while simultaneously not completely removing the need to think.

And while critical thinking strategies and critical thinking skills might seem the same things. They are not.

comparing progress with a critical thinking strategy and without one
Critical thinking strategies empower you to find quick and subtle ways out of difficult situations.

If we use basketball as an example. You have dribble skills and shooting skills. But these, alone, won’t help you win the game. You also need a strategy. An action plan to progress in the field when other players are attacking you.

Similarly, critical thinking skills do increase the odds of becoming a better thinker. You become better at dribbling – uncovering your biases, recognizing important mental models, etc. But you also need a strategy. A plan, a framework, designed to help you achieve a particular outcome. Close the gap between your current state and your future state.

In thinking, this is your ability to come up with a clever way out of a situation.

5 Critical Thinking Strategies to Enhance Your Problem-Solving Abilities:

Strategy 1: 3d Thinking

3d thinking three lines crossing representing the 3 dimensions

People praise thinking outside the box as it’s some unrealistic goddess that can help you solve any problem that comes towards you.

While surely good, thinking outside the box is still a two-dimensional way you look at things.

Too often. The problems we face are multidimensional.

Let me show you a logic puzzle – called the Greek Cross puzzle – so you can better understand the concept and aid you in clearing the muddy waters of your thinking.

First, take ten coins and arrange them to match the following illustration:

Greek Cross puzzle ten coins in two rows where one is overlapping

Now, think about how you can move just two coins to form two rows, containing six coins each when added up either horizontally or vertically.

Don’t scroll till you have given up trying to find a solution!

So, there are ten coins, and we are looking for two rows with six coins each. In the two-dimensional world. This puzzle is unsolvable. But if we add the 3rd dimension. We can complete it.

Done trying and ready for the solution?

Here it is:

Greek Cross puzzle ten coins in two rows where two are overlapping to have six coins per row

You can only solve the logic puzzle by moving one coin from the right arm to the left arm and moving the extra coin at the bottom to a position on top of the center coin.

Thinking in 3D is needed so we can solve all kinds of problems in real life.

The most obvious example is with earning money.

Let me explain…

On a typical day job. Every employee is stuck in the same race towards the top of the corporate ladder, with the same desire to make progress and earn more money, and the same inability to do so. Not that people don’t get promoted and don’t earn more. But not everyone does. Statistically, only around 5% of the people in a company will move with a step. The rest will have to swallow their pride and keep feeling worthless about the work they do.

But getting promoted or not. This is still a linear way to solve the need for money. Regardless of how many times you’ll get a bump in the salary. You will remain in the average quadrant of wealth. If you want to increase your earnings exponentially. You need to shift fields. Either start a business or start investing.

When you think linearly. There are a lot of limitations. Conversely, with 3d thinking, as they say, the sky is the limit.

Strategy 2: Independent Thinking

group of six dots heading right and a single dot heading left

Independent thinking is all about not allowing other people’s thinking to become your thinking.

Independent thinking strategy is having the courage to think differently from the group.

I’m saying having the courage because in social situations. We are pressured to agree with others. Pressured to fall for groupthink – one common critical thinking barrier. And on top of that, fearful about appearing foolish.

This is especially true if we are speaking with someone higher in the hierarchy or with someone older. It’s assumed that fancy titles and age are enough to make you an omniscient entity who doesn’t need to understand and/or listen to others.

For instance, say you have a meeting in your company to discuss entering new markets. The boss states that he wants to penetrate India. Everyone in the room just nodes in unison and moves to the next item on the agenda. Everyone agrees with the statement of the boss because: a) he’s the boss (duh); b) people think that he made his research beforehand; and c) seeing everyone nodding makes you think that it’s an obvious thing, thus trying to confront this statement will make you look like a fool.

Say, however, that you’re willing to challenge the views of your boss. You explain that the eastern market is quite different from the western one and that the typical strategies won’t work. So, it’s better to focus on another market or invest in creating a different strategy, first, before crusading towards the Indian market.

Probably not everyone will agree. But you’ll at least present a fresh concept that can be discussed and considered. Additionally, your boss will probably adore the fact that you’re willing to question his commands. Unless, of course, he’s an egomaniac. In such cases, probably the solution is different – find another job.

But let’s get back to the main point here…

The framework for independent thinking will be to pause for a moment and consider the argument – the presented information. Then, to mentally distance yourself from the opinion of the people around you – including the common solutions to a problem.

Original ideas can’t emerge if you copy what was done before. You need to search for solutions that weren’t tried before.

Strategy 3: Deconstruct and Recombine

A three-step process that shows how cutting a cross and arranging the shapes can turn into a square

When you don’t understand something, deconstruct. Deconstruction creates knowledge. You work backward from the end to understand how something was done.

When you want to create something original, though, deconstruct and recombine. Arranging common things in a new way creates value.

That’s how Uber was able to dominate the market. They deconstructed the process of ordering a cab and recombined the pieces in a new and different way.

In a similar way, you can find new and better solutions to the daily challenges you face.

Here’s how to do it. Ask:

  • What are the core components?
  • What can’t be removed?
  • What can be removed?
  • What can be added?
  • What can be modified?

Break down an idea. An item to an anatomic level.

If we take the book Thinking in Systems by Donella H. Meadows as an example. Unsurprisingly, the core component of the book is systems. Understanding how things connect and influence each other (mainly) in organizations.

Now, if we want to create something different based on this core idea. We can, for example, use it to create alternative training methods. Say, videos or audio recordings of some sort. Or even further, we can think of a way to create a board game on the topic. Helping even kids learn the value of systems thinking.

Strategy 4: Intellectual Scaffold

A graph presenting that making decisions with an intellectual scaffold leads to better outcomes

Admittedly, it’s not entirely our fault that we make dump choices and we progressively fail. Simply put, the capacity of our brain is limited.

In the book Learning How to Learn, the authors explain that we can’t hold more than 3 to 5 things at once in our head. If something is forgettable, we forget it.

But it is our fault that we don’t incorporate systems to help us better organize the information we are so aggressively consuming to make better decisions.

Here’s where the scaffolding idea enters.

As people use temporary structures to support the creation of buildings. We can use an intellectual scaffold to engage in critical thinking.

Here, the term intellectual scaffold is simply a fancy way to express the need to create a document where you place your comprehensive research on a topic.

Good decision-making works in a similar fashion to building a monument.

Everyone external sees the end result. For instance, a company shipping a killer product. But the process of creating something out of nothing is not painless. It requires research, testing, adjusting, course correcting, etc.

A well-conducted report that holds information for a specific decision is the key to success in many fields.

The concept is rather simple – but it takes time to figure out the best way to structure your information.

For instance, if you are considering embedding a list of good habits in your life. Just reading random articles online and books on the topic won’t be enough. To build great habits. You can start by creating a document that will hold your research on the topic. Your goals and your progress.

Personally, what I did in relation to habits falls into these 4 categories:

  • Goal: Deciding what specific thing you want to understand, improve, master. In my case, habits.
  • Research/learn: I’ve read all major books on habit change to learn about the field. These are just a few:
  • Creating content: I’ve written a couple of posts on habits not only to help you, the reader, with your habits. But also to help me. These articles (here, here, and here) contain my research and my views. Not that you should start a site to embed good habits. But outlining the main things will help you when you need to go back and re-read what you’ve summarized.
  • Keeping track: To ensure that I’m executing my habits. I keep a habit tracker. A simply analog system to remind me of the things I need to do daily and also a way to motivate myself.

The structure above can be tailored for anything you want.

The end goal is to create a supporting structure – in a form of a written document. Scaffold structure that will aid you in critical thinking and decision-making.

Strategy 5: Futures thinking

A timeline showing how a decision made today can have an impact in the future

While decisions are made at a certain point in time, they always have consequences in the future.

That’s why it’s important to understand futures thinking.

Futures thinking is your ability to recognize what will potentially happen in the future. How the future will unfold through observation, strategic foresight, and designing different scenarios. The end goal is to ensure that you’re not caught with your guard down.

Surely we are not playing a fortune-teller here. We don’t precisely know what will happen. We are not even remotely interested in fooling ourselves that we’ll ever be 100% certain about the future. But by considering the past, evaluating the present, and crafting worst-case scenarios. We can arm ourselves with the needed tools, muscle power, to face any incoming challenges.

The most basic example to explain futures thinking lies in the concept of investing.

You invest money in fonds and in yourself – through mastering new skills – not because it’s super exciting. Surely you can spend your time better than reading books or watching boring videos on coding. You can for example have fun playing video games. But your ability to “see” the future tells you that, “Hey, it’s not healthy to waste my time on a video game that will become obsolete within a month. It’s better to focus my efforts on things that will bring me future gains.”

The process of applying futures thinking is achieved – as with all the rest critical thinking strategies – by asking questions.

Here are the main points:

  • You identify a specific topic: For instance, you want to improve your income.
  • Identify the forces that have an impact on the topic: In our case, inflation, technology adjustments, people’s purchasing habits, your current skills.
  • Develop scenarios based on the forces that can impact your future: Inflation wiping all of your savings. Or technology advances and your current skills are no longer valued by the market.
  • Search for opportunities within the scenarios: Here you need to ask further questions and do so more research work. For example, how you can protect yourself from inflation? The answer? Nothing new actually. You need to invest in assets – home, stocks, and other forms of investments. Plus, you need to invest in yourself. Ensure that your skills are always up-to-date.

Some Closing Thoughts

We become what we think.

And as cheesy as it might sound. If you change your thinking, you will change your life.

These critical thinking strategies will equip you with the tools you need to solve even unsolvable situations. Give you an edge in your everyday decision-making and help you see what else you need to improve in your life.

When the above techniques become part of your thinking routine. Part of your thinking arsenal. You’ll rarely feel like there is no way out. Even if the situation is incredibly complex. Your ability to reason will create solutions beyond the ordinary. Allowing you to swiftly progress.

If you’re new to the concept of critical thinking and if after reading the above you’re even more hooked. I’ll suggest also checking these three: 7 Powerful Critical Thinking Quotes; 9 Provoking Critical Thinking Questions; Critical Thinking and Problem Solving in the Modern Age.

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