When it comes to confronting life’s everyday problems – a challenging project at work, a relationship issue, the inevitable decay of our bodies – most of us follow a standard operating procedure. We stare at the issue for a couple of minutes. Then, once we’re confident that we know what the problem is all about – and a lot of times even before that – we take action.
We’d like to think that we are virtuous decision-makers. That when an issue occurs, we examine it carefully like doctors using sophisticated testing methods.
In reality, we are heavily influenced by our biases and we rely on our gut feeling. Both of these, however, inflict heavy damage on our current reality and future state.
Plainly, if we don’t take some time to consider the consequences of our instinctive behavior, we often make stupid decisions that we regret and have a negative influence on our lives.
And while we can do better. It’s not an error-free process.
When the first part of the problem-solving phase goes too far, yes it can lead to good thinking, but it can also lead to overthinking.
To get better. To improve the first part and decrease the second, we need this: critical thinking strategies.
Critical thinking is like taking a piece of information, putting it inside a tube, and heading toward a laboratory. There, you look at it using a microscope. You test it against different substances. You write a detailed report about all reactions. Then, finally, after discussing the case with the council members of the lab, you decide how to proceed.
It’s an elaborate process that takes time, but it tends to require less when we gain experience.
When I first read about critical thinking.1 I thought that, by using what I’ve learned, I’ll now “win” 100% of all problems I encounter.
Sadly, this wasn’t the case.
It’s tempting to think that battling everyday challenges is based on a straight-line process. That is, when you have a problem, you turn off your biases, you apply logic, you fact-check, you ask experts in the field, and then – only then – you move forward.
A lot of times, even if we consider ourselves owners of a competent brain – we know what are the main critical thinking barriers and what are the 7 critical thinking skills. We still do things even a child won’t do.
Handling daily obstacles is more like finding your way in a maze. There are a lot of uncertainties around what path to take and what the exit should look like.
Besides engaging in provoking critical thinking questions. I find it equally valuable – if not even more – to learn about real-life examples of critical thinking in everyday life.
How Is Critical thinking Used In Everyday Life?
Critical thinking in everyday life happens by building a case library. You continuously observe what happens to you. You store the info. And then, when needed, you pull fragments out to aid you when you are facing a similar situation in the future.
Before we get to the case library term. Let’s discuss something else first…
In the book Accelerated Expertise, the authors talk about an interesting concept. It’s called ill-structured problems. I know, wicked!
The premise of the theory is that “ill-structured problems are characterized by their lack of a clear path to a solution.”2
The elements of the problems are highly variable. Making it really hard to navigate around the foggy terrain towards an appropriate solution.
Just to give you an example to “see” what I’m talking about…
A well-structured activity is steering a car. The objectives are pretty straightforward in terms of how to successfully drive around town. You need to do a handful of things inside the car to do well – steer the car, shift gears, use the break – and only one thing outside the car – monitor carefully what’s happening around you.
Conversely, an ill-structured problem in relation to cars is designing a car. There is no manual on how to design not only a nice-looking car. But also one that is safe, comfortable – and in order to sell well – appreciated by the masses.
What does this remind you of?
That’s right: life.
There is a reason people become emotionally unstable, divorce, use illegal substances, go bankrupt – i.e., do stupid stuff.
The issues we need to handle daily are ill.
We commonly don’t have enough information when deciding on something, experience to deal with unknowns, or simply feel crushed by social pressure. Plus, of course, the ultimate reasons: we follow our emotions, we are guided by our ego, and we let our biases steer us.3
Fortunately, we can enable critical thinking. The thinking type that can grant us the ability to reuse knowledge from one field and adapt it to a totally different concept.
And while that sounds good in theory. It’s incredibly hard in real life.
The Challenge of Using Critical Thinking in Real Life
We all know what are the main thinking strategies that can drastically improve our decision-making process. I mean, we all have internet access and we can all browse through various educational sites that promise to reform the way we think for the better.
But the interesting question here is – are you certain you are practicing the practical information you so enthusiastically consume?
Simple as it sounds, it’s a constructively difficult question to answer.
The main blockers that prevent us from using the information we consume are commonly two: lack of time and lack of understanding of the material.
But there is one more.
Continuously staying in your comfort zone and never trying something new.
In other words, we learn best not by reading the best books. But by taking action; trying new and different things; and engaging in challenges.
Challenges help us test the knowledge we gathered along the way and allow us to create a case library of tough cases.
For instance, if you work as an events coordinator, a project manager, or you are a team lead. Eventually, you become good at organizing stuff. This will most probably mean that you can organize weddings – say, your wedding. The skills you’ve gathered during your day job can definitely be applied to organizing a personal event.
However, you can’t completely copy-paste what you do on your job because your spouse is not as patient with you as your co-workers.
But what you can do, is take part of the skills you’ve amassed during your job and mix them with the knowledge you have about your spouse. This cocktail of insights will help you plan the event without ruining the event.
For instance, instead of giving orders to your wife/husband while you are planning – as you normally give orders at work. You consider his/hers feelings, and common ways he/she responds to certain situations. All of this is done to ensure that there will be an actual wedding to plan.
And how do you know what your spouse likes/dislikes and wants/doesn’t want?
That’s right, you’ve built up a library of cases in your head about his/her likes or dislikes.
If you haven’t, chances are that you’ll soon have to search for another partner.
After all, who will stay with a person if he/she doesn’t know what his/her partner’s favorite flower, meal, movie, book, interest, etcetera is?
That’s why cases are more important than concepts.
And how do you create a case library?
By experience. The more you go outside of your comfort zone. The more elaborate your worldview becomes.
Basically, it’s one thing to watch videos about, say, creating a wooden chair. It’s quite another thing to make one yourself.
When you live with someone long enough, you eventually figure out what are his/hers likes and dislikes.
This same process happens when you start a new job in a new field. You become good at doing the job after years not only because time passes. But also because the more time you work a specific job, the more problems you encounter. Thus, you learn how to solve these different problems and how to react in an unexpected situation.
To draw a conclusion.
Time is not the key thing for mastering a field. Sure it does help to become proficient. But it’s not a prerequisite for success.
What you really need is to consistently position yourself against tough problems.
The faster you encounter difficult cases. The faster you’ll improve.
But there is another issue in relation to this. Problems and hard-to-handle situations are not that frequent. They are not evenly distributed.
Two people starting the same position today can have a totally different year – person A can have a smooth year, while person B can face problem after problem. In this case, at the end of the year, person B is much more qualified than person A.
To bring back the analogy with the partner. In time you’ll learn her/his likes and dislikes. But a better strategy (probably) will be to have an honest conversation so you can speed up the info-gathering phase.
How We Can Apply Critical Thinking In Our Everyday Life?
With the below examples, my aim is to present how a person applying critical thinking can successfully navigate around the daily hurdles we all normally have to handle.
The more cases you explore. The better you’ll be at reasoning and thinking in general.
While some scenes might not seem difficult per se. I’m sure that if you remember them and apply them when similar issues actually occur in the future, you’ll react much better to a problem:
Fifteen Examples of Critical Thinking in Everyday Life:
- A person who consciously throws out all junk food when starting a diet to channel his willpower toward exercising rather than thinking about delicious snacks.
- The same person who’s on a diet does not enter the restaurant when he’s staying at a hotel with an all-inclusive buffet. Instead, he asks his partner/friend to pick a salad for him.
- A person uninstalling the social media app from his phone and unfollowing everyone online to prevent social media from consuming most of his time daily.
- A person placing educational materials in the center of his living room to help his child learn stuff instead of playing all day.
- A person scheduling emails to go to his friends to ensure that he’ll keep in touch with them even when he’s busy at work.
- A person carrying a book with him so he can read when he’s waiting in line – instead of drowning in status updates from people he doesn’t know.
- A person who records his achievements – creates a library of good feedback – which he can browse when failures eventually reach him.
- A person who keeps an idea journal where he’s recording ideas and random thoughts because he knows that a) he will need them at some point; b) we forget things ultra fast.
- A person comparing himself not with the most productive person on the planet or the richest guy in Hollywood but rather with himself yesterday. This person knows that judging your work output and your money management skills against who you were a year ago and/or a day ago feels more uplifting than the alternative.
- A person who is scheduling – and protecting – time daily to learn and study new things because he’s well aware that the world is constantly advancing and you can stay ahead only if you are continuously learning yourself.
- A person who is not focusing on goals – losing 15 pounds. Rather, focusing on systems – being a healthy person.
- A person fully aware that he can’t achieve everything and he can’t please everyone. Therefore, he focuses on being good at one main thing while maintaining a tight circle of friends.
- A person who not only plans for the worse. But also makes room for the terrible because he knows that the future is always entirely uncertain – and unpredictable.
- A person who pauses before responding when verbally attacked. Since he knows that emotions can be a bad advisor, he waits for them to be displaced by logic and reason.
- A person who is doing the work even when he doesn’t feel like working. He knows that’s the main difference between amateurs and professionals – amateurs stop even when there is a tiny obstacle whereas professionals understand that obstacles are part of the process of becoming great.
Some Closing Thoughts
Did you spot the similarities in all of the cases above?
Don’t worry. Take your time. I’ll wait…
So, we can gently summarize what all cases above have in common with one word: patience.
We can practically continue forever by sharing critical thinking examples in real life. But that’s not the point.
The idea is to see the essential ingredient for good thinking.
That is, you don’t respond immediately to a situation. You postpone the instantaneous reaction that comes to your mind, delay the gratification, and wait for logic and reason to arrive at the scene.
You are not annoyed, irritated, or afraid when facing problems.
Like a Buddhist monk who meditated for days on top of a frozen mountain. You wait patiently for the best opportunity and the optimal solution to a situation.
I hope that the examples of critical thinking above not only inspired you to stay still, and arouse your curiosity but also showed you what is possible when we apply thinking before acting.
Add to your critical thinking knowledge by reading the following:
- Thought-Provoking Examples of Critical Thinking In The Workplace
- The Importance of Teaching Critical Thinking
- Why is Critical Thinking Important in Daily Life?
- Critical Thinking Process (Or Acting Wisely Even If You’re Not Very Bright)
Do yourself a favor:
Join Going Further: A 13-day email series on how to keep progressing in a world tirelessly pushing toward regression. Great for people who feel stuck in the endless loop of not doing.
- While I’ve read a lot on the topic, the book that summarizes the main concepts of this thinking type is called Critical Thinking by Tom Chatfield.
- Maker Ed, The Benefits of Ill-Structured Problem Solving Through Making. On the web:
- For all of these, I recommend checking these books: Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman and Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday.