When I use the phrase “critical thinking” – and this happens a lot, considering that I am a psychotherapist that relies on cognitive methods when assisting clients to achieve well-being – I often discover that many people are not familiar with this syntagma and even fewer individuals understand the actual meaning of it.
Some of them choose to act as if they know and understand the term, so it’s not always obvious that we lack the basis in our work and that it would be better to go back to square one and clarify what it means to be a critical thinker. Most people I’ve come in contact with assume it has something to do with criticism and therefore, at first, perceive my method as a way of learning to cast critical remarks about different aspects of life – They think I’m demonstrating a way to criticize communication, activities, thinking. At first, they look at me a bit skeptical, because there it is, in front of them, this psychologist that is supposedly an ideal relational entity, trying to convince them to use a method that seems less than moral, in the sense that being critical is at core an aggressive behavior. And they would be right. But that is not what I’m trying to convey. In the past, it was only when I saw their attitude towards my speech changing, the doubt and sometimes disappointment-filled facial expressions or when I received verbal feedback like “Yes, you are right, I should be less tolerant and more critical”, that I said to myself “Oh, we haven’t clarified the term. Perhaps we should do that first.”.
So in the last years, I’ve changed my strategy and each time I want to introduce the critical thinking theme into therapy or personal development process, I start by asking “What do you know about critical thinking?”. And the client’s answer will clarify whether we need to explain the term entirely or if the person has been previously exposed to informational materials regarding the subject. From my experience, this is rarely the case. So, very often, I take on the role of introducing my clients or interlocutors into the domain of critical thinking.
The first sigh of relief comes when I tell them that it has nothing to do with criticism – as an aggressive form of analysis and interaction; although it can be used when building a critical remark, this is not a specific purpose of critical thinking – but that it has everything to do with logic. The second sigh of relief and the “aha” moment come when they understand that critical thinking is a way to relate to the world in a logical, reasonable, clear, bias-free mode.
*To sum up the above paragraph, critical thinking is a cluster of mental abilities that guide and render logical, clear and rational cognitive processes and conclusions.
That’s when they become willing to have a partnership with this new facet of cognition that seemed not only alien, but a bad thing, just minutes ago. However, the real interest and motivation appear when I tell them a little bit about the benefits of critical thinking, as a skill:
– You get to exercise your own way of thinking, which will increase your level of independence.
– You will engage in more authentic interactions with others, yourself, and the world.
– You will be able to create cognitive algorithms that link ideas in a logical manner.
– You will be more prepared in generating and assessing arguments, thus will be able to present your opinions and ideas in a better way.
– You will be able to identify and manage cognitive distortions, dissonances, and bias.
– You will manage manipulation better.
– You will be able to come up with better problem-solving strategies.
But the most important aspect of using critical thinking, in my opinion, is that you will be able to assess ideas, beliefs, and life in a reason-guided manner, thus helping the overall “cognitive pool” of humanity evolve.
I’ve always been an advocate of reason, proof, rational thinking, and authenticity and therefore it is hard for me to conceive mental, emotional, or even spiritual well-being without considering critical thinking as the foundation of human cognition.
Thus, I encourage you all to be curious about the way you think and try to identify and improve your cognitive patterns in order to achieve an authentic, meaningful, and purposeful life.
The ways of critical thinking are many, but one concept seems to be common to all of them: Truth. We need to put things in relation to the concept of Truth. And how do we get to Truth, you ask (a very complex concept for philosophers, but my intention right now is to highlight the importance of critical thinking in our lives, not to approach these concepts in an extended manner) – Well, one of the shortest ways I know to Truth is Proof. Question aspects of your life in a way that you will not end up believing things that have no rational background. Irrationality builds a fake, mock-up reality, it’s a make-believe realm in which your authentic self is not able to emerge and guide itself in an efficient manner. I believe that we need to live our lives in the closest kind of contact that we can achieve with the reality our scientific context provides. It is only then that we will actually be the kind of part of this Universe that manifests articulated awareness about its own existence and that of the world around it. We get to be entities with authentic relations with our environment, thus truly inserted in our own lives.
To an authentic existence!
Happy New Year, everyone!