BECOMING A BETTER THINKER

Here are six effective ways to become a better thinker.

Listen carefully: Is the speaker appealing more to reason or to emotion? Do you sense fair-mindedness or bias? Is the person presenting pros and cons or cherry-picking? For example, if a psychologist speaker is basing belief in a therapeutic modality on just an anecdote or two, beware. There is strength in numbers.

Don’t reflexively accept ideas that are conventional wisdom. It’s tempting, even reflexive, to agree with them. Rather, weigh each argument on its merits.

When making an argument, picture your listener being highly intelligent. As you’re making an argument, imagine that the other person is at least as intelligent as you are.

Include necessary nuance: Black/white thinking, sometimes evinced with such words as “always” or “never” are clues to insufficient awareness that much wisdom lives in the gray.

Be sure that one idea follows from the other. If the connection isn’t self-evident, offer a connective such as, “Here’s an example in a different context.” Avoid tangents—Too often, they’re more interesting to the speaker than to the listener, who may view the speaker’s thinking as disjointed and discursive.

Hang out with good thinkers and ask for honest feedback: Ask such people to tell you when your thinking isn’t solid, That may be the most potent way to improve your thinking because you’re getting feedback that is individualized and in context.

It’s often difficult for someone to explain how you’re not being logical. If the explanation isn’t clear, give a second chance, for example, “Would you mind reexplaining that. I’m not sure I quite got it.”

Get a coach. One-on-one coaching is among the most potent ways to grow, especially in an area as complex as thinking. So consider asking a high school or college debate coach if s/he would work with you one-on-one.

Join a debate society. They exist worldwide, including for adults. Or, if you’re in high school or college, consider joining the debate team. Preparing for a debate is non-stop critical thinking. Plus, debate groups provide ongoing feedback on the quality of your reasoning: from your debate coach, teammates, and judges.

Keep a nugget file. Keep a file of all the mistakes and lessons learned from the above. Review it periodically.

-Elda

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