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How to Think Critically
and Problem Solve

The quotethinkcritically by Jean De La Bruyere: "Life is a tragedy for those who feel, and a comedy for those who think," may seem a bit radical, however, according to the premise of cognitive psychology, what you think is what you feel.

While many people believe that your feelings precede, or are independent of your thoughts, the truth is that your feelings are products of your thoughts.

This revelation can be both daunting and liberating.

Daunting because it makes us responsible for our attitudes and liberating because we have the power to choose our perspective, mood and thoughts.

When we are aware that we can choose and direct our thinking, we realize that we have the ability to better control the circumstances of our lives, improve our decision-making processes and generally live more productive lives.

This in no way suggests that we need downplay the many feelings and emotions we as humans enjoy, it's a simply a way for us to manage and balance them with our cognitive abilities.

We are thinking critically and in a problem solving mindset when we:

  • Rely on reason rather than emotion
  • Evaluate a broad range of viewpoints and perspectives
  • Maintain an open mind to alternative interpretations
  • Accept new evidence, explanations and findings
  • Are willing to reassess information
  • Can put aside personal prejudices and biases
  • Consider all reasonable possibilities
  • Avoid hasty judgments

Like any other skill, learning to think critically or problem-solve takes time, perseverance and practice. Knowing which steps to take and how to apply them helps us master the process.

Steps to Critical Thinking As It Relates To Problem Solving:

  1. Identify the Problem. The first task is to determine if a problem exists. Sometimes when you think this point through, you may come to the conclusion that there really isn't a problem, just a misunderstanding. If that's the case, fine. If not, and you determine that there is indeed a problem, you need to identify exactly what it is. According to Barry Lubetkin, a New York clinical psychologist,  how systematically someone weighs the pros and cons of a problem and how clearly the person can define and state it, is also an indication of highly developed intelligence.

  2. Analyze the problem, look at it from different angles. Once you've determined the problem, analyze it by looking at it from a variety of perspectives. Is it solvable? Is it real or perceived? Can you solve it alone or do you need help? Sometimes by looking at it from many angles you can come up with a resolution right away. You may also reveal a bias or narrow point of view that needs to be broadened

  3. Brainstorm and come up with a several possible solutions. Problems can be solved in many ways. Brainstorm a list of several possible solutions. Put down anything that comes to mind and then go over the list and narrow it down to the best possibilities. Having several viable options leads to obtaining the best results. 

  4. Decide which solution fits the situation best. Go over your list of possible solutions. Different situations call for different solutions. Quite often what works in one situation, may not work in a similar one. Take time to determine what will work best for the problem at hand. One solution usually does not fit all.

  5. Take action. Implement your solution. Every problem has a solution; even if it is to accept the situation and move on. Instead of approaching problems and challenges as insurmountable obstacles, we can view them as opportunities to hone our critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Every problem we are able to resolve increases increases self-confidence and self-worth. Thinking critically not only helps us handle future challenges more skillfully, it also broadens our life experience and helps us gain perspective.

Related articles:
How to Think for Yourself
Increase Your Brainpower with Classics

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