Thinking About Your Thoughts

Without sounding too abstract, critical thinking involves thinking about our thinking. In plain English, it means paying attention to how we derive judgment. It entails holding our decisions to a higher standard.  

The simple act of asking ourselves “why” we do certain things or even have certain opinions or attitudes is a huge part of critical thinking. Many organizations have powerful mission statements, which outline the organization’s purpose and philosophy so that management and staff alike can always remind themselves why they work there in the first place. On the ground level, projects often get off-track because the project goals are no longer the focus. Sometimes simply asking Why certain things are being done again can help people focus back on the goals.  

The “Why” question can often lead to “how,” generating broad questions that can actually lead to specific understanding. “How did I come to believe in the things I now believe?” may sound like an unnecessarily abstract–and possibly intimidating–question, but it could also lead to a better understanding of ourselves and our values. Instead of answering, “That’s just what I believe,” you begin to have concrete, articulate explanations for your beliefs. 

Above all, critical thinking concerns itself with the method—with how we arrive at a judgment. It’s why a scientific experiment operates according to accepted practices based upon scientific data: so that the experimenter can say that his results are based upon an established method, not mere conjecture or sloppy design that might have thrown off the results. It’s also why we have standards when it comes to things like construction or food safety. The method leading up to the result must itself be sound, or we cannot rely on that result.  

In your own life, simply asking “What was my chain of thought leading up to this decision or judgment?” is a crucial act of critical thought. You may discover you didn’t have all of the information needed when you made a choice—or that some of your attitudes are more the result of a particular upbringing and hearing the same ideas. 

Rather than being something passive we do between action, thought becomes an active guide to those actions, something we are aware of and can therefore subject to scrutiny, in order to improve it.  


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