Developing Your Analytical and Critical Thinking Skills for Everyday Living

Learning to think and reason critically and analytically on a continuous basis is not easy. Everyday living is a series of decisions and choices that always revolve around what we want versus what we need or should do and it can be difficult to separate the two.

Our experiences, our observations, our wants and our needs all influence our decisions; the trick is to prioritize these things to come to the best decision for us – to decide what will be the most advantageous to our own situation.

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To be successful in life, whether you define success as happiness, financial gain or through your children, requires learning to think and reason critically and analytically in many cases. The more we can do that the more successful we will be.

The very young among us have not learned how to reason critically – their wants are the only thing that matters to them. An infant considers only that they are hungry, not that Mom is busy. Slightly older children learn that there are consequences to their actions and begin to think some about those consequences, but still take action mostly on what they want at the moment. Even teens haven’t learned the skill yet – they want to drive fast, so they die doing it. They want to be accepted so they take street drugs from their peers. They have not developed those critical and analytical thinking skills yet.

Older seniors often go the other way. They have had their noses rubbed into bad consequences so many times that their experiences play an overwhelming part of their decisions. The seniors on a fixed income from a nest egg knows how fast money can disappear; they often won’t spend a dime of that nest egg even for their needs, let alone their wants.

Somewhere in between is where we all need to be; balancing our wants and needs with good, informative analytical thinking.

Our wants play a large part in coming to decisions that we make, and this is right and proper. At the same time, those wants cannot be allowed to guide our critical thinking to a preordained conclusion.

What we want is very often the very reason we are making a decision at all. What do we want for breakfast today? We need a new car; which one do we want? These wants must not be left out of our decision making processes.

Critical thinking, however, dictates that these wants do not have very much priority in the reasoning process. Many people begin the analytical reasoning process with the desire to make that particular want a part of the final decision and that desire often makes the entire analytical reasoning process invalid. If you take a new job based on a want for more money to play with and find you really hate the job because it takes a lot more of your time than the one you liked but left you have probably made the wrong decision based solely on your desire for more money.

As an example, consider that you have decided to buy a new house, and have narrowed the choices to two. One you really like and want, but it is more than you can afford, will require a 50 mile commute to work and needs a new roof. The second choice is less desirable, and after seeing the first you don’t really want it, but the commute is short, it is affordable and needs no repairs. Reasoning with your wants, you decide that the first house is the way to go; the commute is only 20 minutes longer (if you drive 100 mph), you will save money somewhere to pay for it (with no idea just where that might be) and somehow don’t see the roof at all.

You have now decided to buy the house using faulty reasoning. Your decision is based on lies to yourself (driving 100 mph indeed!), ignoring consequences of your actions (no more of the eating out that you enjoy so much) and intentional blindness (the bad roof doesn’t exist).

By using truly critical and analytical thinking on the other hand, you decide to make a 50 mile commute to work each day for a week (test the hypothesis that it’s OK) and discover you don’t like it at all. You make a serious budget and find that all your entertainment must disappear to afford the new house and you don’t ignore that fact but rather consider the consequences seriously. You get a ladder and take a hard look at the questionable roof, and realize it will cost an additional $5000 to fix it. Final conclusion; house #1 is not for you in spite of the fact you really want it. Your wants have not been allowed to interfere with your critical reasoning process and you will be happier for it. You have correctly analyzed your problem, using all the data available, testing new procedures or theories, and you have not conveniently forgotten or ignored anything in order to produce the answer you want. You may dream of house #1 for months afterward, (and may eventually find one you like just as well) but you have made the right choice for you and will understand that in a few days when the disappointment fades some.

There is a third possibility as well; perhaps you decide that you can sell the car you don’t really like, buy a cheaper one and have enough left to fix the roof. You find you can raid your retirement fund for enough down payment to lower the monthly payment to a more affordable amount without causing unacceptable damage to that retirement account and discover that a new road is being built that will cut 15 miles off the commute. Now your analytical thinking skills have found the problems that could have made you very unhappy in a few months and found solutions as well – solutions that are an acceptable trade off for you.

In the example above, the third possibility shows how your wants and desires should be used to come to the right decision or conclusion. Not by subverting your critical and analytical reasoning process but by forcing that same reasoning process to find other possibilities or avenues that can provide your wants.

Your wants may well cause you to reason out a decision or conclusion; to have to choose which action to take or product to buy. Those desires, however, should not make the decision or the choice itself. They must be allowed only to cause the decision or choice to be made. Critical and analytical thinking must then be used to make the actual choice with as little interference from your wants or emotions as possible. Once the pros and cons of any decision have been discovered you must weight those against your own want in a very analytical manner to determine exactly what you will be spending (time, money, friends or family, whatever it might be) and what you will gain from that cost. Once more your wants must be set aside and clear, critical thinking used to determine if the want is worth the cost.

A second example: Joe works with a beautiful woman, Jill, who has made advances. Joe wants Jill but must decide if the cost of losing his wife and family, his home and half his bank account, future child support payments are all worth the prize. The internal lie (Only one night, and I won’t get caught) is not allowed; the probability that it will continue and he will get caught must be accounted for. Yet few people apparently are able to think critically or analytically here; over half of American marriages fail, the divorce courts are overloaded and huge numbers of children are from one parent homes. Many of these circumstances can be traced to infidelity. The correct answer is usually obvious, but so many people cannot go beyond a child’s level of reasoning; I want so I get without any attempt at critical or analytical thought. The want is allowed to perform the reasoning process with predictable results.

Your own past experiences can provide an invaluable resource for analytical reasoning, but should be used with caution. Past experience seldom matches exactly with new circumstances and memory is seldom perfect as well. Specifically “common sense” that is based on past experience often turns out to be based on what you were told not what you actually experienced and may not be accurate at all. In addition common sense often changes with time and new information; coconut oil, once thought to be very bad for the heart as it contains saturated fats is now considered quite good for your heart. The common sense declaration about saturated fats has been found to be only partially true. Between old experiences and new data it is quite likely that new possibilities are available; perhaps a different conclusion is in order.

We all know that much of the information available on the internet should be suspect, but few consider that old knowledge from our childhood is also quite suspect. Times change and new discoveries are always being made. Memories fade and change. Something that we absolutely knew to be true 20 years ago may turn out not to be true at all. In the house buying scenario above the hypothetical person knew the roof would cost $5,000 to repair from past experience; an actual bid quote might come in at $2,000. Or $10,000. Use the best information you have available to make decisions, and the more important the decision the better that information needs to be. If you decide to have Cheerios for breakfast and discover you don’t have any on hand it isn’t the end of the world, but if you purchase a house you can’t afford it could well be repossessed. Don’t let your critical and analytical thinking process fail for lack of good, solid information – the best you can come up with.