Want to become a more critical thinker? The first step is being aware of the barriers that stand in the way of you and clear, rational thought. Knowing what to watch out for can help you overcome them and move closer to making well-informed decisions.
Critical thinking is essential to using your overall experience, background, common sense and other attributes to become more aware of how your efforts for success are being spent. When you have barriers to the critical thinking process, it can seriously harm your ability to move forward.
When you’re aware of these barriers, you can better overcome them and focus your thinking on what’s going to move you forward rather than getting stuck behind a barrier — unable to move forward.
Barriers to Critical Thinking
Here are five barriers that can impede the critical thinking process:
(i) Thinking in Black and White. Some people ignore a situation’s complexities by thinking that there’s only one way to solve a problem. The problem is placed in a category, given a label, and that’s the only way that matters. Thinking in black and white comes from our need to have certainty in our lives, but it’s false logic to assume that everything is totally one way.
(ii) Thinking with the Ego. Egocentric thinking is thinking with a lack of understanding others’ wants and needs. It limits your thinking to only your point of view and doesn’t have room for others’ ideas. This thinking process is deeply embedded in our psyches, and it sometimes takes deliberate effort to overcome it.
(iii) Social Thinking. The drone mentality of social thinking only lets us see things in the way of the popular point of view – or how our spouse, companions, parents and friends think. Thinking outside the box is almost impossible when you have a barrier of social thinking and it can impede the critical thinking process.
(iv) Authoritative Thinking. Just because someone in authority says it’s true doesn’t mean it is. You’ve likely been swayed by political leaders who say one thing is true, only to find out later that it was a lie or a misleading way of thinking. The authority could be a person, peer group, institution or anything that makes you think that they’re right because they’re in an authoritative position.
(v) Judgmental Thinking. When you judge something or someone based on moral evaluation, it’s usually done in haste and based on our past – such as the way we were raised, educated or other values and mores. Judgmental thinking is usually non-rational thinking and can block understanding and insight about a person or an issue.
SO what can you do to overcome these barriers? Here are five suggestions to try:
a. Recognizing Your Cognitive Biases. Cognitive biases are tendencies we all have that lead us to make certain decisions, judgments or beliefs. We develop them over time and they don’t necessarily serve us well in our decision-making process. Some of the more common cognitive biases include confirmation bias (seeking out evidence to support existing beliefs), anchoring bias (overestimating or underestimating based on initial information) and the “availability heuristic” (making decisions quickly and with little research). Recognizing when they are at play can help you make choices free of bias and more reflective of your values.
b. Acting on Your Assumptions. Before making a decision or forming an opinion, it’s important to take the time to analyze the facts. Don’t act on your assumptions right away. Instead, question why you’re feeling something and address any underlying fear or insecurity with facts. Ask yourself questions like “What do I really know about this?” and “Is there evidence to back up my thought?” Taking some extra time can help you make decisions without bias.
c. Avoiding Confirmation Bias. One of the most common barriers to critical thinking is confirmation bias, which is when someone only looks for facts that support an idea they already have. To avoid this type of thinking, ensure your research and data are coming from a variety of sources. This way you’re not only getting information from one side, but also learning opposing points of view. Questioning your own opinion or ‘gut feeling’ can help to prevent yourself from making decisions without fully understanding all sides of the story.
d. Reframing Your Thoughts and Perspectives. Reframing your thoughts and perspectives is a great way to overcome barriers to critical thinking. Make an effort to step out of your comfort zone, look at matters from a different angle, and challenge yourself by looking for contradicting evidence or anomalies. You can also challenge your own beliefs in this process and be open to other people’s viewpoints. Through this exercise, find new insights and become more well-rounded.
e. Search for Different Points of View & Solutions. In order to prevent confirmation bias, actively search for different points of view and solutions. Don’t limit yourself to one path — consider the range of possibilities. Ask questions, research information with an open mind, and form opinions based on fact instead of assumptions or what has been said in the past. You’ll become more adept at critical thinking as you learn how to look for new angles, draw conclusions from evidence, and recognize diverse perspectives.
It’s important that we recognise our own barriers to the critical thinking process and replace those barriers with rational and reasoned thinking and then make a concentrated effort to avoid them.