How Skilled is Your Thinking (Right Now)?
There is nothing more practical than sound thinking. No matter what your circumstance or goals, no matter where you are, or what problems you face, you are better off if your thinking is skilled. As a professional—shopper, employee, citizen, lover, friend, parent—in every realm and situation of your life, good thinking pays off. Poor thinking, in turn, inevitably causes problems, wastes time and energy, engenders frustration and pain.
Critical thinking is the disciplined art of ensuring that you use the best thinking you are capable of in any set of circumstances. The general goal of thinking is to "figure out the lay of the land." We all have multiple choices to make. We need the best information to make the best choices.
What is really going on in this or that situation? Are they trying to take advantage of me? Does so-and-so really care about me? Am I deceiving myself when I believe that…? What are the likely consequences of failing to…? If I want to do…, what is the best way to prepare for it? How can I be more successful in doing…? Is this my biggest problem, or do I need to focus my attention on something else? Responding to such questions successfully is the daily work of thinking. That's why we are THINKERS.
Nothing you can do, of course, guarantees that you will discover the complete truth about anything, but there is a way to get better at it. Excellence of thought and skill in thinking are real possibilities. However, to maximize the quality of your thinking, you must learn how to become an effective "critic" of your thinking. And to become an effective critic of your thinking, you have to make learning about thinking a priority.
Ask yourself these—rather unusual—questions: What have you learned about how you think? Did you ever study your thinking? What information do you have, for example, about how the intellectual processes that occur as your mind thinks? More to the point, perhaps, what do you really know about how to analyze, evaluate, or reconstruct your thinking? Where does your thinking come from? How much of it is of "good" quality? How much of it is of "poor" quality? How much of your thinking is vague, muddled, inconsistent, inaccurate, illogical, or superficial? Are you, in any real sense, in control of your thinking? Do you know how to test it? Do you have any conscious standards for determining when you are thinking well and when you are thinking poorly? Have you ever discovered a significant problem in your thinking and then changed it by a conscious act of will? If anyone asked you to teach them what you have learned, thus far in your life, about thinking, would you really have any idea what that was or how you learned it?
If you are like most, the only honest answers to these questions run along the lines of: "Well, I suppose I really don't know much about my thinking or about thinking in general. I suppose in my life I have more or less taken my thinking for granted. I don't really know how it works. I have never really studied it. I don't know how I test it, or even if I do test it. It just happens in my mind automatically." In other words, serious study of thinking, serious thinking about thinking, is rare. It is not a subject in most schools. It is not a subject taught at home. But if you focus your attention for a moment on the role that thinking is playing in your life, you may come to recognize that, in fact, everything you do, want, or feel is influenced by your thinking. And if you become persuaded of that, you will be surprised that humans show so little interest in thinking. We are like monkeys uninterested in what goes on when we "monkey around." What is more, if you start, then, to pay attention to thinking in a manner analogous to the way a botanist observes plants, you will be on your way to becoming a truly exceptional person. You will begin to notice what few others notice. You will be the rare monkey who knows what monkeying around is all about. You will be the rare monkey who knows how and why he is monkeying around, the rare monkey skilled in assessing and improving his monkeying. Here are some things you will eventually discover: that all of us have, somewhere along the way, picked up bad habits of thinking. All of us, for example, make generalizations when we don't have the evidence to back them up, allow stereotypes to influence our thinking, form some false beliefs, tend to look at the world from one fixed point of view, ignore or attack points of view that conflict with our own, fabricate illusions and myths that we subconsciously confuse with what is true and real, and think deceptively about many aspects of our experience. As you discover these problems, we hope you will begin to ask yourself some key questions: "Is it possible for me to learn to avoid bad habits of thought? Is it possible for me to develop good habits of thought? Is it possible for me to think at a high, or at least, higher, level?" These are problems and questions that few discover or ask. Nevertheless, every major insight you gain into good or bad thinking can significantly enhance your life. You can begin to make higher quality decisions. You can gain power, very important power, you presently lack. You can open up new doors for yourself, see new options, minimize significant mistakes, and maximize potential understandings.