How to Develop Thinking Skills
How do you develop better thinking abilities? By practicing
certain skills. Some simple techniques can become habitual (and
therefore useful) within a few weeks. For example, if every time
you learn a new idea this month you ask "what other ways
can that be used," you'll soon be habitually inventing new
things and thinking in new directions. Other skills, like increasing
your creative output by continually looking at things from different
perspectives, can take more time and work to develop and maintain.
Which skills should you work on first? The choice is yours,
and the following three examples are just a limited selection
of the possibilities.
We all learn new things and are exposed to novel ideas, but
often our response to something new and interesting is nothing
more than curiosity, and perhaps a desire to share our new information
or knowledge with others. This is a limited way of thinking.
Instead, every time you learn something new, ask yourself how
that knowledge can be applied; and try to think of more than
For example, you might read an article in a psychology magazine
about how people respond to certain colors. Instead of just thinking,
"that's interesting," purposefully take time to think
of how this knowledge might be used. You might imagine painting
school rooms in colors which help students stay more alert and
focused, or painting prisons in colors that calm the inmates.
If you hear about a new fuel being tested for cars, you might
consider how it could be used for other machinery. Look for new
applications every time you're exposed to new ideas or knowledge
and you'll not only have a slew of creative ideas, but you'll
also retain the new information better (we recall things better
when we have worked with them).
Develop Better Logic
Logic can be taught of course, but many of the most logical
people have never had a course in the subject. Logic is essentially
natural to human minds, and yet we make mistakes very easily.
It is most important then, to learn about the logical fallacies
and missteps that are possible, so we can avoid them. This will
not be a lesson on those. Instead, I want to suggest that you
watch what is said around you, whether in personal conversations,
in political debates, or wherever. As you listen or read, find
the flaws in the logic.
For example, you might catch a debate on television about
how much power a president needs in order to protect citizens
of a country. Looking for the flaws in the arguments, you note
that they are both based on the unproven assumption that more
power actually provides more protection. It is possible that,
at best, more power simply protects us from some foreign threats
while that power threatens our safety and rights in equally harmful
As you challenge the logic being used all around you, it should
become easier to see and correct the flaws in your own use of
Develop More Holistic Thinking Skills
More logical thinking is a great skill to have, and the little
technique above is an effective way to develop it. But it is
also useful to learn the limits of logic. After all, we might
logically come to any number of conclusions, but outside of theoretical
mathematics our conclusions will always at some level be based
on unproven premises, unspoken assumptions, unclear definitions,
or values we have provisionally adopted.
Consider a syllogism like; "All animals need food; all
humans are animals: therefore all humans need food." It
is logical, but that doesn't make it correct in all contexts.
We might someday get our nutrition from something that isn't
called food, after all. An unspoken assumption here is that we
need food for survival (the syllogism doesn't say so explicitly),
but I can stop eating right now and live for weeks at least,
so another unspoken assumption is that the reader or listener
already knows it refers to some vague time frame. And the moment
you specify or clarify, saying, "all humans need food to
survive more than three months," someone is likely to prove
it wrong by living a bit longer (and you might go three years
once they perfect suspended animation).
Or consider the seemingly logical idea like "Democracy
is good, and we want what is good, therefore we should promote
democracy everywhere." The first part is an unproven premise
based on a vague definition, since it is not proven that mob
rule is always good, and the word "democracy" can in
any case mean many different things to different people.
You may not like the idea of settling on vague formulations,
like, "Democracy appears to be better than the current alternatives
we know of," and you may not like provisional values that
you have to change as you learn more, but that's what honest
and more holistic thought requires. If you don't learn to see
the limitations of logical thinking you can miss new ideas (non-food
nutrition), and make big mistakes (promoting democracy in a country
where the populace will just vote to oppress minorities).
It's also good to remember that logic doesn't always conform
to or precede experience and values. You can clearly see, for
example, that something works before you know why. You can see
that it is wrong to torture an animal before you have a logical
argument for your belief. Sometimes the more formal logic is
just added after the fact to make what you see and believe more
arguable. But as long as you acknowledge your fallibility (and
that of everyone else) and are open to changing your mind, pre-logic
provisional assumptions and values are not a problem. They are
very useful, and inescapable anyhow.
Even with the best logic, you can make a simple mistake in
adopting a premise that later proves to be incorrect (they used
to think margarine was better for you than butter, and then science
discovered otherwise). To think more holistically, then, after
you settle on your logical conclusions, note the premises, facts,
and related assumptions that got you there, challenge these a
bit to see if they might be wrong or incomplete, and remind yourself
that all thinking works with premises which could be mistaken,
and experience-based knowledge and values which are not the same
for everyone. This is a way to train yourself to be more open
1. To be more creative: When you learn something new, look
for several new ways that knowledge can be applied.
2. To be more logical: Watch for and identify the flaws in
the logic used by others and yourself.
3. To be more holistic: Note the limitations of any way of
thinking and consider alternatives.
To develop better thinking abilities, just do these three