10 Proven Strategies to Boost Your Critical Thinking Skills and Make Better Decisions

As humans, we typically operate on cognitive autopilot, allowing our mental models to dictate our perception of reality. However, when our mental models fail to match reality, we ignore it and operate throughout the day on implicit assumptions. This default mechanism hinders our critical thinking skills. To upgrade our critical thinking skills, we must first reflect on how we interpret and perceive information differently from others.

Critical thinking is the process of making reasonable decisions about what to believe and what to do. It means questioning and arguing logically while searching for hidden assumptions, noticing various facets, and evaluating what is most significant. To observe the world with an open and skeptical mindset, we must orient our mental models to view reality through an emotionless lens, seeking truth by questioning our own assumptions and deconstructing arguments logically. It is our ability to identify gaps and uncover what is missing to improve our quality of decisions. Finally, it is our ability to unravel different strands of significant information through a continuous stream of feedback so that we continuously destroy and create new mental models allowing us to act closer to reality.

Colonel John Boyd’s OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) Loop is a framework for critical thinking. It is a continuous feedback loop where the objective is to go through the loop faster than your opponent. The loop comprises four stages: observe, orient, decide, and act. The key to the loop is feedback, similar to double-loop learning, where the goal is to modify decision-making in light of new experience. The overarching guide for using the OODA Loop is Scout Mindset, Objectivity, Avoid Emotion, and Reasoning Backwards.

Scout Mindset refers to being open and aware of one’s own biases and actively seeking out information that challenges them. Objectivity is about seeking truth and following the concept of the Categorical Imperative introduced by Immanuel Kant. The Categorical Imperative is an absolute or unconditional requirement that must be obeyed in all circumstances and is justified as an end in itself. Avoiding Emotion involves detaching oneself from a situation and objectively viewing how to make decisions. Reasoning Backwards is essentially solving problems by working backwards, using deduction to predict outcomes and experiment to see if the prediction was right.

The UFMCS uses the Think-Write-Share model, which involves thinking independently and reflectively, then writing down thoughts (which assists in shaping and refining them) and sharing them in a disciplined manner. This takes us from divergence to convergence. The Dialectical Method involves analyzing and pulling apart mental concepts into discrete parts and using them to form new mental concepts that align more closely with reality.

In conclusion, upgrading our critical thinking skills requires reflection and a willingness to challenge our mental models. Using the OODA Loop, with its simple rules and continuous feedback loop, can assist in speeding up critical and creative thinking abilities. Additionally, employing tools and techniques from the UFMCS Center for Applied Critical Thinking and The Applied Critical Thinking Handbook, such as Think-Write-Share and the Dialectical Method, can help sharpen our minds leading to better decision making. With critical thinking, we can better navigate a world full of complexity, ambiguity, and misinformation.