“Thinking is hard work; that’s why so few do it.” Those words from Albert Einstein ring true in so many areas of life. In the business world, a lack of thinking often leads to disappointment and disaster. As important as it is to think in the first place, it’s also crucial for leaders to change how they think. In Thinking for a Change, John Maxwell states, “One of the reasons people don’t achieve their dreams is that they desire to change their results without changing their thinking.” To do so, people need to adopt critical thinking skills.
When someone uses critical thinking skills, they begin to transform into the best version of themselves. Doing so is no small feat, though. Your level of critical thought is tied to your beliefs and your expectations. Because the critical thinking process requires growth and introspection, there are few critical thinkers out there.
However, if you’re reading this article, you’re likely interested in developing the mindset of a critical thinker—someone who is capable of solving the world’s greatest problems.
Take the next five minutes to learn how to become an effective critical thinker who can successfully tackle any challenge.
5 Steps to Becoming a Good Critical Thinker
Determining how to think critically can be a challenge, but John Maxwell provides a helpful guide to transforming how you think. By adopting this process, you’ll be able to solve problems and embrace an entrepreneurial spirit that will change you and your business. Here are the five steps to gaining critical thinking skills as Maxwell describes.
1. Expose yourself to good input. Read as much as you can from reputable sources and other good thinkers. When you come across a great idea, record and save it. Use the idea in the future as a way to stimulate more thinking.
2. Expose yourself to good thinkers. Don’t just sit at your desk and read a book or article from a critical thinker. Seek out other people (in person) who will challenge your thinking as well. These should be people who are also trying to grow and learn. One way to do this is by joining a mastermind group full of high-performers and entrepreneurs like yourself.
3. Choose to think good thoughts. Be intentional about your thinking process. Focus on the positive. If you dwell on the negative, it should come as no surprise when adverse outcomes happen.
4. Act on your good thoughts. It’s not enough to simply think good thoughts. Act on them as well. More importantly, act on them quickly. Ideas end up having a short shelf life, so you must work on them before they hit their expiration date.
5. Allow your emotions to create another good thought. Use the momentum of good thinking as a tool to fuel more good ideas. Allowing your emotions to feed that process continually creates a self-feeding system you can capitalize on.
A List of Critical Thinking Skills
So, what are critical thinking skills? Maxwell provides a helpful list in Thinking for a Change. After all, critical thinking is the ability to think rationally and put together logical connections. These skills can help in all aspects of your life as they cultivate innovative leadership. To become a skillful critical thinker, master the following critical thinking skills from Maxwell’s book.
1. Big Picture Thinking
Someone who looks beyond the immediate moment and considers the ramifications of their actions is a person who engages in big picture thinking. They understand that others think and see the world differently.
To practice big picture thinking, actively listen to others and set aside any agendas. All of this is in service to greater goals. As Maxwell puts it, “The person who forgets the ultimate, is a slave to the immediate.”
To practice big picture thinking:
- Have a vision for the future.
- Think like a leader.
- Account for all the variables you may encounter.
- Note what obstacles you may find.
- Draw a road map of where your team is going.
- Connect the past with the future to show a meaningful journey.
2. Realistic Thinking
Though leaders may have far-reaching dreams, they must also be realistic in their thinking. That includes developing a deep appreciation for the truth, which can be challenging for some.
Winston Churchill famously said, “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing has happened.” To be a realistic thinker, you need to become comfortable with facing the truth, even if it’s difficult.
To become a realistic thinker:
- Show appreciation for the truth.
- Do your homework, including making sure you collect concrete facts.
- Consider the pros and cons of each solution.
- Imagine the worst case scenario just to be ready for it.
- Align your thinking with the truth to promote the right solution.
3. Strategic Thinking
Every solution and goal requires having a plan. Without a plan, you can’t expect to make much progress in achieving your top objectives.
Planning means developing strategic thinking. While some challenges may feel insurmountable, strategic thinking helps to break the journey down into more manageable “bite-size” parts. When you do this, you can focus on each step more effectively.
Which parts can you tackle yourself, and which can involve delegation to others? Strategic thinking shows that it’s not just what you hope to accomplish that matters, it’s how you do it.
4. Focused Thinking
As much as you might like, you can’t devote all of your thinking to every topic under the sun. While you might feel tempted to engage in exhaustive thinking, you must be more selective.
In other words, practice focused thinking.
Understand that it’s impossible to know everything and everyone. If you focus your energies, you can concentrate on the most important things you want to learn.
To get more focused:
- Remove all distractions.
- Set aside time dedicated to focused thinking.
- Establish specific goals.
- Monitor your progress toward your goals.
- Keep items of focus in sight when you work.
- Identify your strengths and areas of expertise.
5. Unselfish Thinking
John Maxwell describes unselfish thinking the best when he wrote, “There is no life as empty as the self-centered life. There is no life as centered as the self-empty life.”
Unselfish thinking means not thinking of yourself all the time. Think of others and what their needs are first, and identify how you can provide value to their lives.
To practice unselfish thinking, you must examine your motives carefully. Is what you’re doing for your benefit or the benefit of others? If you’re not careful, you could slowly, but surely, slide back into selfish motives.
6. Bottom-Line Thinking
When referencing bottom-line thinking, John Maxwell doesn’t mean thinking of the bottom line in financial terms. Instead, it means setting standards that you have to meet if you want to succeed.
Bottom-line thinking involves thinking about what has to occur to reach the most important goal in various areas of your life. Once you set aside any emotions and wants, you can determine what accomplishments really matter to you.
Take a moment to think of what your bottom line is in the following areas:
- Life Purpose
The Impact of Changed Critical Thinking
As you develop your critical thinking skills and become a critical thinker, you’ll understand the power of change. Any significant change has to come from within, and that all starts with how you think.
As a leader, you can not only change the way you think, but you can inspire others to think differently as well. From there, the impact of critical thinking spreads to touch all parts of your life, leading to beneficial results.
For those wanting to change the world, it begins with what’s in your head.