Watch Your Thinking

Critical Thinking Concepts for Decision Making
It is important to think clearly and carefully when making a decision. All of the effort and decision making techniques you employ will be wasted if thinking through the decision isn’t done properly. A critical thinker observes his own thinking process and monitors himself for faulty logic. He must also constantly be aware of dangers to clear thinking. Here are some concepts to keep in mind:

– These are “self evident rules of thumb” – meaning things we take for granted or assume to be correct. There is nothing wrong with assumptions and, in fact, they provide a useful service in that they give us a short cut through unnecessary thinking. We assume the sun will rise in the morning, our spouse loves us and our money is safe in the bank. But, in thinking through a decision, in working through the 7 steps, it is important to become aware of our assumptions and to determine if they are accurate.
For Example: If you are considering medicine as a career, you shouldn’t just assume that doctors make a lot of money. Many do but many do not. It depends on the type of practice, the locale, the practice group, how hard one works, etc.
If at any time during the decision you observe yourself making an assumption; “I need to work outside,” “I’m not smart enough to go to law school,” “I can’t live anywhere but here,” “My Dad is always right,” “The stock market always goes up,” “There’s a real estate bubble,” etc., just stop.
Ask youself: “Is this assumption accurate?” It may be accurate, or it may not be or it may be only partly accurate or accurate only part of the time. The important thing is for you to be aware of the assumption and, if appropriate, do the research. Get the facts before you make the decision.

Biases and Prejudices
– If you are biased in favor of or prejudiced against something that is a factor in the decision you are making, it could skew your thinking. There is nothing inherently wrong with bias and prejudice, they are simply our own opinions. But if you have a strong like or dislike for a person, political party, profession, investment, city,state or country or anything else that is under consideration during your decision making, stop. Ask youself: “Is the way I feel about this affecting my objectivity? How can I put my feelings aside to stick to the facts in making my decision?”

– They play a very important and vital role in our lives. However, when it comes to thinking clearly, emotions can be a detriment. Anger, passion and sadness all affect our judgment and cognitive ability. Think back to your own experiences. Was there an occasion when you were angry and took some action or made a decision that you later regretted? Sure, most of us have had this experience. And how about passion? When we are passionate about someone, an idea or a cause our thinking suffers. Sadness too dims our ability to think and reason.
Interestingly though, emotions are a driving force in making our decisions. For several years I asked my Critical Thinking classes to list the top three most important decisions they have made in their life, then decide whether each was based primarily on emotion or logic. Consistently, on average, 2/3 to 3/4 of the decisions were reported as being based on emotion. This doesn’t mean you should make decisions based on emotion alone. No, you should think logically through a major decision. Then, if you have strong feelings about your decision, reexamine it to see why. Often there is something important that was overlooked or not given sufficient credence in the decision making process.

Stress and Depression
– both have a negative effect on the thinking process. When the brain is overloaded by stress or dimmed by depression the ability to think well and make wise decisions is reduced. Stress and depression, by clinical trials, have been clearly proven to reduce cognitive ability and affect memory, concentration and judgment. In addition, and relevant to the decision making process, it has been shown that people suffering from stress or depression have a reduced ability to develop options when making a decision.
So what do you do? The best advice is to refrain from making major career or life decisions when you are in such a state. You wouldn’t run a marathon with a pulled hamstring, so don’t make a major decision, one that could affect the rest of your life, when your brain isn’t doing its best. Give it time, rest, let go of the decision and come back to it a little later. Stress and depression are both treatable. Be smart, don’t play wounded. If at all possible, don’t make a major decision when you are under stress or depressed.