Skip to main content

Developing Your Analytical and Critical Thinking Skills for Everyday Living

Dan is a family man, having raised two children, and has long been interested in the cultural, political, and social roots of our society.

photo by Kadellar

photo by Kadellar

Critical and Analytical Thinking

Learning to think and reason critically and analytically continuously is not easy. Everyday living is a series of decisions and choices that always revolve around what we want versus what we need or should do, and it can be difficult to separate the two.

Our experiences, observations, wants, and needs influence our decisions; the trick is to prioritize these things to come to the best decision for usto decide what will be the most advantageous to our situation.

Whether you define success as happiness, financial gain, or through your children, success in life requires learning to think and reason critically and analytically in many cases. The more we can do that, the more successful we will be.

Age and Critical, Analytical Thinking

The very young among us have not learned how to reason critically - their wants are the only thing that matters to them. An infant considers only that they are hungry, not that Mom is busy. Slightly older children learn that there are consequences to their actions and begin to think some about those consequences, but still take action mostly on what they want at the moment. Even teens haven't learned the skill yet - they want to drive fast, so they die doing it. They want to be accepted so they take street drugs from their peers. They have not developed those critical and analytical thinking skills yet.

Older seniors often go the other way. They have had their noses rubbed into bad consequences so many times that their experiences play an overwhelming part of their decisions. The seniors on a fixed income from a nest egg knows how fast money can disappear; they often won't spend a dime of that nest egg even for their needs, let alone their wants.

Somewhere in between is where we all need to be; balancing our wants and needs with good, informative analytical thinking.

Which is Best For You?

If this is what you can afford,

If this is what you can afford,

Don't talk yourself into this one!

Don't talk yourself into this one!

Wants and Analytical Thinking

Our wants play a large part in coming to decisions that we make, and this is right and proper. At the same time, those wants cannot be allowed to guide our critical thinking to a preordained conclusion.

What we want is very often the very reason we are making a decision at all. What do we want for breakfast today? We need a new car; which one do we want? These wants must not be left out of our decision making processes.

Critical thinking, however, dictates that these wants do not have very much priority in the reasoning process. Many people begin the analytical reasoning process with the desire to make that particular want a part of the final decision and that desire often makes the entire analytical reasoning process invalid. If you take a new job based on a want for more money to play with and find you really hate the job because it takes a lot more of your time than the one you liked but left you have probably made the wrong decision based solely on your desire for more money.

As an example, consider that you have decided to buy a new house, and have narrowed the choices to two. One you really like and want, but it is more than you can afford, will require a 50 mile commute to work and needs a new roof. The second choice is less desirable, and after seeing the first you don't really want it, but the commute is short, it is affordable and needs no repairs. Reasoning with your wants, you decide that the first house is the way to go; the commute is only 20 minutes longer (if you drive 100 mph), you will save money somewhere to pay for it (with no idea just where that might be) and somehow don't see the roof at all.

You have now decided to buy the house using faulty reasoning. Your decision is based on lies to yourself (driving 100 mph indeed!), ignoring consequences of your actions (no more of the eating out that you enjoy so much) and intentional blindness (the bad roof doesn't exist).

By using truly critical and analytical thinking on the other hand, you decide to make a 50 mile commute to work each day for a week (test the hypothesis that it's OK) and discover you don't like it at all. You make a serious budget and find that all your entertainment must disappear to afford the new house and you don't ignore that fact but rather consider the consequences seriously. You get a ladder and take a hard look at the questionable roof, and realize it will cost an additional $5000 to fix it. Final conclusion; house #1 is not for you in spite of the fact you really want it. Your wants have not been allowed to interfere with your critical reasoning process and you will be happier for it. You have correctly analyzed your problem, using all the data available, testing new procedures or theories, and you have not conveniently forgotten or ignored anything in order to produce the answer you want. You may dream of house #1 for months afterward, (and may eventually find one you like just as well) but you have made the right choice for you and will understand that in a few days when the disappointment fades some.

There is a third possibility as well; perhaps you decide that you can sell the car you don't really like, buy a cheaper one and have enough left to fix the roof. You find you can raid your retirement fund for enough down payment to lower the monthly payment to a more affordable amount without causing unacceptable damage to that retirement account and discover that a new road is being built that will cut 15 miles off the commute. Now your analytical thinking skills have found the problems that could have made you very unhappy in a few months and found solutions as well - solutions that are an acceptable trade off for you.

Is she really worth everything you count as valuable?  Honest analytical thought would say no.

Is she really worth everything you count as valuable? Honest analytical thought would say no.

The Right Place For Your Wants and Desires

In the example above, the third possibility shows how your wants and desires should be used to come to the right decision or conclusion. Not by subverting your critical and analytical reasoning process but by forcing that same reasoning process to find other possibilities or avenues that can provide your wants.

Your wants may well cause you to reason out a decision or conclusion; to have to choose which action to take or product to buy. Those desires, however, should not make the decision or the choice itself. They must be allowed only to cause the decision or choice to be made. Critical and analytical thinking must then be used to make the actual choice with as little interference from your wants or emotions as possible. Once the pros and cons of any decision have been discovered you must weight those against your own want in a very analytical manner to determine exactly what you will be spending (time, money, friends or family, whatever it might be) and what you will gain from that cost. Once more your wants must be set aside and clear, critical thinking used to determine if the want is worth the cost.

A second example: Joe works with a beautiful woman, Jill, who has made advances. Joe wants Jill but must decide if the cost of losing his wife and family, his home and half his bank account, future child support payments are all worth the prize. The internal lie (Only one night, and I won't get caught) is not allowed; the probability that it will continue and he will get caught must be accounted for. Yet few people apparently are able to think critically or analytically here; over half of American marriages fail, the divorce courts are overloaded and huge numbers of children are from one parent homes. Many of these circumstances can be traced to infidelity. The correct answer is usually obvious, but so many people cannot go beyond a child's level of reasoning; I want so I get without any attempt at critical or analytical thought. The want is allowed to perform the reasoning process with predictable results.

Using Experience and Information

Your own past experiences can provide an invaluable resource for analytical reasoning, but should be used with caution. Past experience seldom matches exactly with new circumstances and memory is seldom perfect as well. Specifically "common sense" that is based on past experience often turns out to be based on what you were told not what you actually experienced and may not be accurate at all. In addition common sense often changes with time and new information; coconut oil, once thought to be very bad for the heart as it contains saturated fats is now considered quite good for your heart. The common sense declaration about saturated fats has been found to be only partially true. Between old experiences and new data it is quite likely that new possibilities are available; perhaps a different conclusion is in order.

We all know that much of the information available on the internet should be suspect, but few consider that old knowledge from our childhood is also quite suspect. Times change and new discoveries are always being made. Memories fade and change. Something that we absolutely knew to be true 20 years ago may turn out not to be true at all. In the house buying scenario above the hypothetical person knew the roof would cost $5,000 to repair from past experience; an actual bid quote might come in at $2,000. Or $10,000. Use the best information you have available to make decisions, and the more important the decision the better that information needs to be. If you decide to have Cheerios for breakfast and discover you don't have any on hand it isn't the end of the world, but if you purchase a house you can't afford it could well be repossessed. Don't let your critical and analytical thinking process fail for lack of good, solid information - the best you can come up with.

© 2011 Dan Harmon


Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on October 02, 2011:

I believe you are quite right - prepackaged information from sources that only want us to buy something or vote a certain way is generally worth exactly what we paid for them.

Most "information" on the web is very highly suspect as well, and must be critically considered from as many angles as we can. It is not always easy to determine what is true and what is just spin, but the effort must be made. It is part of the information age.

Maria V Eyles from Pismo Beach, California on October 01, 2011:

This is an excellent hub. I too feel that we as a nation are losing our ability to think analytically (critically)by swallowing wholesale prepackaged "ideas" from faux-"authorities" (a la Rhonda Byrne)who are out to sell us their next book or product, laughing at our gullibility all the way to the bank. Critical thinking takes great empathy and great self-awareness through inner WORK. Most people couldn't be bothered. (Is critical thinking even taught in schools anymore--or has it also been castrated by fundamentalists?) Bravo, Wilderness!

Samuel E. Richardson from Salt Lake City, Utah on May 14, 2011:

I enjoyed your hub.

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on April 17, 2011:

I doubt that they were all bad as you put it. Between the recession and some big medical bills my own quality of life has deteriorated; major entertainment has, for the last couple of years, been hot dogs on the barbecue with my son's family.

I have decided, however, to spend a little of that retirement savings to increase our enjoyment of life and if it costs some later on, so be it. Life has become an unending round of work with no play or fun and I'm tired of it.

That doesn't mean that I intend to spend thousands or even hundreds each month on play, but an occasional meal out, a camping trip or a movie will now be in the budget come hell or high water.

Dennis Thorgesen from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S. on April 17, 2011:

Thanks for at least letting me feel that my recent decisions haven't been all bad. If I spend my retirement time with out as much as I would like it will be OK. I have learned to live with just paying bills.

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on April 17, 2011:

I believe that, especially in the financial field, both needs and wants must be balanced. If a person spends only on needs without regard to wants life can become a drag and not worth living.

It is not always inappropriate to spend on wants - those can actually be needs greater than other needs. The trick is to balance the two in such a way that both are met in appropriate measures. It is something that everyone I know needs to work on - I have a tendency to spend only on needs (particularly in today's economy with retirement approaching) and seldom if ever spend on what I enjoy. I need to balance the two better and spend a little more on my wants and emotional needs rather than simply save for the future.

It is all a part of the reasoning process and critically examining the options available.

Dennis Thorgesen from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S. on April 17, 2011:

I am finding as I get closer to my goal it's getting harder to keep giving up things I would like and would like to do now. I have made a few mistakes lately which have actually increased my debt back to the amount I now owe. So my skills really do need honed. I am working on it.

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on April 17, 2011:

If you are making a comeback like that your skills can't be too bad. You are obviously able to determine what needs doing as opposed as to what you simply want to do. Lack of retirement will hurt, but it sounds like you will be able to overcome that as well.

I wish you the best in your endeavors, but suspect you won't need those wishes - you will make it. Keep plugging and take careful consideration in all your decisions.

Dennis Thorgesen from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S. on April 16, 2011:

Thank you for this article. My critical thinking skills really need work. It is certain when my memory was gone I made many bad choices. Those left me over $120,000 in debt with nothing to show for it. I have reduced this by almost $100,000 dollars in six years. I have nothing for retirement and that in the late fifties is something which is becoming more important. I now have plenty of past experience to pull from. So maybe I can get it figured out.

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on February 13, 2011:

Thank you.

mudassirikram from warburton on February 13, 2011:

i really like the post

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on February 11, 2011:

You are absolutely correct. I've been told that eating out several times a week was necessary, as was satellite TV. These are obviously not needs, but one can easily convince yourself that they are by using poor logic and ignoring analytical thinking.

Rafini from Somewhere I can't get away from on February 11, 2011:

Great hub! Too many young people don't understand the difference between want and need, and even some who think they do aren't always correct.

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on February 11, 2011:

Thank you. It is not always easy to remove our wants and desires from our thinking process but it is necessary to reason clearly and analytically.

Bijosh from from the cosmic sea, sustaining life and radiating purity. on February 11, 2011:

nice hub, I liked reading it, useful, informative and practical.

Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on January 29, 2011:

Chspublish - We (hopefully) learn through our experiences, but still must learn to actually use that new knowledge in a meaningful way. If we use our knowledge in circumstances where it does not really apply to force a conclusion we want to come to we have learned nothing.

Scribenet - Thank you. I find that using critical analysis of life's problems often does not give the answer I want but in the long run life is easier and I am generally happier.

Maggie Griess from Ontario, Canada on January 29, 2011:

Great Hub! If a majority of people use this advice,they would not only work less, but also enjoy life more! Making critical, analytical choices is a "must have skill"!

chspublish from Ireland on January 29, 2011:

It's the way to go, I agree. Experiential learning certainly seems to promote this way of being if we want to be wise. Thanks.