25 Days to Better Thinking and Better Living: A Guide for Improving Every Aspect of Your Life

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9780131738591: 25 Days to Better Thinking and Better Living: A Guide for Improving Every Aspect of Your Life

You are what you think! Take control of your thinking...and start living life to the fullest! In just 25 days, you can discover how to cut through lies, gain insight, and make smarter choices in every area of your life—from work and money to your intimate relationships. Discover how to overcome bad thinking habits caused by self-delusion or out-of-control emotions...clarify what you really want...recognize what you don’t know. Ask the right questions...resist brainwashing, manipulation, and hypocrisy...Avoid worrying, conformism, and blame!

  • 25 powerful ways to improve your thinking—and make smarter, better decisions.
  • Stop deceiving yourself: Overcome built-in self-delusion, wishful thinking, and worrying.
  • Use better thinking to make better decisions at work, at home, and throughout your life.
  • Critically evaluate what you’re told by advertisers, politicians, your boss...even your family!
  • Quick, practical, easy to use! Includes daily/weekly action plans, progress notes, and more.

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About the Author:

Dr. Linda Elder is President of the Foundation for Critical Thinking and Executive Director of the Center for Critical Thinking, a leading international institute that promotes critical thinking in every domain of human life. An educational psychologist, she has developed an original stage theory of critical thinking development and coauthors a column on critical thinking for The Journal of Developmental Education. She is highly published and has done original research into the relation of thought and emotion and into the stages of critical thinking development. She is a regular keynoter at the International Conference on Critical Thinking, is highly sought after as a presenter, and is a recognized leader in critical thinking.

Dr. Richard Paul is Director of Research and Professional Development at the Center for Critical Thinking and Chair of the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking. He is an internationally recognized authority on critical thinking, with nine books and more than 200 articles on the subject. His views on critical thinking have been canvassed in the New York Times, Education Week, The Chronicle of Higher Education, American Teacher, Reader’s Digest, Educational Leadership, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report.

The works of Linda Elder and Richard Paul have been translated into Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Chinese. Translations are underway in Russian, Malay, and Korean. The growing demand for translations into increasing numbers of languages testifies to the emerging international recognition of the importance of critical thinking in human life and work and of the authoritative nature of the contribution of Paul and Elder in the field.

The Foundation for Critical Thinking seeks to promote essential change in society through the cultivation of fair-minded critical thinking, thinking predisposed toward intellectual empathy, humility, perseverance, integrity, and responsibility. In a world of accelerating change, intensifying complexity, and increasing interdependence, critical thinking is now a requirement for economic and social survival. Contact the Foundation for Critical Thinking at www.criticalthinking.org.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Preface

Preface

"Thinking leads man to knowledge. He may see and hear, and read and learn whatever he pleases, and as much as he pleases; he will never know anything of it, except that which he has thought over, that which by thinking he has made the property of his own mind." —Pestalozzi

There is nothing we do as humans that does not involve thinking. Our thinking tells us what to believe, what to reject, what is important, what is unimportant, what is true, what is false, who are our friends, who are our enemies, how we should spend our time, what jobs we should pursue, where we should live, who we should marry, how we should parent. Everything we know, believe, want, fear, and hope for, our thinking tells us.

It follows, then, that the quality of our thinking is the primary determinant of the quality of our lives. It has implications for how we go about doing literally everything we do.

The quality of your work is determined by the quality of your thinking as you reason through the problems you face as you work. The quality of your relationships is determined by the thinking you do about and in those relationships. Right now, as you read this book, the very sense you make of it is a product of your thinking. Your ability to understand and internalize the ideas it contains will be determined by the quality of your thinking as you read it.

Therefore, learning to think at the highest level of quality, or to think critically, is too important to leave to chance. Critical thinking is the disciplined art of ensuring that you use the best thinking you are capable of in any set of circumstances. Through developed critical capacities, you can take command of the thinking that commands you.

No matter what your circumstance or goals, no matter where you are or what problems you face, you are better off if you are in control of your thinking. As a professional, parent, citizen, lover, friend, shopper—in every realm and situation of your life—skilled thinking pays off. Poor thinking, in contrast, inevitably causes problems, wastes time and energy, and engenders frustration and pain.

Becoming a critical thinker requires that you learn to observe, monitor, analyze, assess, and reconstruct thinking of many sorts in many dimensions of human life. It requires building important habits of mind. It has implications for every act that takes place in your mind. It requires a special form of dedication and perseverance, honesty and integrity. It can be done only if taken seriously and pursued throughout a lifetime.

This book shows you how to use your mind to improve your mind. Each of the ideas in this book can help you take command of the mind that is controlling your thoughts, emotions, desires, and behavior.

Our hope is not in a miracle transformation, but in laying a foundation for your future intellectual and emotional growth. We are merely scratching the surface of deep and complex topics. We do not provide a quick fix, but rather places to begin. When you begin to take your intellectual growth seriously, you begin to see payoffs in every part of your life.

But first, you must wake up your mind. You must begin to understand your mind. You must begin to see when it is causing you problems. You must begin to see when it is causing others problems. You must learn how to trap it when it tries to hide from itself (using one of the many forms of self-deception at which it is naturally skilled). You must discover some of the trash and nonsense you have unknowingly taken in during years of passive absorption—to which all of us are subject. This book shows you how to begin.

The quality of your life is determined by the quality of your thinking.

Thinking gets us into trouble because we often

  • are unclear, muddled, or confused

  • jump to conclusions

  • fail to think-through implications

  • lose track of our goals

  • are unrealistic

  • focus on the trivial

  • do not notice contradictions

  • accept inaccurate information

  • ask vague questions

  • give vague answers

  • ask loaded questions

  • ask irrelevant questions

  • confuse questions of different types

  • answer questions we are not competent to answer

  • come to conclusions based on inaccurate or irrelevant information

  • ignore information that does not support our view

  • make inferences not justified by our experience

  • distort data and state it inaccurately

  • fail to notice the inferences we make

  • come to unreasonable conclusions

  • fail to notice our assumptions

  • often make unjustified assumptions

  • miss key ideas

  • use irrelevant ideas

  • form confused ideas

  • form superficial concepts

  • misuse words

  • ignore relevant viewpoints

  • cannot see issues from points of view other than our own

  • confuse issues of different types

  • are unaware of our prejudices

  • think narrowly

  • think imprecisely

  • think illogically

  • think one-sidedly

  • think simplistically

  • think hypocritically

  • think superficially

  • think ethnocentrically

  • think egocentrically

  • think irrationally

  • fail to reason well through problems

  • make poor decisions

  • are poor communicators

  • have little insight into our ignorance

Improve Your Thinking, Improve Your Life

This book is about how to improve your thinking to improve your life. Why thinking? Why is thinking significant? Why try to improve your thinking?

The answer is simple: only through thinking can you change whatever it is about your life that needs changing (even the parts you don't know need changing). Only through thinking can you take command of your future. Sound too simple? Read on.

Humans constantly think. Indeed, thinking is the main thing we do. From the minute we wake up in the morning, we begin thinking. During all of our waking hours, we are thinking. We cannot escape our thinking, even if we want to. Right now you are thinking about whether to take seriously what we are saying. In other words, thinking is happening in your mind every moment of your waking life, structuring your feelings, shaping your desires, and guiding your actions. 1 The way you think about parenting determines how you parent. The way you think about your financial situation determines the financial decisions you make. The way you think when you are at work determines how you function on the job.

The problem is that human thinking is often flawed. Many of our regrettable actions emerge from faulty reasoning. In fact, problems in thinking lead to more problems in life than perhaps any other single variable. They lead to conflict and war, pain and frustration, cruelty and suffering.

Yet, most people are content with their thinking. Because the development of thinking typically is not valued in human societies, people don't tend to trace the problems in their lives to problems in their thinking. Instead, they often live the whole of their lives without recognizing the leading role that thinking plays in it.

To improve your quality of life significantly, you must begin to take thinking seriously—to become a student, if you will, of thinking. You must begin to observe thinking, examine it, witness its power in action. You must begin to discipline your thinking through knowledge of thinking, and you should practice using that knowledge (of thinking) daily. You must begin to analyze your thinking, assess your thinking, improve your thinking. You must engage in critical thinking.

This book explores some of the basic facts about thinking. Although the study of thinking and its relationship to emotions and desires are complex, its foundations are quite simple. The trick is to use basic principles systematically to change your life for the better. In other words, the trick is to put critical thinking into action in your life. You can learn it. You can use it. This book provides some of the building blocks.

Could Your Thinking Be Your Problem?

To begin to take thinking seriously, you must first recognize the inherently flawed nature of human thought in its "normal" state. Put another way, without active intervention, human thinking naturally develops problems. For example, humans are prejudiced. We stereotype one another. We are often hypocritical. We sometimes justify in our own minds policies and practices that result in stealing, killing, and torture. We often ignore important problems that we could, with determination and good thinking, solve—problems such as world hunger, poverty, and homelessness.

What is more, when we behave irrationally, our behavior usually seems reasonable to us. When challenged, the mind says (to itself), "Why are these people giving me a hard time? I'm just doing what makes sense. Any reasonable person would see that!" In short, we naturally think that our thinking is fully justified. As far as we can tell, we are only doing what is right and proper and reasonable. Any fleeting thoughts suggesting that we might be at fault typically are overcome by more powerful self-justifying thoughts: "I don't mean any harm. I'm just! I'm fair! It's the others who are wrong!"

It is important to recognize this self-justifying nature of the human mind as its natural state. In other words, humans don't have to learn self-justifying, self-serving, self-deceptive thinking and behavior. These patterns are innate in every one of us. How does self-deception work in the mind? In other words, how can it be that we can see ourselves as right even when readily available evidence proves us wrong? One powerful reason is the mind's native ability to represent unreasonable thoughts as perfectly reasonable. Indeed, this is perhaps the most significant reason that humans fail to recognize their own irrationality.

For example, consider the female supervisor who, after interviewing both male and female applicants, always hires women 2 . This supervisor considers herself unbiased and objective. When asked why she hires only female employees, she most likely would give reasons to support her decisions—facts, for example, about the applicants' work experiences, skills, and so forth. In supporting her hiring decisions, she would see herself as even-handed, as simply trying to hire the best employees for the job. Indeed, the only way she can feel justified in her own mind is to see herself as behaving objectively. In other words, biased thinking appears to the mind as dispassionate, unprejudiced, impartial thinking. We don't see ourselves as wrong. Rather, we see ourselves as right, as doing what is most reasonable in the situation, even when we are dead wrong.

Consider the police officer who often uses excessive force during arrests. This officer likely sees himself as giving criminals what they deserve, getting them off the streets so they can't harm innocent people. He couldn't act in this way if he recognized the role that prejudice and the desire for power were playing in his thinking, if he could see that he was irrationally using unnecessary power and force over others who were unable to defend themselves. In his own mind he is professional and just. However cruel he may be, he doesn't see himself as such.

Welcome to human nature. We are all, to varying degrees, prejudiced. We all stereotype and deceive ourselves. We see ourselves as possessing the truth. Yet we all fall prey to human egocentricity—although not to the same degree. None of us will ever be a perfect thinker, but we can all be better thinkers.

To develop as a thinker, you need to work daily to bring what is unconscious in your thinking to the level of consciousness. You need to discover the problems that exist in your thinking and face them. Only then can you make significant improvements in your thinking and your life. Inherent in human nature is the capacity to rise above your native egocentric patterns of thought. You can use your mind to educate your mind. You can use your thinking to change your thinking. You can "remake" or "transform" yourself. It is this side of your nature that we hope to stimulate as you work through and internalize the ideas in this book.

A How-to List for Dysfunctional Living

One of the ways you can enhance the power of your mind is by learning to create contrasts and oppositions that make clear precisely what you need to avoid. In other words, by making poor habits of thought more and more explicit, you get better and better at avoiding them.

We will now illustrate this strategy by constructing a set of rules that no reasonable person would knowingly follow. By illuminating dysfunctional, even pathological, ways of thinking, it becomes obvious how easy it is to fall prey to them without recognizing yourself doing so.

Consider the following, and ask yourself how many of these dysfunctional ways of thinking you engage in:

  1. Surround yourself with people who think like you. Then no one will criticize you.

  2. Don't question your relationships. You then can avoid dealing with problems within them.

  3. If critiqued by a friend or lover, look sad and dejected and say, "I thought you were my friend!" or "I thought ...

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