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Common Barriers to Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking skills add profound value to our lives. In the formal education environment, critical thinking skills prepare students and learners for success and personal excellence.

At work, critical thinking skills play a huge role in decision-making, problem-solving, creativity, and innovation. In our personal lives, even though we may not consciously think of it as such, critical thinking skills help us become smarter, simplify things in the complex world we navigate in, help to clarify our goals and mission, and enables us to foster better connections and relationships with other people.

All of these are a result of a well-developed cognitive ability that empowers us to question our own assumptions and become more aware of our personal biases and socio-cultural conditioning. Doing so helps us rise above self-imposed and environmental limitations that will both sooner and later constrain our success.

When teaching critical thinking skills to others or personally learning the skills to apply in our own lives, it helps to be aware of some of the barriers that could potentially sideline critical thinking. A lack of awareness of them can make it very difficult to apply the skills or even properly learn and develop at the onset.

Here are some of the potential barriers to developing effective critical thinking skills.

Insufficient Knowledge

Critical thinking is a skill, and it involves a systematic approach to circumstances and events. Its effective application is dependent on the treatment of gathered information; the dataset. The process typically involves analysis, an evaluation process, and making inferences and projections from them. Lack of knowledge on what each of these processes entail and how to apply them often presents the first obstacles to thinking critically.

Unwillingness to Learn

Critical thinking skills can be learned. It is not an inborn trait that a person is born with or without. But what can become a very real obstacle in developing critical thinking is when a person is unwilling to understand the value of objectivity and is resistant to learning the steps and processes involved in creating critically sound thought. A fixed mindset of believing you ‘know' will block potential learning. Objective thinking will require us to keep an open mind, even sometimes at the expense of long-held beliefs and presumptions. Our willingness to change and open our minds will play a major role in learning critical thinking skills.

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Relying Solely on Your Gut Feel

Intuition and gut feelings don't necessarily align with critical thinking skills. Solely relying on intuition could present a real obstacle to critical thinking because it bases our decisions on our personal biases, which can be very narrow-minded or limited to our personal experiences.

Often, these perspectives have little to do with the information we need to be able to use and connect ideas from. Going with your gut feel and intuition can be so deeply ingrained in us that they're an automatic response. Intuitions and gut feelings come to us as feelings and perceptions that may simply be independent and even irrelevant to the situations we need to apply our thinking to.

Socio-cultural Conditioning

We definitely form our views of the world and life first from our environment -that means at home, our families, our neighborhood, and local culture most of the time. Critical thinking, which often calls into question some of this ‘learning,' is often learned later in school or at work. This makes socio-cultural conditioning such an important but common barrier to critical thinking.

Cultural conditioning can lead us to develop strong perceptions about life and many aspects of it. When we apply critical thinking to some of our long-held truths and beliefs, they may not make sense at all. This necessitates us to ask questions, actively relearn or unlearn certain things, and inquire further. This is why it's very important to learn to ask questions and not simply passively accept all the information handed down to us, especially when we need to make well-informed choices and important decisions that affect people beyond ourselves.

Egocentrism and Defense Mechanisms

Practicing critical thinking will often require us to let go of our natural defense mechanisms. The urge to defend ourselves (and our ego primarily) comes very naturally for most. We want to be right and we are out to prove that our long-held truths and beliefs are accurate.

Critical thinking will challenge us to go beyond the importance of being right and to instead apply a systematic way of processing information, remaining open to the possibility that we may have been wrong all this time. It can test our humility, but if we do apply objective thought to many things (including the criticisms we receive), it really is designed to create more value in our lives. Strong critical thinking skills can help us become better individuals in every aspect of our lives.

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