Our society runs on caffeine and adrenaline and speed and immediate action– to the point where those who are more intentional and deliberate (or try to be) are often ridiculed. And having machines and algorithms and devices process information (especially language) for us has only exacerbated the problem of making us all busy bodies who do things, a lot of things, quickly… but not necessarily very well or with a long-term human-oriented view. Most people in our society don’t think critically about what they do anymore. I believe this problem has to do with the fact that intentional reading and processing of language doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should anymore. And I believe that reading everything slower can improve your critical thinking skills. In fact, I don’t think it’s possible to have critical thinking skills if you aren’t intentionally processing language when you come across it.
No matter what you’re reading, read it slower to improve your critical thinking skills. What’s the real rush anyway? If someone’s life isn’t in jeopardy and the house isn’t on fire, there is no need to rush through reading anything. In fact, you’ll enjoy reading more if you don’t place artificial time limits on yourself– to read more, faster. Why?
Personally, I enjoy reading because it allows me to slow down and breathe and process things according to the amount of time they take to process. I find it therapeutic.
Read social media posts and articles slower to improve your critical thinking skills
Social media is designed to be addictive, similar to slot machines in casinos. You only come across targeted content that you’re likely to care about and engage with, thanks to algorithms that are designed to get you addicted to reading (if you can call it that) and reacting to things quickly, without thinking critically about it. We all know about “clickbait” headlines on articles without much substance to them, too.
Instead of falling into the reactive trap created by the infinite scroll and manipulative algorithms, slow down and process what you’re coming across and reading. As you scroll and read blurbs and headlines of posts, ask yourself questions like:
- Why is this post in my feed?
- Do I care about this post? Why?
- Who is the person who wrote it? Are they reputable? Why? Why did they write this post for someone like me to read?
- What is the substance behind what I’m reading?
- If I were to summarize the post in one or two sentences, what would I write?
When you answer these questions, go back to the post you read to locate evidence that substantiates and supports your answers. If you can’t answer the questions objectively, then ask yourself why.
Read emails and texts slower to improve your critical thinking skills
Whenever someone sends you a message or email, pause for at least thirty seconds after you read it before responding. Ask yourself:
- Does this message make sense? Why or why not? Do I need to ask its sender for clarification?
- What is the overall point of this message?
- Does this message require a response from me? If so, what do I want my response–not my immediate reaction– to be?
Read books slower to improve your critical thinking skills
Reading more books on a regular basis helps improve your critical thinking skills in general. But not if you’re skimming everything you read. Speed reading can come in handy when you want to get the gist of something– but not if you want to think about something critically, and truly understand it.
Take your time and slow down when you read books, both fiction and nonfiction, to improve your critical thinking skills. Look up words you don’t know. Ask yourself about the structure of what you’re reading, the author’s style, why you like or don’t like a certain character, etc. Essentially, keep a reading journal to engage with and critically think about what you’re reading. Then at your next book club meeting, you’ll be able to engage in a meaningful discussion about the book you all read instead of simply saying, “I liked it.”
If you slow down as you read and truly start processing what you read, for everything you read, your critical thinking skills will significantly improve.