You know that feeling when your emotions start clouding your judgement? Whether it's excitement over a new opportunity or frustration with a difficult task, our feelings can often get the better of us, leading to poor decision making and less than ideal outcomes. The ability to think critically in these moments is crucial to your success and wellbeing. Critical thinking allows you to evaluate situations objectively and logically, even when emotions are running high.

In this article, we'll explore five strategies to help sharpen your critical thinking skills and overcome emotional reasoning. With regular practise of these techniques, you'll get better at hitting the pause button on your feelings, allowing your rational mind to take over. The result? Better decisions, less regret, and more peace of mind that you're acting in your own best interest. Read on to start honing this essential life skill.

person writing on white paper
Photo by / Unsplash

What Is Critical Thinking and Why Does It Matter?

Critical thinking is the ability to analyse information objectively and make a reasoned judgement. It's a skill that serves you well in all areas of life, but especially when making important decisions.

Why critical thinking matters

When emotions are high, it's easy to react impulsively. But if you take a step back and evaluate the situation critically, you'll make better choices. Some key strategies to sharpen your critical thinking:

  1. Challenge assumptions. Question the reasons and evidence behind your beliefs and opinions. Consider alternative perspectives with an open and curious mind.
  2. Evaluate arguments and evidence objectively. Look for logical flaws or weaknesses in reasoning. Consider the credibility and possible biases of the source. Try to determine if any important information is missing or unclear.
  3. Ask probing questions. The more you question, the more you expose the complexity in situations. Ask yourself questions like: What problem are we really trying to solve? What are the pros and cons of each option? What are the possible consequences or unintended outcomes?
  4. Consider context and implications. No decision exists in a vacuum. Think about how your choice fits into the bigger picture and how it might impact yourself and others down the road.
  5. Stay calm and reasonable. Strong emotions like anger, anxiety or defensiveness cloud your judgement. Take a few deep breaths to gain perspective. Try to evaluate the situation based on facts, not feelings.

With regular practice, critical thinking can become second nature. You'll make wiser judgments and feel more confident in the decisions you make every day. Sharpening this vital skill is well worth the effort.

turned on white YES LED signage
Photo by Julian Lozano / Unsplash

Common Biases and Fallacies That Distort Clear Thinking

We all have biases and make logical fallacies at times that negatively impact our critical thinking. Recognising these tendencies in yourself is key to overcoming them.

Common Biases

Confirmation bias: We tend to seek out information that confirms what we already believe and ignore anything that contradicts it. Try exposing yourself to different perspectives and opinions, especially those you disagree with.

Anchoring bias: We rely too heavily on the first information we receive and fail to adequately adjust our thinking based on new details. Remain open-minded look at problems from multiple angles before forming conclusions.

Loss aversion: We feel losses much more strongly than gains and make irrational choices to avoid loss. Try viewing decisions objectively based on facts instead of emotions.

Logical Fallacies

Ad hominem: Attacking the person instead of their argument. Focus on the substance of ideas, not personal attacks.

Slippery slope: Assuming one event will inevitably lead to a chain of related events. Consider each step logically and look for evidence, not speculation.

False dilemma: Presenting only two options when more exist. Look for alternative solutions and middle ground.

The path to better critical thinking is awareness of our human tendencies towards irrationality and having strategies to counter them. By spotting biases and fallacies in yourself and others, you can overcome emotionally-charged thinking and start making better, fact-based decisions. With practise, these techniques will become second nature.

chess pieces on board
Photo by Felix Mittermeier / Unsplash

5 Strategies to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills

To sharpen your critical thinking skills, try these 5 strategies:

Identify Your Biases

We all have implicit biases that influence our thinking and decisions in subtle ways. Becoming aware of your own biases and preconceptions is the first step to overcoming them. Ask yourself what beliefs or stereotypes might be affecting your thinking about the problem at hand. Then actively work to consider alternative perspectives.

Question Assumptions

Do not take things at face value. Dig deeper by asking probing questions about the information or arguments being presented. Challenge assertions and look for solid evidence to back them up. Try re-framing the problem from different angles to gain new insights.

Consider Alternatives

Do not settle for the first solution that comes to mind. Brainstorm multiple options and perspectives. The more possibilities you can generate, the more likely you are to find an optimal solution. Some alternatives may not seem viable at first but could lead to an innovative solution.

Evaluate Evidence

Look for credible sources of information to support important decisions and conclusions. Analyse the evidence objectively to determine its accuracy and relevance. Be wary of emotional language, logical fallacies and confirmation bias. The validity of evidence depends on things like the expertise and possible biases of the source, scientific rigour of studies, and whether the information can be verified from other reputable sources.

Reason Logically

Apply logical reasoning to connect evidence and arguments in a coherent way. Watch out for fallacies like ad hominem attacks, false dilemmas, appeals to ignorance or emotion, and circular reasoning. Conclusions should follow logically from the evidence and arguments presented. If there are 'gaps' in the reasoning, go back and re-examine the evidence.

Practising these critical thinking strategies consistently can help you overcome emotional and cognitive biases to make better decisions, especially in high stakes or stressful situations. With regular use, these skills will become second nature, enabling you to think logically and objectively on the spot.

orange and white egg on stainless steel rack
Photo by Tengyart / Unsplash

Managing Emotions to Make Better Decisions

When emotions run high, critical thinking tends to go out the window. Our brains have a hard time analysing information objectively when we’re stressed or upset. The key to overcoming this is recognising when your emotions threaten to take over, and deploying strategies to stay logical and open-minded.

Take a step back

Removing yourself from the situation, even briefly, can help you gain perspective. Take a walk, do some deep breathing, or sleep on it. Looking at the issue with fresh eyes often brings clarity. Ask yourself: “How will I view this decision in 6 months? Will the outcome still matter as much as my emotions are telling me now?”

Challenge your assumptions

We all have implicit biases and make assumptions, often without realising it. Question what’s influencing your thinking. Try to identify assumptions, look for evidence that contradicts them, and consider alternative perspectives. The more you recognise your own biases, the less power they have over you.

Focus on facts, not feelings

Emotions tend to distort our perception of events, while facts anchor us in reality. Gather objective data and concrete evidence regarding the decision. Don’t make a choices based primarily on gut instinct or desire. Review the information rationally and logically to determine the pros and cons.

Consider alternatives

When emotions run high, our thinking narrows. We see only one option or conclusion. Broaden your mind by considering other possibilities. Even unlikely options can stimulate new insights. Try brainstorming additional solutions or explanations, and evaluate each one objectively based on the facts.

Get input from others

A fresh, unemotional perspective can help balance your own. Explain the situation to someone impartial and ask for their input. Be open to feedback, even if it’s hard to hear. Discussing the issue can also help you identify where your judgement might be clouded, so you can make the choice that you’ll be able to stand by logically once your emotions have settled.

brown wooden blocks on white surface
Photo by Brett Jordan / Unsplash

Applying Critical Thinking to Complex Projects and Problems

Complex projects and problems require critical thinking to overcome emotions and biases that can cloud your judgement. When facing a challenging situation, use these strategies to enhance your critical thinking skills:

Look at the issue objectively

Try to remove yourself emotionally from the situation. Look at the facts and evidence objectively, not subjectively. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What do I know for sure about this issue?
  • What are the facts and evidence telling me?

Consider alternative perspectives

Seek out different viewpoints to gain new insights. Talk to people with opposing views and try to understand their perspective. Some questions to ask:

  • How would others see this issue differently?
  • What assumptions am I making that others may not share?

Evaluate arguments and evidence carefully

Look closely at any evidence or arguments presented to determine their accuracy and relevance. Some things to consider:

  • Is the evidence from a credible and authoritative source?
  • Are there any flaws or weaknesses in the reasoning or evidence?
  • Are there any alternative explanations or interpretations?

Ask probing questions

Question your own assumptions and beliefs as well as those of others. Ask questions like:

  • Why do I believe what I believe about this issue?
  • What evidence do I have to support my position?
  • What are the implications and consequences of this issue?

Consider the influence of emotions and biases

Our emotions and biases can negatively impact our judgement and decision making. Reflect on how your emotions or biases could be influencing your thinking. Try to set them aside and reframe your thinking.

Applying critical thinking strategies to complex problems will lead to better decisions and solutions. While it may feel unnatural, making the effort to overcome emotional reasoning and consider issues objectively can make a big difference. With regular practise of these skills, critical thinking can become second nature.


These five practical strategies will enhance your ability to think critically and make better decisions, even in emotionally charged situations. Begin by actively questioning assumptions and exploring different viewpoints. Pose in-depth questions and seek supporting evidence for arguments. Step back and strive for objectivity, considering how the situation might appear to an outside observer. Embrace uncomfortable conclusions and avoid succumbing to confirmation bias. Lastly, seek input from others and approach their feedback with an open mind.

Critical thinking is a skill that takes conscious practice to develop and maintain. But with regular use of these strategies, you'll get better at overcoming emotional reasoning and reactive thinking. You'll start to see issues, problems and decisions with more clarity and objectivity. And that will empower you to make choices that you feel confident in, even during stressful times. So keep at it - your mind and your decision making abilities will thank you!