Analytical thinking skills are more critical than ever before.
In such fast-paced working environments, employees are expected to think on their feet, solve problems and analyse data. To do all these things and achieve professional success, having analytical skills is a must.
So, if you feel like you can improve and strengthen your analytical abilities, then you’ve come to the right place!
Here, we’ve listed the best ways to develop your analytical skills to improve your career and every other aspect of your life.
1. Read more frequently
An excellent way to start expanding your analytical skills is through the power of the written word. Indeed, the more you expose yourself to different ideas, the more you’ll increase your own cognitive abilities.
However, it’s no good to skim over pages. When reading a book, magazine or article, you should think about the overall plot, take note of each character in the story and think about other possible scenarios. This will stimulate your thinking and force you to test your logic, and broaden your imagination.
2. Listen to podcasts
If you spend hours behind the wheel all day, commuting to and from work, you likely won’t have much spare time to read or even the brainpower to do so. But there’s still a way to increase your critical thinking skills while you’re on the road.
How? The answer is simple: thought-provoking podcasts!
A few good podcasts worth listening to include Developer Tea, Broken Brain, Applying Awareness and TED Radio Hour, all of which will give you valuable tips for stimulating creativity and challenging your thoughts and ideas – ultimately helping you enhance your mental capacity.
Believe it or not, exercise can also aid in the development of your analytical thinking skills. Indeed, ‘engaging in a program[me] of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions’, according to Dr Scott McGinnis, an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School.
The type of exercise you choose to do is entirely up to you. Taking a tai chi or Zumba class might be a good idea; memorising steps and sequences and focusing on executing them in a controlled manner challenges your analytical skills and physical stamina.
4. Play brain games
Brain games like Sudoku, chess, backgammon and Scrabble can help expand your critical thinking skills. Indeed, just 15 minutes of playtime a day can increase your mental functions and improve your analytical skills.
The best part is that they are fun, and they can be used as bonding exercises, too. So, instead of sitting in front of the TV, play a brain game with your family and monitor your improvement over time. And if you can’t get anyone to play with you, don’t worry – there’re plenty of online brain games available that are designed to encourage your thinking.
5. Surround yourself with different personalities
If you socialise in a small circle, you’ll most likely discuss the same topics day in and day out. Although it’s not wrong to have a tight-knit group, it is essential to surround yourself with people you wouldn’t normally socialise with – these are the people that will spark your imagination and offer you new and different perspectives.
If you’re unsure where to meet different people, start by attending networking events and engaging with everyone you meet there. You’ll be surprised by the effect that others can have on you!
6. Keep a journal
Keeping a diary helps you reflect on your day – it forces you to analyse your actions and learn from any triumphs or mistakes.
With so much happening in our professional and personal lives, it’s easy to get caught up in your emotions and feel defeated. However, when you write things down, you tend to focus on logic rather than emotion, which improves your thinking skills.
7. Learn something new every day
After graduating from high school or university, most people become passive when testing themselves and learning new things. Once we are comfortable in our careers and know what we are good at, we tend to pause on learning.
Indeed, education takes a backseat once you’ve advanced into the professional world, but that doesn’t mean that you should stop expanding your knowledge. Instead, you should try to learn something new every day; it’s essential to keep testing yourself and gaining new skills.
8. Take an online course
If you have time to further your education, taking an online course can help develop your analytical skills. Try to take on courses in subjects that you aren’t very familiar with or good at. For example, not many people are born Excel gurus, but with time and dedication, you can master the use of formulas and cells and become an Excel expert yourself.
The point is to expand your knowledge and challenge yourself with topics you don’t have any prior experience in.
9. Use analytical tools
To develop your analytical skills further, try incorporating analytical tools into your daily habits. Of course, we’re not just talking about web analytics tools like Google Analytics, which are great for entrepreneurs working in eCommerce.
There are many other apps that can be used to analyse your habits. For example, Mint (a budget manager and tracker) helps you analyse your spending habits to alter any patterns and maximise your investments. Similarly, MyFitnessPal allows you to input the food that you consume so you can analyse the data and see where adjustments need to be made.
If you’re struggling in any area of your life, just perform a quick Google search, and you’ll most likely find an app that can help you identify and change your bad habits.
10. Join a book club
We mentioned earlier that reading is a great way to increase cognitive abilities, but why not take it one step further by joining a book club?
You’ll not only read novels that you wouldn’t usually take a second look at but also challenge your thoughts by analysing these texts and discussing them with fellow club members. You’ll also hear different perspectives and make new friends in the process!
11. Ask questions
Curiosity drives us to be more motivated, intelligent and creative. The questions that we ask ourselves encourage us to pursue different outlets and methods, forcing us to compare what we previously thought and come to a logical solution.
So, next time you’re interested in a topic, don’t be afraid to ask questions. After all, the more knowledge you soak up, the better your analytical skills will become.
12. Be observant
When you’re observant, you tend to notice more around you, and this sparks your critical thinking.
We often focus on getting things done quickly rather than slowing down and focusing on the details. But it’s important to take time to watch how others behave; doing so might even help you find new methods of dealing with any problems you might face.
13. Join a debate club
You might be out of high school, but defending your ideas, bouncing around concepts and understanding others’ points of view are significant steps to ensure you are more analytical.
Since everyone is participating in good faith, you don’t need to worry that it’ll turn into a mud-slinging affair like you on social media. Therefore, you and your fellow participants are actively seeking to enhance your positions on specific subjects and perhaps be persuaded by other concepts. This fun exercise can also determine why you hold a certain stance and how you came to this conclusion.
14. Understand the root cause
We’ve become accustomed to accepting the end result without questioning how we got there, whether it’s because we lack the time and patience to investigate the preceding events or we just want to find out the conclusion without too much movement of the little grey cells.
However, when you are trying to develop analytical skills, an excellent strategy to employ is understanding the root cause of things. In other words, you should focus on the processes and reasoning behind an ending or a decision. It can be likened to reverse engineering through deductive reasoning for how something is accomplished.
15. Change how you do things
Let’s be honest: The older you get, the more you become stuck in your ways. This is true of your schoolwork, your career and even your personal life. While the old saying of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ rings true to a certain extent, permanency is the spectre of stagnation. Doing the same thing over and over again will not increase your analytical skills or even human capital.
On the one hand, you don’t need to overcomplicate matters. On the other, it is also vital to examine how you can approach and tackle something from a different perspective or angle.
The key to increasing your analytical thinking skills is to be open and to constantly challenge yourself to learn more. Once you do that, you will be able to comprehend and appreciate debates and concepts, break down complex information and streamline solution-finding processes.
Have you used any alternative methods to improve your analytical thinking skills? If so, let us know in the comments section below.
This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 22 May 2019 and contains contributions by Andrew Moran.