In such fast-paced working environments, employees are expected to think on their feet, solve problems and analyze 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.
What are analytical thinking skills?
Analytical thinking refers to our ability to accurately interpret information as well as solve problems using the facts and numbers available to us. With sharp analytical thinking skills, we’re able to identify patterns, make inferences and even predict an outcome to a large extent.
As a result, analytical reasoning is an important soft skill in the workplace, when we’re tackling our daily tasks, and for our career advancement more broadly. In some industries, such as IT and data management, analytical skills aren’t just good to have; they’re absolutely essential because they increase employees’ efficiency and accuracy.
20 best ways to improve your analytical thinking skills
There are many ways to boost your analytical reasoning ability. Using a combination of tactics will make progress much faster, so read on to find the ones that you could incorporate into your routine.
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 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; memorizing 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 chess, Sudoku and Scrabble can help expand your critical thinking skills. Indeed, just 15 minutes of playing board games 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 are plenty of online brain games available that are designed to encourage your thinking.
5. Surround yourself with different personalities
If you socialize 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 socialize 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 analyze 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 college, most people become passive when testing themselves and learning new things. Once we’re comfortable in our careers and know what we’re 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 analyze your habits. For example, Mint (a budget manager and tracker) helps you analyze your spending habits to alter any patterns and maximize your investments. Similarly, MyFitnessPal allows you to input the food that you consume so you can analyze 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 analyzing 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’re more analytical.
Since everyone is participating in good faith, you don’t need to worry that it will turn into a mud-slinging affair. 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’re 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 specter 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.
16. Solve math problems
So, maybe you swore to yourself that you’d never open another workbook the moment you were done with grade 12 math. But perhaps it’s time to reconsider; you could really hone your analytical skills by solving math problems, as strong an aversion as you may have towards the subject.
17. Meditate regularly
Meditation has multiple benefits: higher self-awareness, stress reduction, emotional regulation and mental clarity. It’s no surprise, then, that some initial research on the relationship between meditation and critical thinking has shown “[…] one type of meditation — focused attention — when practiced four or more times each week, corresponds with significantly higher critical thinking scores.”
18. Interact with data
In an article for the Harvard Business School Online blog, Catherine Cote writes the following: “Mock datasets — which you can find online or create yourself — present a low-risk option for putting your skills to the test. Import the data into Microsoft Excel, then explore: make mistakes, try that formula you’re unsure of, and ask big questions of your dataset.”
It’s true: the more you collect and analyze information and actively engage with data, the more confidence you’ll gain in your data analysis skills.
19. Ask for feedback
It’s one thing to consciously start paying attention to what’s going on around you, solve complex problems, and consider the pros and cons in every situation — and it’s another to have actual interactions with other people who can guide you.
Whether it’s from a colleague, a mentor from your debate club or someone on the same critical thinking course as you, asking for feedback can be one of the best ways to boost your skills.
20. Practice your skills regularly
Whether we’re talking about problem-solving skills or the ability to play an instrument or speak a foreign language, practice is key to becoming better. Much like strengthening your muscles through exercise, the frequent practice of skills is essential to keeping those metaphorical mental muscles in tip-top shape.
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’ll 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.
Originally published on May 22, 2019. Updated by Electra Michaelidou.