There was recently a great analysis of the concept of “critical thinking”. The term is always in reference to academic learning. But every time I hear that phrase, I always think about a huge opportunity we miss to teach kids to think
“critically” about their everyday thoughts about themselves, others, life and what happens to them. They more often than don’t critically examine such thoughts, and pay for it by generating a dysfunctional amount of emotion.
Despite what most people believe, it really is what we think about everything that cause how we feel, not what happens. This dysfunctional amount of emotion causes them to be more reactive to their life events, and less response-able –
less able to respond in the best possible ways. They are less likely to consider consequences before acting, and less likely to learn from experience. It predisposes them to behave in all manner of unhealthy, self-defeating, even self-destructive ways.
We teach the Scientific Method to students in many different classes. What we miss is a perfect opportunity to teach them to apply it to their everyday thoughts. Every thought someone has, and comment they make is really his/her personal theory
or hypothesis about the way life is, or should be. The question is “Does the evidence of your past, or everyday life support your theory or hypothesis? Or does it refute it? Does it suggest an alternative and better theory or hypothesis”.
The reason this is important is that the bigger the difference between peoples theories and hypotheses and reality, the more emotion they’ll generate needlessly. This means they’ll be more likely to have “mistaken” goals
that get them off course from getting what they really want. It means that unhealthy, self-defeating, or even self-destructive behavior will serve more purpose in their lives.
My favorite example was a student storming out of
the dean’s office as I walked by. He had a detention slip in his hand and was yelling “He can’t give me a detention for that” to no one in particular. Not a very good theory or hypothesis given the evidence in his hand. If he had instead
thought or said, “I don’t like getting detentions”, he’d be frustrated, irritated and annoyed. But by clinging to the theory “He CAN’T give me a detention for that” he created a much bigger gap between his theory and
reality, and made himself angry. And he will be more likely to do something stupid out of anger that gets him in even more trouble.
This is an example of one of the four types of irrational thinking Albert Ellis identified many
years ago. It’s called Demandiness. People have a right to want, prefer or desire whatever they want. The mistake they make according to Ellis is that they start to tell themselves they need things they simply want, treat simple preferences as necessities,
and demand what they simply desire. This creates a much bigger gap between their expectations of self, others or life if and when they don’t get what they want.
Please visit the following link to read more about the four types of
A second type of irrational thinking is called awfulizing. People tell themselves something is awful instead of just unpleasant,
inconvenient or uncomfortable like many things in life are. A third type is called “cant’ stand it-itis”. People tell themselves they can’t stand things they simply don’t like. The fourth type is called label and damning. They
label and damn themselves or others as people rather than simply disliking what they or others did.
If you ever see old videos of Ellis disputing a patient’s irrational beliefs, you’ll hear him ask, “Where’s
your evidence that……”. He’s asking patients to apply the scientific method to their everyday theories and hypotheses about themselves, others, life and what happens to them. It’s something we could urge students to do while
we teach them the Scientific Method for other reasons.
To learn more about how to dispute, question and challenge irrational thinking in yourself or tactfully do so in others, including students, please go to this link: