Critical Thinking: The 5 Questions You Need to Ask Before Deciding

Read time —
6 Minutes
Last updated
April 2, 2024

The best critical thinking questions are the ones we should ask before deciding.

Often, we shy away from asking them, fearing what they might reveal. Ignoring our emotions momentarily, decisions are better when built on open-mindedness.

Good critical thinking questions give us a shot at finding clarity in the chaos. They give us the ability to think objectively about our choices.

The other way critical thinking helps us is by overcoming our fallacies.

  1. We don’t know how bad we are making decisions.
  2. We underestimate the power of systems to help us think better.
  3. We fail to grasp the role of luck and randomness (entropy) in our decisions and outcomes.

These three points create real problems for decision-makers. We overlook them, becoming over-confident in our ability to make effective judgements.

In this article, I'll explain what critical thinking questions are. Discuss in more detail the problems overconfidence causes us. And finally, we will look at the five questions you should ask before deciding.

This article covers:

What are Critical Thinking Questions?

Critical thinking questions enable you to gather information objectively. They give you the knowledge to make informed decisions.

This approach enables you to evaluate and analyse in a structured way. It can help you identify relevant data which is often overlooked when deciding. Critical thinking gives the means to pause and reflect before deciding. It naturally brings a more considered approach to decision-making.  

Asking better questions inevitably leads to better answers. We want to access the best and most relevant information with every decision. So, the quality and depth of the questions you ask matter.

Critical Thinking Questions Correct Overconfidence

Outcome bias and Hindsight bias tell us a great outcome must have meant a great decision.

Of course, we don't see this bias at work. We have little appreciation for the complex ways our minds act. When outcomes turn out in our favour, our confidence climbs.

We turn a blind eye to lady luck when it suits us.

Understanding this tendency to be over-confident brings us to reality. It's one Annie Duke explains here:

“What makes a decision great is not that it has a great outcome. A great decision is the result of a good process, and that process must include an attempt to accurately represent our own state of knowledge. That state of knowledge, in turn, is some variation of ‘I’m not sure.’"

The accurate representation Annie refers to brings us to critical thinking questions.

These objective questions challenge us to find the truth. They are a crucial part of the decision-making process Annie says we need.

The truth calms the internal urge to act with misplaced confidence. But, you can only find the truth with thought-provoking questions.

5 Critical Thinking Questions Every Decision Needs

Questions matter more than answers.

They expose you to the things you cannot see. They expose you to the truth that every decision needs. Good questions don't bring binary answers. No, they bring substance and information to build the process of choice.

So, what critical thinking questions should you ask — and why should you ask them?

Below are the five I believe every decision needs you to ask. You will find an explanation for each question as well as the question.  

Is this a Reversible or Irreversible Decision? — A binary question is the last type of question you might expect here. Yet, understanding the reversibility of a decision is vitally important.

Often, we can make choices where, if we don't like the outcome we can undo what happened. It is a reversible decision, and when you identify one, you should act.

Conversely, when a decision can't be undone, i.e. it's irreversible. Then asking more questions is the way forward. You need to be as sure as you can that your decision is the right one.

What is The Risk of Doing Nothing? — Entropy means that doing nothing won't stop things from changing. That's the risk of doing nothing. Critically, asking this question brings to mind the second-order effects often forgotten.

Doing nothing in the short term creates different consequences. Considering these gives new weight to the choice you're considering.

What Do I Know to Be True? — We live in the information age. Today, we face a flood of insights often heavily weighted by recency bias. Because of this, it's harder to separate fact from opinion.

So, the truth question forces you to assess the information and filter out the noise. Only with the facts can you act with true confidence.

How Will You Feel About This Decision Six Months from Now? — Perspectives change everything, but we rarely consider them. Looking back six months from the future, you get to consider how events might unfold.

These time traveller perspectives often reveal sentiments not clear now. Although not factual, they give us a viewpoint of how emotions might not be helping.

When is the best time to act on your decision? — Do you have to decide now? Can you wait —and if you do, what will it mean for the choice you face?

We live in a fast-paced world, but asking when is the best time can shift the urge to act.

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