How’s your analytical thinking ability?
Many people don’t realize that analytical thinking and critical thinking are not the same.
They are both mental processes, but there’s a key difference between them.
Critical thinking involves evaluating information, interpreting it and making sound judgments.
Analytical thinking is the process of breaking down complex information into fundamental parts or first principles.
Critical thinking is a holistic judgment that looks at all information—including past experience and existing knowledge at once.
Analytical thinking is a linear process—looking at information step-by-step.
In fact, analytical thinking may even be a necessary first step to a successful critical thinking process.
To think analytically, you must:
- Gather all the evidence.
- Separate the facts from opinion.
- Break information down into smaller chunks.
- Separate complex things into simpler steps.
- Identify the key problems or challenges in each step.
- Look for patterns.
- Identify cause and effect.
- Understand the connection between all the smaller parts.
- Reconstruct everything to draw a factual conclusion.
When you break things up into manageable pieces, even the most complex challenges seem possible.
Analytical Thinking is How Impossible Gets Accomplished
After Elon Musk cashed in on his two internet startups Zip2 and PayPal, he could have retired a multi-millionaire.
Instead, he’s been on a mission to use analytical thinking to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges.
He has reinvented electric car production and transformed solar energy; his space exploration company, SpaceX, is in the driver’s seat to accomplish the dream of one day colonizing Mars. Everything he puts energy behind is a big idea. How does he accomplish so much?
By Musk’s own admission, he “never had a job where I made anything physical.”
How did he build a successful rocket? By deploying his analytical reasoning to do something known as first principles thinking.
“I tend to approach things from a physics framework. And physics teaches you to reason from first principles rather than by analogy,” Musk told “Wired” in a 2012 interview.
How to Think Analytically Using First Principles
Research has found that there is actually no correlation between what is popular and what is effective.
Think of a diet fad that explodes in popularity—only to be scientifically debunked a short time later.
A large number of people holding an opinion of something does not change the nature of that thing in reality. Mass popularity does not equal truth.
If you want to uncover the truth behind something, you have to take a first principles approach. Thinking analytically using first principles reasoning feels like seeing something for the first time.
This is why first principles thinking is so crucial for innovation. First principles thinking involves reducing problems down to their fundamental components.
Once every component has been separated and analyzed, you can reconstruct the problem with a much clearer understanding of how to tackle it.
Effective analytical thinking uses first principles reasoning as a proven way to separate truth from opinion.
In our flagship training Zero to Dangerous, we apply first principles thinking to areas of your life you’ve probably taken for granted.
For example, do you really know how many hours you can productively work or what genuine attention actually feels like?
Sleep and recovery are two other areas that can benefit from first principles thinking.
You’ll know that you are correctly applying this analytical thinking skill when you are gaining solutions by breaking down areas of your life. Set your morning routine. Avoid distraction for good. Reign in your bad smartphone habits. If you want to see positive change in your life, you have to get down to the first principles.
Why Should Analytical Thinking be Practiced?
We were all raised under certain social conditions and inherited beliefs. Many of these turn out to be counterproductive to the goals we are trying to achieve.
However, if we never take the time to break down and analyze these inherited practices, we’ll never discover the blind spots in our lives where we have bought into a lie.
Learning to analyze everything through first principles thinking can literally change your life for the better.