Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

My Head Hurts From Thinking Critically

Written by: on November 1, 2017

Critical Thinking For Success

The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools by Linda Elder and Richard Paul was quite the little gem to read. It was packed with a tremendous amount of rich material that was very helpful as I look to become a better critical thinker in my area of research. One of the more challenging sections of the book for me was the chapter on universal intellectual standards. This was challenging mostly because it was new information, but it was presented in a very clear and logical manner. The part of the book I will spend the most time in is the section on essential intellectual traits. These eight traits fell right in line with much of what I engage in daily with the clients in my private counseling practice. Similarly, egocentric thinking was another area that resonated well with daily work with clients and my area of research.


I love how the book starts with…“Everyone thinks; it is our nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed or down-right prejudiced. Yet the quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.”[1] This says it in such a bold challenge to all of our thinking and calls us out on the common errors in our thinking and the consequences that result. I believe our society lacks a great deal in the area of critical thinking. I am bombarded daily with clients who struggle to think critically about their life choices and are dealing with the sad consequences. Much of my job is to help my clients “systematically cultivate” their thinking in order to increase their quality of life.


The universal intellectual standards of:  clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, significance and fairness were powerfully brilliant.[2] This was a completely new way of breaking down critical thinking into bite-sized chunks that are meant to build on each other in order to ensure quality thought. The examples were helpful how they broke down each one and explained how something could be clear but not accurate, or precise but not relevant, etc. The process of evaluating thought based on these standards is incredibly thorough but ensures quality thought. In these days of constant social media posts and bloggers who are able to put their thoughts out there without any critical thought whatsoever drives me mad many times. What drives me even crazier is how people will emotionally engage with this non-critical thinking for the world to observe, when the thought presented often times isn’t even worth a second glance. The authors agree with me when they say that “universal intellectual standards are standards which should be applied to thinking to ensure its quality. To be learned they must be taught explicitly.”[3]


The section on essential intellectual traits was my favorite. As I read about each of the eight intellectual traits, I not only applied them to myself but also to the work I do with clients. After reading the following definition of intellectual humility: “Intellectual humility depends on recognizing that one should not claim more than one actually knows. It does not imply spinelessness or submissiveness. It implies the lack of intellectual pretentiousness, boastfulness, or conceit, combined with insight into the logical foundations, or lack of such foundations, of one’s beliefs.”[4], I realized how much this is lacking in our culture today. It appears that people rarely want to admit they do not know something and seem fearful of submitting to someone who actually does. I struggled with this for many years and talked about things I knew very little to nothing about out of fear of looking uninformed or stupid. I now look back and see how stupid I really was to function without the trait of intellectual humility. I was very arrogant and I have many clients sitting on my couch who take a long time to put their arrogance aside in order to learn something new that can dramatically improve their quality of life. Their discussion of the trait of intellectual courage goes hand in hand with this struggle. As the authors state, people often tend to avoid ideas, beliefs or viewpoints that bring up negative emotions.[5] I have to work hard in my practice to help clients build up the courage to face those negative emotions in order for them to accept new ideas or beliefs.


Egocentric thinking was another topic that sparked my attention. I thought it was interesting how they pointed out that people often “use self-centered psychological standards to determine what to believe and what to reject” instead of using “intellectual standards”[6] The most common of these they listed as: “It’s true because I believe it; It’s true because we believe it; It’s true because I want to believe it; It’s true because I have always believed it; It’s true because it is in my selfish interest to believe it.”[7] I see this kind of thinking get many people into trouble because they attempt to force their beliefs to fit into scenarios that don’t work and it causes them to be rigid when they need to change their beliefs to get emotional healing. In cognitive-behavioral therapy, it is the understanding that what people believe controls how they feel, and how they feel controls how they behave. So if they are wanting to change unhealthy behavior, they need to look at the feelings that are behind the behavior, and the beliefs behind the feelings, thus making it essential to be open to exercising critical thinking in order to change unhealthy beliefs.


Once again, I enjoyed the book but wished the authors expanded further on some of the concepts that they provided minimal information on. I guess that’s probably why it is called the miniature guide to critical thinking.


[1]           Linda Elder and Richard Paul. Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts & Tools. Kindle edition. (Tomales, CA: The Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2009) Location 29-32.

[2]           Ibid., 85-90.

[3]           Ibid., 85-86

[4]           Ibid., 168-170.

[5]           Ibid., 171.

[6]           Ibid., 253-254.

[7]           Ibid., 252-259.

About the Author

Jake Dean-Hill

Currently a Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice. Ordained minister with 10 years of prior full-time church ministry experience and currently volunteering with a local church plant. Also working with companies as a Corporate Leadership Coach.

12 responses to “My Head Hurts From Thinking Critically”

  1. M Webb says:


    How does Elder’s mini-guide on critical thinking work with your problem of “removing the barriers to men and women leading together effectively within an egalitarian model in church, home and work.” I think you will use a lot of critical thinking tools when you dig into your research on equal roles for men and women in the church. I look forward to following your research.

    Thanks for your section on the problems associated with subjective truth. In my experience, it always leads to some type of moral decline. The devil is always introducing schemes, deceptions, and lies that many people accept as truth, when in Biblical reality, it is a lie.

    Regarding your analysis of Intellectual Traits, I agree with your findings and think if Elder added the Christian’s need for dependence and submissiveness to the Holy Spirit it would have been the best one in the whole book.

    Stand firm,

    M. Webb

  2. Jennifer Williamson says:

    Hey Jake. I was also captivated by the authors’ reference to humility as “recognizing that one should not claim more than one actually knows” and immediately thought ot Bayard. How do you think Bayard would engage in the conversation about intellectual humility and the role it plays in talking about books one hasn’t read?

  3. Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Jake!
    Great application of this text to work with clients and CBT. This statement resonated with me – “Yet the quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated”. What strikes me about this statement is that it is so true related to our thoughts creating our feelings – which ultimately create our behaviors. However, what about marginalized persons? Can quality individual thoughts truly impact our quality outcomes? How does our societies distorted thoughts (based on power) impact the quality of life for those who do not fall under the majority?
    Hope you are well! Miss you guys!

    • You have a great point Jean, I think out societal thoughts based on power and money have a dramatic effect on the marginalized, which are often not even considered in our thinking. So glad you are bringing more awareness to these valuable people in our society. We are well, hope the same for you fellow empty nesters 🙂

  4. Hey Jake,

    I think the intellectual humility you exhibit in the selection of a thesis topic and your willingness to lead the way in research on egalitarianism is worth noting. I don’t think one could have selected this without being willing to give up power. In your case, as a white man, you are choosing to surrender a privileged position to ensure others’ perspectives are considered.

    At church today we heard an African-American man, Dr. David Moore, speak about how we must listen to voices of the exile. As a minority voice, his words were powerful and his simple example spoke loudly to the room. How many times have we been at events/conferences/stadiums etc where during a break, there is a huge line-up of desperate women outside the women’s washroom, while men saunter in and out of their washroom without having to wait. Typically, [male] architects have not designed the facility in response to the actual reality of the need. It is an example of the blinders we wear in our sociocentric thinking.

    Thanks for your work in giving voice to the exiles, particularly female voices.

    More on David Moore here: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/author/dnmjr-591

  5. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Jake,

    After I read your Blog today, I felt like people would think I copied yours. Both of us had a picture of Einstein, and both of us targeted the statement, “Everyone thinks; it is our nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed or down-right prejudiced.’

    Just wanted you to know I honestly did not steal from you, but I am actually kinda happy because I don’t consider myself to be as strong intellectually as you, but somehow we were thinking alike.

    Thanks for letting me, at least for one week, ride along next to your good thinking.

  6. Trisha Welstad says:

    Jake, I appreciate your highlights from Elder and am curious if there was anything that made you think critically about the text? When I first read it I was loving every moment but then found myself thinking, “How am I going to remember all of this?” The thought you had about wishing the authors would have expanded further on some of the concepts also crossed my mind. I was hoping for some examples or case studies to see how to do the thing they were talking about. Anyway, after all of that I read Doughty’s take and realized I didn’t read a crtitical thinking guide very critically. I perused through it again to see if I did in fact still like everything I read. Much of it was definitely helpful but I did see some ways that it could be improved or changed. What about you?

    • I understand it was called “Mini” but I think some more examples of how to live out critical thinking in various scenarios would have been helpful, so we are not just getting a theoretical framework. Thanks for your thoughts.

Leave a Reply