George Bernard Shaw remarked that few people think more than two or three times a year and that he had made an international reputation for himself by thinking once or twice a week. Significantly, it was also Shaw who pointed out that the unconscious mind is the real genius, since...
George Bernard Shaw remarked that few people think more than two or three times a year and that he had made an international reputation for himself by thinking once or twice a week. Significantly, it was also Shaw who pointed out that the unconscious mind is the real genius, since your breathing goes wrong the moment your conscious self starts to meddle with it. These two observations taken together are helpful in determining the nature and scope of critical thinking in any area of life. Few people think critically about their breathing, and it is probably almost always pointless to do so. It is also unlikely to be useful to perform a sustained critical evaluation of the arguments for and against getting out of bed every morning. Most tasks do not require critical thinking, and twice a week may well be about the right frequency with which to engage in it.
The value of critical thinking comes when making a vital decision which will have important long-term ramifications. Should you accept or make a proposal of marriage? Should you have children? Where should you live? These are matters in your personal life that require critical thinking. Similar problems in academic or professional life might be questions like these: What subject should you study at university? Should you change your major in the light of experience? Should you study for an advanced degree? Should you accept or apply for a particular job? Should you take a stand on principle that might adversely affect your career?
Everybody thinks about these matters, but the word "thinking" is used very loosely to involve mental activities such as reiterating and rearranging prejudices, or, very often, merely fretting. The process of critical thinking involves examining and evaluating all the relevant criteria to reach a conclusion. This does not mean excluding emotion. "I love her" is a relevant criterion in deciding whether to get married, but a critical thinker would then ask various important questions: What do I mean by love? What relevant past experience can I bring to bear in determining how long it is likely to last? How long have I known her? How well do I know her? How compatible are our temperaments? How much do we argue and about what? How do we resolve those arguments?
The list is a long one, but once worked through, it need not be repeated. This is one of the most important differences between critical thinking and mere fretting or worrying. Once you have reached a conclusion, that conclusion ought to be good until you have new data to work on.
The comments I have made here refer to where critical thinking is most valuable in general terms. Obviously, if your work or your interests (reading poetry, for instance) involve critical evaluation, then you will think critically much more frequently than Bernard Shaw's once or twice a week.