What is critical thinking (and how to improve at it)

What is critical thinking?
(and how to become more proficient at it)

Critical thinking is a hot topic at the top of any school or university’s mission statement. In this short article you are going to learn what critical thinking is and, more importantly, how you can get better at it.

Dr. Gerald Nosich has been teaching the art and science of critical thinking since 1977 and also heads up the Foundation for Critical Thinking. According to him, there are 3 earmarks of critical thinking to be aware of:

  1. The reflective or metacognitive approach.

This means you are thinking about your thinking and not just making decisions in a whimsical fashion (even if that’s often more fun!). This mean that you need to ask yourself questions about the decisions you make.

Example: If I choose to eat low GI oats this morning instead of a McDonald’s Happy meal, will there be a noticeable difference in my levels of concentration throughout the day?

It’s not just a reflection on the decision you need to make. But you are also weighing up and thinking about HOW you get to the best decision. Creating a thinking or mind map, exploring all your ideas and options, can be a productive exercise. (Also understanding what a thinking map is and why it is important is also useful.)

But let’s say you are GREAT at spending your quiet time summoning up your powers of genius. You still run the risk of conjuring up ideas or solutions that are flawed. We therefore need more and that moves us to point number 2 of what critical thinking is:

  1. Standards:

These are concepts that are useful to the your current situation or problem. The 3 standards of critical thinking are simply: clear, accurate, and relevant to the situation at hand.

  1. Critical thinking needs to be explicit.

By this, Dr. Nosich means that you are not just making assumptions but you need to focus explicitly on what assumptions you are making. You also then need to ask yourself questions to see whether your assumptions are actually true.

So let’s do a quick recap of the 3 key ingredients needed for critical thinking:

1. You need time for REFLECTION;
2. You need to apply standards which are CLEAR, ACCURATE and RELEVANT;

3. Your critical thinking needs to EXPLICIT, requiring you to focus your attention on whether your facts are valid or true.

More importantly, how can you use this information to become a more proficient critical thinker?

Here are 4 quick tips based on the 3 aspects learnt above:

  1. When you are faced with a big decision, be purposeful in taking time out to think.

Remove yourself from the situation. Even if this means heading to the coffee shop, ALONE. Sip your hazelnut latte, in silence, and enjoy your much needed time of reflection.

  1. Keeping your critical thinking objective.

As difficult as this may be to do, try to see the situation from another person’s perspective. People talk themselves into terrible decisions all the time when another person can clearly see why they don’t make sense. Try to harness that external perspective.

  1. Based on all the facts at hand, make sure that your research gives you with information that is clear, accurate and relevant.

Did you notice that emotion didn’t feature here? Aunty Enid or your friend Stephen might not be the best giver of wisdom in all situations. Keep your judgement focused on these qualities.

  1. Spend a bit more time focusing now on your clear, reliable possible answers from wise counsel.

Think about your thinking once again. This will help you create more profound conclusions.

4.5 But don’t overthink it…

There is some merit to taking decisive action (and sometimes even winging it from time to time). If it feels like you’re agonising over a decision that doesn’t need this much stress, go with your gut.

Take the time needed to become a better critical thinker. Your future self will thank you for it!

Any tips or suggestions on what you do to help enhance your critical thinking abilities? Leave your comments below.

About Daren Denholm

Daren Denholm went from nearly failing University to becoming the Highest Ranked Competitor at the World Memory Championships from Africa and the Southern Hemisphere for 6 years in a row! (2006 – 2011) He was also the only person in the world to compete in ALL 6 World Memory Championships during this time.

What is subvocalization? (And 5 easy strategies to help you with it!)

What is subvocalization? (And 5 easy strategies to help you with it!)

In this short article, you are going to learn what subvocalization is and, more importantly, when to do it and when to avoid it.

If you have read any research on speed reading, you would have come across the term ‘subvocalization’. What it means is you mentally ‘mouthing’ or ‘saying’ the words in your mind, while reading. 

Most speed reading experts will encourage you to try and eliminate subvocalisation all together from your reading. The reason? Because it slows down your reading speed. The assumption being, that faster reading is the primary goal. This is not true. 

(A quick side note:)

The worst thing you can do with regards to your reading speed is to move at one pace. Whether fast or slow.

The real art of speed reading is learning to VARY your pace which is dependant on a number of factors. One example is the technical difficulty of your subject matter. Another example is the level of your previous understanding or experience of the concepts shared. Because of this, learning to overcome subvocalisation would be useful in some instances. In other cases, it would be useful to use it.

Don’t focus on words. Focus on ideas instead.

4 tips to help you overcome subvocalisation:

1.Use a pointer, such as your finger or a pen. 

Move this along the line of words as you read. Your brain will keep up with your pen or finger and somehow trick your brain into focusing on this instead of saying the words in your head.

2. Try and be on the look out for key concepts as you read. (To reduce the temptation to use subvocalization.)

(And let THIS be the focus, NOT thinking about the words out loud in your brain.)This will also trick your brain into focusing on the information you are trying to process. This will also increase your levels of engagement.

3. Perform a 1 minute “mental prep” before reading.

This will help improve your concentration and focus. It will also help your brain isolate key concepts and process information faster. It will also give the extra mental energy to reduce the need to say the words out loud.

4. Listen to light classical music while studying. 

Baroque music can help your brain shift into an “alpha state of concentration,” increasing your ability to focus. (And focus on the key concepts at hand.)

5. Move faster than what you feel is comfortable. (To help you eradicate  subvocalization.)

This will help in your pursuit of identifying key concepts. It will also reduce the need to say concepts out loud.

Your brain will enjoy the challenge. This will also help you focus on the key ideas instead of the words. 

Overcoming subvocalisation is useful in the EARLIER stages of learning new information. This allows you to get a good idea of the overall framework of a section of work. 

Here are 4 situations when subvocalization should be embraced: 

  1. When reading the finer, more intricate detail of your subject matter.

  2. When reading technically challenging material.

  3. Key concepts of high importance. Such as legal documents. (Subvocalization is an asset here.)

  4. When trying to teach yourself what you have learnt to gauge your understanding of the subject matter.

4.5: When reading love letters or important messages from your spouse, children, family members or friends. 

Do you struggle with subvocalization? What are your tips? Leave your comments below and subscribe for more brain boosting tips!

About Daren Denholm

Daren Denholm went from nearly failing University to becoming the Highest Ranked Competitor at the World Memory Championships from Africa and the Southern Hemisphere for 6 years in a row! (2006 – 2011) He was also the only person in the world to compete in ALL 6 World Memory Championships during this time.

5 simple (and powerful) tips to improve your concentration

5 simple yet powerful tips to improve your concentration.

I used to have the attention span of a gnat. Then I learnt the concentration­enhancing secrets perfected by the world’s best learners and memory champions. In this short article, you will learn how to boost your concentration so you can achieve more in less time.

All competitors at the World Memory Championships get one minute of preparation time to help them get in the zone. This enables them to perform at their mental best.

In the right frame of mind, you can improve your concentration to absorb and recall information more effectively. You can see up to 50% improvement if you get in the mindset!

Here are five simple techniques to help improve your concentration:

  1. Stay hydrated.

Before studying or learning anything, down a glass of water. Keep more water next to you throughout your study session. The oxygen in the water goes straight to your brain, giving it the oxygen it needs for peak performance.

       2. Set a strict time limit  

Known as Parkinson’s Law or, more recently, the Pomodoro technique, you will complete a task within the time limit you have available. The shorter the time limit, the more you challenge your brain to achieve this goal. The result is higher levels of concentration. Use a stopwatch and not your cell phone, for obvious reasons.

  1. Have a clear goal to work towards.

You are at your creative best when you have a problem to solve. Make sure this problem you’re working on is more exciting than any temptation to become distracted.

  1. Spray a unique deodorant on your neck each time you want to perform at your mental best.

Use the “Proust effect” to help improve your concentration. The sensually rich writing of Marcel Proust inspired this technique. It means that memory is intertwined with and connected to the senses, especially smell.

The hippocampus, the part of your brain which processes memory, and the olfactory bulb, which processes smell, are adjacent in your brain.

That’s part of why when you smell a unique smell, it can often bring back memory attached it.

       5. Working 20 to 25 minutes prints of concentration with 5 to 7 minute breaks in between.

Six times world speed reading champion Anne Jones read one of the thickest Harry Potter books in 47 minutes. She then did a review of it on Sky News! She said one of her greatest training methods was using powerful 20 to 25 minute reading sessions. This kept her mind and concentration at their peak without burning out. Check out one of the best strategies to help with speed reading here!

    5.5. A final tip from Kenneth Atchity, who wrote a great book on writing used by top New York Times bestselling authors.

One of the greatest writers ever, Ernest Hemingway, used a linking strategy before going on a break. He would start to make progress before taking some time off writing. This could even be half­written sentences that he wanted to finish later. He knew he would stay excited about coming back to finish incomplete works rather than staring at a blank page. When you get back after a break, try a 20­25 minutes session of studying or work. Making some progress will energise your brain and increase your concentration when you come back.

So there you have 5 (well, 5.5) simple and powerful ways to improve your concentration.

Any ideas you’ve got to help you stay focused, leave them in the comments below! Thanks for reading!

About Daren Denholm

Daren Denholm went from nearly failing University to becoming the Highest Ranked Competitor at the World Memory Championships from Africa and the Southern Hemisphere for 6 years in a row! (2006 – 2011) He was also the only person in the world to compete in ALL 6 World Memory Championships during this time.

Mind mapping is overrated … focus on these 4 strategies instead

Mind mapping is overrated … focus on these 4 strategies instead.

I dislike mind mapping with a passion, and most of the students I have worked with feel the same way. The reason being… they take SOOO much time. But it doesn’t have to be this way. In this article, you will learn why the way in which mind mapping has been popularised is a completely overrated way of organising your ideas but more importantly, what you should focus on instead.

Mind mapping is a hot topic.

If done correctly, it is powerful. It can help you think faster and more clearly, and it can help you learn with greater levels of memory retention.

The problem is… most people focus too much on the mind map and NOT on what it aims to help them achieve.

The concept dates back to Aristotle; it can help people to be phenomenally great thinkers and narrators – but now people sometimes spend hours trying to make mind maps, most often ineffectively.

So, here are my 4 tips for making sure the time you spend organising your thoughts (mind mapping) is really worthwhile!

  1. Instead of focusing on mind mapping, focus on the goal of mind mapping… helping you become more structured and creative in your thinking.
  2. Instead of trying to create beautiful mind maps in a certain way that takes a lot of time, focus more on trying to extract key information in a useful, memorable way.
  3. Instead of trying to get mind mapping “right”, focus on trying to remember and understand more… which is what productive learning is all about. Any way of mind mapping is right if it helps you achieve this goal!
  4. Instead of following certain rules of mind mapping, like trying to make everything neat as if it’s a school project… create your own rules, go quickly, makes mistakes… be happy that your mind map doesn’t resemble a work of art and be glad that you can see the links between the information in your head and on paper.

And 4.5: Don’t focus on the mind map, focus on being engaged in your work! The more absorbed you become in the key information, the more you will remember and understand what you have learnt… and this is way more beneficial than any mind map you can create.

Do you like mind mapping? Got any tips for keeping it productive? Leave a comment below.

About Daren Denholm

Daren Denholm went from nearly failing University to becoming the Highest Ranked Competitor at the World Memory Championships from Africa and the Southern Hemisphere for 6 years in a row! (2006 – 2011) He was also the only person in the world to compete in ALL 6 World Memory Championships during this time.

7 simple and powerful ways to create mind maps

7 simple and powerful ways to create mind maps

Mind, or “thinking”, maps can be a waste of time if done incorrectly. In this article, you will learn seen simple and powerful ways that can help you get the most out of every mental mapping session you do in the future!

I have previously made a video on what a mind map is, which you can find down below.

I’ll summarise it here quickly: simply put, it is a visual representation of information done in an organised and creative way, that helps facilitate faster and more critical thinking.

Before I begin, you need to be aware of the goal you are trying to achieve through mind maps.

The goal is for you to get the main concepts of a large amount of work down in your mind map in an accessible and visual way so you can quickly review key concepts and deepen your knowledge.

Here’s another way of thinking about mind maps. Imagine the scenario:

  1. You want to put a painting up upon one of your walls at home.
  2. You got to the hardware store and buy a drill.
  3. You go home and drill a hole. And
  4. You place your new painting above the mantlepiece.

You don’t fall in love with the drill and spend all your time with the drill. The drill is the TOOL – and so is the mind map.

The goal is for your mind mapping session is to help organise critical information to make learning quicker and more effective. Not to spend hours crafting a beautiful Instagram worthy piece of art.

So, here are seven simple and powerful ways you can get the most out of every mind map you create in the future!

  1. Get a blank piece of paper.
  2. Draw the main concept, title, or overall idea in the centre of the page.
  3. Draw subheadings branching out from the central key theme in the form of arrows.
  4. Add keywords – just words right now–to represent key information. And finally–
  5. Add images from your imagination to boost your ability to remember these key ideas.
  6. Once you are finished, turn the paper upside down and see if you can remember what you created. The purpose is just to help you remember and understand what you are learning, which is the definition of productive learning.
  7. Vary between hand­written and digital mental maps to keep things creative. This will embed your ideas more effectively.

7.5 One final tip: I recommend storing your maps in an online storing mechanism such as Evernote (one of the world’s most popular note­taking apps). This is a safer way of storing your work.

What are some of your tips to help you with mental mapping? Leave your comments below!

About Daren Denholm

Daren Denholm went from nearly failing University to becoming the Highest Ranked Competitor at the World Memory Championships from Africa and the Southern Hemisphere for 6 years in a row! (2006 – 2011) He was also the only person in the world to compete in ALL 6 World Memory Championships during this time.

What are thinking maps and why should you master them?

What is a thinking map and why it is important to master the skill?

Consider this:

Three people enter a jigsaw puzzle competition. There are 1,000 pieces to each puzzle. One contestant is given a picture of the puzzle that needs to be put together. The second one is given the wrong picture of the puzzle and the third contestant is shown no picture at all. Who do you think stands the best chance to complete the puzzle fastest and win? The first contestant, of course – the person who was given the picture of the puzzle to be completed in the first place.

So… what is a thinking map?

Thinking maps date back to the time of Aristotle. The Greeks used this tool to help them organise information quickly and easily. Being able to access logically structured information enabled them to think more clearly.

Thinking maps are visual tools that are used for productive learning. They provide the individual with the ‘overall picture’ of the information they want to comprehend and retain.

Thinking maps give you a macro overview of all the key parts, critical headings and smaller issues. You can then add visual or creative elements to the map, which will enhance your retention of the information you’re trying to process.

Why are thinking maps so powerful?

  1. If the thinking map is organised in a simple way, the key concepts can be revised quickly and easily.
  2. The map enables you to move backwards and forwards to see the links throughout a section of work.
  3. This organised and creative representation of information results in clear and critical thinking – a vital skill in our day and age!

In Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking Fast and Slow (a summary of key concepts of the book can be found here), Kahneman explains that there are two systems running simultaneously in your brain. System 1 involves fast, automatic and more instinctive thinking, while System 2 involves slow, logical and more complex reasoning. System 2 (the slow and analytical type of thinking) requires more energy and focus and is therefore more taxing on your brain. For your brain to work optimally, you should learn to reap the benefits that can be derived from both systems and therefore, if done correctly, a thinking map can act as a powerful tool to help you achieve this brain-enhancing balance. You can utilise System 1 to get your ideas down on paper fast, then employ System 2 for slower, more careful analysis of how it all fits together.

When working on a macro overview, it’s best for you to think faster. However, when working on the finer details, slower thinking is more useful.

A thinking map is a wonderful tool to help you become both a fast and slow learner and in turn help you become a more proficient, critical thinker in the process.

Do you use thinking maps? If so, share your tips or thoughts below, and don’t forget to subscribe!

About Daren Denholm

Daren Denholm went from nearly failing University to becoming the Highest Ranked Competitor at the World Memory Championships from Africa and the Southern Hemisphere for 6 years in a row! (2006 – 2011) He was also the only person in the world to compete in ALL 6 World Memory Championships during this time.

Why Memory Palaces work and 5 tips to get you started

Why and how to create your Memory Palace and 4 tips to help get you started


A Memory Palace is a Technique used to Help You Store Large Amounts of Information

If you aren’t already using a memory palace as a storage technique, I highly recommend you start now! 

It is a technique used by top world memory competitors around the globe. The concept of using memory palaces dates back to the time of the Ancient Romans and Greeks, about 2,000 years ago! Recording or note-taking tools did not exist back then so they used this powerful tool to help them remember large amounts of information effectively.

This short video is going to tell you WHAT a memory palace is, WHY you should use a memory palace and more importantly HOW to create your memory palace.

What is a Memory Palace?

A memory palace is another term used to refer to a journey or roman room technique. A map of either a familiar route or room is created using locations within that route or room. These locations serve as folders or hooks that enable you to store additional information onto.

Why you should Use a Memory Palace  

Your brain builds on to what it already knows (a familiar journey or room). Therefore on a physiological level it is easy for your brain to add new extra information to these memories that are already in place.

As mentioned earlier, every top memory competitor at the world memory championship uses the memory palace technique to store vast amounts of information. The scores and results from the world memory competition, to the everyday person on the street, seem beyond human capability.

How do you Create a Memory Palace and 4 tips to help you get started.

Below are 6 simple steps to follow, when creating a memory palace.


Choose a journey you know well, e.g. a ‘journey’ around your house.


Plot locations, in an ordered way, around that journey, e.g start with your bed as location number 1, 2 could be the dressing table, 3 could be the bathroom, 4 the passage, 5 the stairs and so on. You know your house extremely well and it is unlikely that you are going to get lost between your bedroom and your kitchen.


Quickly write 1 – 20 down a page and fill out your 20 locations. It is important not to cross paths and not to use the same location twice.


Review your memory palace from beginning to end and then go backwards. See if you can move backwards. Can you remember each of the locations without looking? If you cannot do it for now, don’t fret. You can practice it over time and you will get better at it.


Practice storing information onto the locations of your journeys. Begin by using simple words and imagine them in the locations. It is important to use all of your senses when doing this. By doing this you will trick your brain into believing the information is real and important.


After having stored 5 words in 5 locations, it is important to revise them.

Here are 5 handy additional tips to use when creating a memory palace


Use journeys that you really enjoy.

TIP 2 

Begin building 2 journeys today. .


Build at least another 8 tomorrow. If you can do this you will have more journeys stored than 99% of the population. Very few people are disciplined enough to get to this point.


Continue to store information onto your journeys. Revise the information often!  Add novelty as well as your imagination to any of the concepts that you store on your locations or memory palace to help boost your retention.

TIP 4.5

Keep practising. The more you practice the better and faster you will become.

“I have used this method for the past 20 years every single day. When I first began using it, it was difficult and laborious. As time went on, it became a way of life for me and I realised that our brain’s storage capacity is infinite. It has changed who I am as a person and it has empowered me both in my professional and personal life.”

About Daren Denholm

Daren Denholm went from nearly failing University to becoming the Highest Ranked Competitor at the World Memory Championships from Africa and the Southern Hemisphere for 6 years in a row! (2006 – 2011) He was also the only person in the world to compete in ALL 6 World Memory Championships during this time.

The Sensational Story Of Paul Pots – How To Overcome Your Greatest Fear

In the inaugural season of Britain’s Got Talent, Paul Potts was named the winner of the season. Ten years later, Paul Potts thinks that his win was “one big mistake”. This is despite the fact that he has sold almost 5 million albums and performed in over 800 shows since. He has performed in over 44 countries, too. Potts’ story has become a point of inspiration for many, and even pulled a few heart strings, as he battled his self-confidence issues and adversity to fulfil a life-long dream.


The Story of Paul Potts

Potts is such an inspirational story that a movie was made about his life. In the film, entitled “One Chance”, James Corden played as the former phone salesman turned into a Britain’s Got Talent star. The film provided a nice insight to the life of Potts before he appeared in the biggest audition of his life.

In his audition, Potts sang a rendition of “Nessun dorma”. His rendition of the song left the judges and audience in awe. In fact, it was so compelling that he earned a standing ovation for his performance. The video of his audition quickly went viral on Youtube and garnered over 149 million views in a span of a few days. Today, it is one of the most watched videos on Youtube of all time.

A Voice to Inspire

Even with his success, Paul Potts remained rooted to the ground. He would even jokingly say that someone had to pinch him because his win at BGT could all be one big mistake. But nothing about it is a mistake. Paul Potts had the talent. It was just a matter of him stepping out and showcasing that talent to the rest of the world.

It is very encouraging for a lot of people. There are several people out there with amazing talent but never had the courage to showcase those talents. Use Potts’ story to compel you to make use of your talent. It is meant to be shared and cherished.

Paul Potts is a true inspiration for those who lack self-belief and confidence. More importantly, he has shown that doubt is inevitable. However, you should not let it cripple your ability to pursue your dreams.