The post-information age we live in today is called the creative society. The name already implies how important and well-cherished creativity is.
Everybody (including me) talks about constant innovation, having visions for the future, brainstorming brilliant ideas and expressing your unique artistic soul. And all these things that originate from creative self-expressions are extremely important.
Having brilliant ideas can help you advance in your career, and following creative endeavors always gives additional depth to your life. But they are only one part of the equation.
Innovations must be in line with market paradigms and people’s needs, visions must be backed up by strategic plans, brilliant ideas have to be systematically tested, and it’s never enough to only be different, you also have to be better.
That’s where analytical skills come into play. Luckily, much like anybody can become (more) creative, so you can improve your analytical skills.
There is a general belief that some people are more creative and not analytical types (with a strong right brain hemisphere), while others are logical and unintuitive types (with a strong left brain hemisphere). But today, that kind of a division can only be a limiting belief, since such lateralization of brain functions was scientifically disproved.
While some brain functions do occur more in one of the hemispheres, there is no evidence that people have a stronger left or right side of brain. And your intellectual performance is the strongest when both brain halves work together.
For example, while the left brain hemisphere is focused on the language syntax and sounds that form words, the right brain hemisphere pays attention to the emotional features of language.
Of course, we all have different talents and abilities, but you have to make sure limiting beliefs are not preventing you from improving your analytical skills. If we move on, the next very popular axiom is that schools kill creativity. While there is a lot of evidence for that, schools also don’t teach many useful ways how analytical thinking can be applied.
For example, analytical skills can be used to better understand yourself, plan your future, manage your finances and make smarter life decisions. It’s something you have to learn on your own, if you weren’t among the few lucky ones who acquired these valuable skills at home.
All the benefits that analytical skills can bring you
If you’re not a scientist, detective or mathematician, what good can analytical skills do for you? Well, there are many advantages to possessing strong analytical skills.
In general, analytical skills are about breaking down complex information, events, situations and other bits of information to find patterns, causes and effects and to identify other connections.
Gathering, processing, organizing, structuring, and presenting data in a certain context to make it useful is achieved with analytical skills. It’s how information is turned into data, and then further transformed into new knowledge.
At the end of the analytical process, you should be richer for an insight, answer, solution or overall conclusion. You should better understand why things are as they are or what are the underlying paradigms.
Consequently, that should lead to you making better decisions. In today’s complex, turbulent and fast-changing world, constantly using analytical skills can help you be one step ahead of changes.
Besides that, the two best ways to acquire new knowledge is (1) by properly learning a body of knowledge that others have created with deductive or inductive reasoning, and (2) by producing knowledge on your own with the use of analytical skills.
If we make a step to an even more practical level, here are all the ways analytical skills can be used:
- Identifying patterns and seeing why some things are repeating themselves
- Evaluating the current situation and predicting the trends
- Planning and forming strategies
- Better problem solving and decision making
- Understanding yourself, others (empathy) and the world
- Explaining your beliefs, values and points of view more clearly
- Performing life experiments in the search mode
- Building frameworks and processes that can simplify your life
- Performing certain types of intellectual tasks – logical thinking, mathematics etc.
One of my greatest strengths are precisely analytical skills. They always helped me greatly advance in life.
For me, analytical skills are especially important for better understanding how the world works (from the human psyche to global trends) as well as for finding unique ways to achieve completely new levels of productivity and personal performance.
That’s why I’m constantly training my analytical mind. And when you find your why, I’m sure you’ll have no problem applying some of the ideas below in your everyday life.
Practical exercises you can do to develop your analytical skills
I’m pretty sure you don’t have a spare hour every day to train your analytical skills. That means the best way to train is while you are already performing other everyday tasks you must do anyway or that can bring other benefits to your life.
If you put just some additional effort into these tasks to make your brains sweat a little bit more, it will be more than enough to improve your analytical skills.
Make lists, mind maps and spreadsheets
The easiest way to start practicing analytical thinking is to regularly use different very basic but practical analytical tools – lists, mind maps, spreadsheets and project plans are the most common examples. These tools can also greatly help you manage and organize yourself, so we can say that there’s a double benefit.
Start training your analytical mind by building yourself all kinds of lists like:
You can first do research on how other people structured their lists and what they have put on them, then you can systematically brainstorm your ideas and review your lists with your peers. In the next step you can use the lists to better navigate your life.
In the same way, you can build yourself spreadsheets for personal finance management or your weekly diet plan (here are some of my templates), or you can build a mind map every time you finish a book or want to get an overview of a new subject. These are all great analytical exercises and many of them are also fun to do.
Turn gossiping and criticizing into practicing empathy
We’re all easily drawn into criticizing and gossiping about other people, although it’s a complete “lose‑lose” situation. Criticizing and gossiping is a form of severe negative thinking that creates distance between people and turns friends into enemies.
It’s a way of expressing the emotional pain of self‑worth issues that does great harm to you and the people around you.
A simple trick you can do is to turn criticizing or gossiping into practicing empathy. Empathy might seem like an emotional exercise, but it’s more an analytical one. You mustn’t confuse empathy with sympathy or support.
Sympathy refers to the capacity to feel the same way as somebody else. Acting in a tender, understanding manner and standing by their side is a form of support.
On the other hand, empathy means being able to precisely understand other people’s thoughts and actions, and where their actions and behaviors are coming from. When you deeply understand the context, you know the motives and what is really going on behind the curtains in a certain life situation.
- Permit yourself to understand the other person without judging and being afraid how understanding might change you
- Open as many channels as possible through which others can communicate their thoughts and feelings
- Fully accept the other person and don't rush into fixing them
Practicing empathy means you must invest mental effort into understanding the circumstances the other person is acting under and how they are experiencing the situation together with their thoughts, needs, desires and actions.
You can additionally analyze who is supporting or blocking them, what their other options are, how they reacted in similar situations in the past, and so on.
Next time, rather than gossiping or criticizing other people, observe and try to understand every detail of why the person is acting as they are or where their personality characteristics came from. And in the end, ask yourself: how would you act in the same situation under the same circumstances?
5-Whys in analytical thinking
When you’re practicing empathy, don’t forget to apply the 5-Whys technique into your analytical thinking. Ask yourself “why” a few times to find the real cause behind the effect.
Actually, applying the 5‑Whys method can help you practice analytical thinking in many different situations, like better understanding yourself, properly solving a business problem, breaking down recommended procedures and best practices at the workplace, and so on.
Think of life as a strategic game in which your plans must stay flexible
I’m pretty sure that there is a strategic game you enjoy; maybe chess or poker or any interesting strategic video or board game. Think of life in a way that’s similar to how you approach these games.
From the macro perspective, the narrative is pretty simple. You are put into a certain challenging situation, with a specific skillset and potential. You and your allies are playing against several opponents. Your job is to acquire resources and achieve certain goals.
To play any strategic game well, you must understand the rules (and which ones you can break), all the other players and their goals, you need a smart strategy for how you will achieve those goals and you have to make sure that your strategy is flexible enough.
By keeping your strategy flexible, you can constantly adjust as a proactive response to other players. Then you need practice, persistence and patience. It’s no different in real life.
Your body is just an avatar playing a very realistic strategic game. The only difference is that there is no “start again” button, so you have to play your cards smart the first time. Here are a few ideas for what you can do to train your analytical mind if we compare real life to a strategic game:
- Analyze your life strategy – Your life strategy is especially shaped by your beliefs, values, personal management system, and thus by your decisions about spending your time, energy, money, skills and other resources.
- Analyze your own character, together with all the strengths and weaknesses (SWOT), set of competences, main characteristic traits and other details.
- Build a persona (psychological profile) for all the main characters that are playing the game of life with you (allies and opponents).
- Analyze your environment, together with all the opportunities and trends that are working in your favor and against you.
- List all the important rules that you think apply to life. What rules should you follow to play the game of life smart and what are the rules you can break?
- List all the potential pivots (or branches and forks) you can do if your initial strategy or plan doesn’t work. How can you adjust your plans during the play?
You have to play the game of life anyway, so why not play it like a pro with a superior strategy.
Take a moment to practice mindfulness and become extremely observant
An important part of being a good analyst is paying attention to detail (and seeing the big picture at the same time). The Devil or God are in the details.
The problem is that in today’s information overload and busy times, it’s quite hard to pay attention to all the details. All the obligations are usually forcing you to run from task to task hoping not to drown in work. How can you then pay attention to detail?
Luckily, it’s in your power to stop that.
With a few time management tricks, by simplifying your life, doing no‑interruptions days and making sure you always have enough margin (the space between your capacity and workload), you can unburden yourself to the point where there is enough time to take all the details into consideration and consequently make better decisions.
The best first step towards learning how to pay more attention to detail is mindfulness. Mindfulness is about completely focusing your attention on what is happening in the present moment internally (your thoughts, feelings and other processes) and externally, in your environment.
Mindfulness is about concentrating your attention on a single thing in the present moment to capture and understand the experience better.
To get even more practical, here are a few ideas how to practice analytical observation skills by being mindful:
- Mindful eating (extended version of the raisin method): Eat one meal per day completely alone, without a phone, company or any other distraction. Make sure you prepare your own food and then pay attention to every bite – the color of the food, the taste, how well you prepared it, what your body responses to it are, and so on.
- Mindful listening: Mindful listening is a form of active listening where you don’t listen to respond, but listen to really understand. You pay attention to all the possible details when talking to the other person, from body language to tone of voice and the words chosen.
Start teaching something you’re good at and earn some additional income
I’m a big fan of sharing knowledge. The more you share, the more you receive. In addition to that, sharing your knowledge is a great analytical exercise.
If you want to lecture on a certain topic, you must do proper research, structure the body of knowledge, think about all the potential questions, prepare presentations, and practice your appearance.
Explaining complex ideas to people who know nothing about the topic is one of the best ways to train your analytical mind.
I’m sure there is a certain topic you already mastered or if maybe not, you would love to know everything about it or are really talented for it. Why not to become an authority on that topic and maybe you can also earn some additional income or status in your society?
Today there are so many different channels and ways you can teach. You just have to choose a topic you are passionate about and the most appropriate medium (video, text, live presentations etc.), and you can start building your personal brand, while your brain is becoming more and more capable.
Here are some additional ideas for how teaching others can help you improve your analytical skills:
- Start a blog and with every (well-structured) blog post you’ll train your analytical mind
- Share your knowledge on any of the social networks
- Organize workshops in your community on a topic you’ve mastered
- Explain complex things and topics to kids and other people who know nothing about it
- Write a fiction or non-fiction book
Other ideas for developing your analytical skills
If you apply all the mentioned ideas into your life, you will definitely see big improvements in your analytical thinking in a few months’ time.
But if you want even more, here are some additional ideas for how you can train your analytical skills:
- Describe different processes in your life – You want to keep your working memory as fresh as possible throughout the day. One way to achieve that is by standardizing steps and procedures for things that you do regularly . Take a piece of paper and describe a process (standard procedure) for how things should be done. Write a recipe for your favorite dish, define a process for home cleaning or how you maintain your car. You can also help optimize processes where you work to make the company more efficient.
- Analyze what is going on in a room full of people, preferably if you don’t know them. Analyze relationships, intents, communication etc. See yourself as a detective who’s trying to figure out what is going on in the room. It can be in a club or a waiting room or any other place when you find yourself in a group of people.
- Be a mediator when it comes to fights in your community – Many times, people fight just because of a lack of quality communication. You can play a mediator when your family members or coworkers are in each other’s hair. Talk to both sides, analyze their perspective and point of view, brainstorm possible solutions and then present them to both sides while leading them to the most productive conclusion. Just be prepared that sometimes you’re going to be in the middle when sh*t hits the fan.
- Skim 100 articles on a certain topic and write down the bottom lines – It’s a great exercise for getting an overview of a certain topic and expanding your knowledge. When you skim the articles, pay attention to repeating and unique ideas in structure, semantics and clarity of language.
- Start a hobby that encourages analytical thinking – There are so many hobbies that encourage analytical thinking. You can play strategic board games or video games, you can watch a procedural, play chess, collect things, analyze sports events, do puzzles etc.
- Play with angles when you’re reading books and other texts – When you read, be an active reader. Think about the psychological profile of all the characters, what their position in a situation is, what could be their next move, how you would act in a similar situation etc. When you are learning new things, always connect new knowledge to what you already know.
- Practice self-reflection and introspection – Self-reflection is about making unconscious things conscious, it’s about understanding yourself better. By asking yourself tough question you can better understand your motives, feelings and thoughts. It’s one of the best ways to train your analytical mind and you can greatly benefit from it. In the same way, you can do introspections after each of your actions to analyze the outcome and how things could have been done better.
- Perform an experiment to improve yourself – Become a crazy scientist with the goal to improve the quality of your life by performing regular experiments. Write down your assumptions and how you can test them and then perform an experiment. For example, if you always have a fight with your spouse when a specific topic is brought up, next time hug your wife instead and tell her that you love her. Write down an assumption for what her reaction will be, and then test it. Maybe you won’t have a fight ever again. Then brainstorm all other potential experiments that can lead you to finding new better ways to do things.
- Arguments and counterarguments – Take one of your moral beliefs that you firmly believe in. Then list all the arguments why you believe so. In the next step, list all the possible arguments against your belief. Try to defend the opposite view. Here is what you will achieve based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s quote: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function”.
- Learn to code – Knowing how to “communicate” with machines is one of the most valuable skills that a human can possess today. Coding is also intellectually and analytically very intensive. When I stared to learn how to code, my overall analytical skills greatly improved. Your brain might hurt at the beginning, but in the long term … well, you will know how to communicate with all the robots that are about to enter our lives.
Your creative skills can help you have brilliant ideas, create impressive things and be unique. Your creative skills can help you stand out. But creative endeavors and innovations must always be backed by a proper implementation strategy and perfect execution.
That’s when analytical skills come to your aid. Analytical skills are the basis for building a flexible plan and a feedback mechanism that enables you to install your uniqueness in your environment with the greatest acceptance and least resistance.