From the moment we get out of bed, we have to constantly make decisions. Some decisions are smaller and some are bigger. The main reason why we sometimes have trouble making decisions is that we worry about the consequences. We are afraid of making bad decisions—and perhaps we should be.
While choosing a less-than-healthy lunch option may not do much damage, picking the wrong major at university or the wrong career path may have a disastrous impact on our lives.
We have put together a list of the most viewed TED Talks about decision-making, where professionals and successful people share their insights about the topic. These talks will help you understand some of the important factors contributing to a good decision, the thinking process behind decision-making, and a lot more.
1. Ruth Chang: When it comes to making hard decisions, reasoning is more than judging.
“Part of being rational is doing the better thing rather than the worse thing. … [But] it’s nuts to believe that the reasons given to you dictated [your decisions].”
Very often, when we make big decisions, we have a hard time comparing our options. We find it difficult because the alternatives are neither ‘better’ nor ‘worse’ than one another—at least, not obviously. Instead, each of them can be good or bad for us for different reasons. Realizing how we can make our own reasons other than ‘good’ and ‘bad’ empowers us to stay true to our personalities.
Ruth Chang is a law-graduate-turned philosopher at Rutgers University. She studies decision-making and its relation to freedom.
2. Benedikt Ahlfeld: Most of the time, we underestimate the power of each decision we make.
“Maybe if you went to Ikea, chances are when you’re at the cashier’s desk, you’ve got at least one product more in your basket than you originally planned.”
More and more studies show that the majority of our decisions are made quickly and with little thinking. Ahlfeld teaches us how to make use of science to make better choices, and warns us of the limitations of our decision-making power.
Benedikt Ahlfeld became a self-taught entrepreneur at the age of 16. He specializes in the psychology of decision-making and shares his experience with the world.
3. Angela Lee Duckworth: Grit: Always decide to rise.
“Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
When things become challenging, we are always faced with the decision to give up. However, if we decide instead to keep going, what we earn in the end will be more than success alone. Also, the ability to push through difficulties is actually more important than talent.
Angela Lee Duckworth is a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on how ‘grit’ can predict a person’s success.
4. Barry Schwartz: Limit your options for better decisions.
“When there are hundreds of different styles of jeans available, and you buy one that is disappointing, and you ask why, who’s responsible?”
Having options makes us happy, but too many options can actually do the opposite. This is because decision-making is stressful, and we feel bad about ourselves when we fail to make the right decisions, adding even more stress to the equation.
Barry Schwartz is an American psychologist. He is interested in the intersection of psychology and economics.
5. Dan Gilbert: Examine your own goals and wants and decide what’s truly best for you.
“I’m telling you something you already knew: namely, that comparison changes the value of things.”
We think that good decisions are the ones that make us happy, so we choose what we believe will make us happy. Unfortunately, we aren’t very good at that. We are often mistaken about what’s ‘good’ for us, leading us to poor decisions.
Dan Gilbert is a professor of psychology at Harvard University. His research interest is in happiness.
6. Sheena Iyengar: Look at the options objectively to make good decisions.
“Choice is just as much about who they are as it is about what the product is.”
We want to have options. Indeed, in the modern economy, we are spoiled with too many options, so many that we simply cannot review them one by one. Sometimes, we just don’t see how different they are. Which is why, instead of deciding among the alternatives available, we often turn to our inner desires and feelings.
Sheena Iyengar is a professor of business at Columbia Business School. She looks into how our perspectives on choices affect our decisions.
7. Dan Ariely: We’re not as rational as we believe.
“Our intuition is really fooling us in a repeatable, predictable, consistent way.”
When we make decisions, we believe we have the power to do so. However, this may only be an illusion. The choices we make are easily influenced by the options available. We may be confused by too much (but irrelevant) information, or even by our own minds. After all, we are not as rational as we think.
Dan Ariely is a behavioral economist at Duke University. He studies the factors that determine human behaviors.
8. Adam Grant: Sometimes, the decision of procrastinating intentionally leads to great ideas.
“But idea doubt is energizing. It motivates you to test, to experiment, to refine.”
If we want to be more creative, we have to be willing to try more and produce more. Procrastination is the enemy of productivity but interestingly, the decision to procrastinate ‘intentionally’ can actually lead us to greater ideas.
Adam Grant is an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. He is interested in how helping others motivates us to be more productive.
9. Daniel Kahneman: Our life experiences and happiness affect how we make decisions.
“[The] reason we cannot think straight about happiness is that we do not attend to the same things when we think about life, and we actually live.”
Our idea of happiness greatly influences how we make decisions. Observation tells us that we look at happiness from 2 perspectives—the ‘experiencing self’ and the ‘remembering self’. Learning about the different wants of the two selves gives us insights into the complexity of decision-making.
Daniel Kahneman is a psychologist at Princeton University He is the father of behavioral economics, focusing on the psychology of risk-taking.
10. Moran Cerf: Maybe, we don’t have that much control on our decisions.
“We live in our head. Things happen to this body, and we assume … we must have wanted them. But the reality is that sometimes we’re not entirely in control.”
We like to think we have free will—that we are in charge of our own decisions. However, recent findings in neuroscience suggest that it may be possible to predict our decisions even before we make them. This makes some scientists believe that decision-making is actually a pre-determined process independent of us. Moran Cerf discusses who is making our decisions (in our heads).
Moran Cerf is a professor of neuroscience and business at the Kellogg School of Management. He studies the neuroscience of decision-making, and how much free will we have in our decisions.