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10 Best TED Talks To Help You Make Hard Decisions

10 Best TED Talks To Help You Make Hard Decisions
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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.

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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.

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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.

More by this author

Wen Shan

Proud Philosophy grad. Based in HK.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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