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10 Best TED Talks To Help You Make Hard Decisions

10 Best TED Talks To Help You Make Hard Decisions

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 August 16, 2018

16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

The same old motivational secrets don’t really motivate you after you’ve read them for the tenth time, do they?

How about a unique spin on things?

These 16 productivity secrets of successful people will make you reevaluate your approach to your home, work, and creative lives. Learn from these highly successful people, turn these little things they do into your daily habits and you’ll get closer to success.

1. Empty your mind.

It sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it?

Emptying your mind when you have so much to remember seems like you’re just begging to forget something. Instead, this gives you a clean slate so you’re not still thinking about last week’s tasks.

Clear your mind and then start thinking only about what you need to do immediately, and then today. Tasks that need to be accomplished later in the week can wait.

Here’s a guide to help you empty your mind and think sharper:

How to Declutter Your Mind to Sharpen Your Brain and Fall Asleep Faster

2. Keep certain days clear.

Some companies are scheduling “No Meeting Wednesdays,” which means, funnily enough, that no one can hold a meeting on a Wednesday. This gives workers a full day to work on their own tasks, without getting sidetracked by other duties or pointless meetings.

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This can work in your personal life too, for example if you need to restrict Facebook access or limit phone calls.

3. Prioritize your work.

Don’t think every task is created equal! Some tasks aren’t as important as others, or might take less time.

Try to sort your tasks every day and see what can be done quickly and efficiently. Get these out of the way so you have more free time and brain power to focus on what is more important.

Lifehack’s CEO has a unique way to prioritize works, take a look at it here:

How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

4. Chop up your time.

Many successful business leaders chop their time up into fifteen-minute intervals. This means they work on tasks for a quarter of an hour at a time, or schedule meetings for only fifteen minutes. It makes each hour seem four times as long, which leads to more productivity!

5. Have a thinking position.

Truman Capote claimed he couldn’t think unless he was laying down. Proust did this as well, while Stravinsky would stand on his head!

What works for others may not work for you. Try to find a spot and position that is perfect for you to brainstorm or come up with ideas.

6. Pick three to five things you must do that day.

To Do lists can get overwhelming very quickly. Instead of making a never-ending list of everything you can think of that needs to be done, make daily lists that include just three to five things.

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Make sure they’re things that need to be done that day, so you don’t keep putting them off.

7. Don’t try to do too much.

OK, so I just told you to work every day, and now I’m telling you to not do too much? It might sound like conflicting advice, but not doing too much means not biting off more than you can chew. Don’t say yes to every work project or social engagement and find yourself in way over your head.

8. Have a daily action plan.

Don’t limit yourself to a to-do list! Take ten minutes every morning to map out a daily action plan. It’s a place to not only write what needs to be done that day, but also to prioritize what will bring the biggest reward, what will take the longest, and what goals will be accomplished.

Leave room for a “brain dump,” where you can scribble down anything else that’s on your mind.

9. Do your most dreaded project first.

Getting your most dreaded task over with first means you’ll have the rest of the day free for anything and everything else. This also means that you won’t be constantly putting off the worst of your projects, making it even harder to start on it later.

10. Follow the “Two-Minute Rule.”

The “Two-Minute Rule” was made famous by David Allen. It’s simple – if a new task comes in and it can be done in two minutes or less, do it right then. Putting it off just adds to your to-do list and will make the task seem more monumental later.

11. Have a place devoted to work.

If you work in an office, it’s no problem to say that your cubicle desk is where you work every day.

But if you work from home, make sure you have a certain area specifically for work. You don’t want files spread out all over the dinner table, and you don’t want to feel like you’re not working just because you’re relaxing on the couch.

Agatha Christie never wrote at her desk, she wrote wherever she could sit down. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up. Thomas Wolfe, at 6’6″ tall, used the top of his refrigerator as a desk. Richard Wright wrote on a park bench, rain or shine.

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Have a space where, when you go there, you know you’re going to work. Maybe it’s a cafe downstairs, the library, or a meeting room. Whenever and wherever works for you, do your works there.

12. Find your golden hour.

You don’t have to stick to a “typical” 9–5 schedule!

Novelist Anne Rice slept during the day and wrote at night to avoid distractions. Writer Jerzy Kosinski slept eight hours a day, but never all at once. He’d wake in the morning, work, sleep four hours in the afternoon, then work more that evening.

Your golden hour is the time when you’re at your peak. You’re alert, ready to be productive, and intent on crossing things off your to-do list.

Once you find your best time, protect it with all your might. Make sure you’re always free to do your best uninterrupted work at this time.

13. Pretend you’re on an airplane.

It might not be possible to lock everyone out of your office to get some peace and quiet, but you can eliminate some distractions.

By pretending you’re on an airplane, you can act like your internet access is limited, you’re not able to get something from your bookcase, and you can’t make countless phone calls.

Eliminating these distractions will help you focus on your most important tasks and get them done without interruption.

14. Never stop.

Writers Anthony Trollope and Henry James started writing their next books as soon as they finished their current work in progress.

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Stephen King writes every day of the year, and holds himself accountable for 2,000 words a day! Mark Twain wrote every day, and then read his day’s work aloud to his family to get their feedback.

There’s something to be said about working nonstop, and putting out continuous work instead of taking a break. It’s just a momentum that will push you go further./

15. Be in tune with your body.

Your mind and body will get tired of a task after ninety minutes to two hours focused on it. Keep this in mind as you assign projects to yourself throughout the day, and take breaks to ensure that you won’t get burned out.

16. Try different methods.

Vladimir Nabokov wrote the first drafts of his novels on index cards. This made it easy to rearrange sentences, paragraphs, and chapters by shuffling the cards around.

It does sound easier, and more fun, than copying and pasting in Word! Once Nabokov liked the arrangement, his wife typed them into a single manuscript.

Same for you, don’t give up and think that it’s impossible for you to be productive when one method fails. Try different methods until you find what works perfectly for you.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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