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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 April 23, 2019

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Outside of Your Head

If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

The Bottom Line

These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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