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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 December 10, 2019

How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life

How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life

It is hardly a secret that the key to successfully accomplishing one goal after another is staying motivated. There are, of course, tasks which successful people may not like at all, yet they find motivation to complete them because they recognize how each particular task serves a greater goal.

So how to stay motivated most of the time? Here are 5 simple yet effective ways on how to stay motivated and get what you want:

1. Find Your Good Reasons

Anything you do, no matter how simple, has a number of good reasons behind it.

You may not be able to find good reasons to do some tasks at first but, if you take just a few moments to analyze them, you will easily spot something good. We also have many tasks which don’t need any reasoning at all – we’ve been doing them for so long that they feel natural.

If you’re ever stuck with some tasks you hate and there seems to be no motivation to complete it whatsoever, here’s what you need to do: find your good reasons.

Even when you set goals, there needs to be reasons behind these goals. They may not be obvious, but stay at it until you see some, as this will bring your motivation back and will help you finish the task.

Some ideas for what a good reason can be:

  • A material reward – quite often, you will get paid for doing something you normally don’t like doing at all.
  • Personal gain – you will learn something new or will perhaps improve yourself in a certain way.
  • A feeling of accomplishment – at least you’ll be able to walk away feeling great about finding the motivation and courage to complete such a tedious task.
  • A step closer to your bigger goal – even the biggest accomplishments in history have started small and relied on simple and far less pleasant tasks than you might be working on. Every task you complete brings you closer to the ultimate goal, and acknowledging this always feels good.

2. Make It Fun

When it comes to motivation, attitude is everything. Different people may have completely opposite feelings towards the same task: some will hate it, others will love it.

Why do you think this happens? It’s simple: some of us find ways to make any task interesting and fun to do!

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Take sports for example. Visiting your local gym daily for a half-an-hour workout session sounds rather boring to some. Yet many others love the idea!

They like exercising not only because they recognize the good reasons behind it, but simply because it’s fun! At certain time of their daily schedule, they find going to gym to be the best thing to do, simply because nothing else will fit their time and lifestyle so perfectly.

Depending on how you look at it, you can have fun doing just about anything! Just look for ways of having fun, and you’ll find them!

A simple approach is to start working on any task by asking yourself a few questions:

  • How can I enjoy this task?
  • What can I do to make this task fun for myself and possibly for others?
  • How can I make this work the best part of my day?

As long as you learn to have the definite expectation of any task being potentially enjoyable, you will start to feel motivated.

Some of you will probably think of a thing or two which are valid exceptions from this statement, like something you always hate doing no matter how hard you try making it fun. You’re probably right, and that’s why I don’t claim everything to be fun.

However, most tasks have a great potential of being enjoyable, and so looking for ways to have fun while working is definitely a good habit to acquire.

3. Change Your Approach And Don’t Give Up

When something doesn’t feel right, it’s always a good time to take a moment and look for a different approach for the task.

You may be doing everything correctly and most efficiently, but such approach isn’t necessarily the most motivating one. Quite often, you can find a number of obvious tweaks to your current approach which will both change your experience and open up new possibilities.

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That’s why saying “one way or another” is so common — if you really want to accomplish your goal, there is always a way; and most likely, there’s more than one way.

If a certain approach doesn’t work for you, find another one, and keep trying until you find the one which will both keep you motivated and get you the desired results.

Some people think that trying a different approach means giving up. They take pride in being really stubborn and refusing to try any other options on their way towards the goal.

My opinion on this is that the power of focus is great, but you should be focusing on your goal, and not limiting your options by focusing on just one way to accomplish it it.

4. Recognize Your Progress

Everything you may be working on can be easily split into smaller parts and stages. For most goals, it is quite natural to split the process of accomplishing them into smaller tasks and milestones. There are a few reasons behind doing this, and one of them is tracking your progress.

We track our progress automatically with most activities. But to stay motivated, you need to recognize your progress, not merely track it.

Here’s how tracking and recognizing your progress is different:

Tracking is merely taking a note of having reached a certain stage in your process. Recognizing is taking time to look at a bigger picture and realize where exactly you are, and how much more you have left to do.

For example, if you’re going to read a book, always start by going through the contents table. Getting familiar with chapter titles and memorizing their total number will make it easier for you to recognize your progress as you read. Confirming how many pages your book has before starting it is also a good idea.

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You see, reading any book you will be automatically looking at page numbers and chapter titles, but without knowing the total number of pages, this information will have little meaning.

Somehow, it is human nature to always want things to happen in short term or even at once. Even though we split complex tasks into simpler actions, we don’t quite feel the satisfaction until all is done and the task is fully complete.

For many scenarios though, the task is so vast that such approach will drain all the motivation out of you long before you have a chance to reach your goal. That’s why it is important to always take small steps and recognize the positive different and progress made. This is how your motivation can sustain in long term.

5. Reward Yourself

This is a trick everyone likes: rewarding yourself is always pleasant. This is also one of the easiest and at the same time most powerful ways to stay motivated!

Feeling down about doing something? Dread the idea of working on some task? Hate the whole idea of working? You’re not alone.

Right from the beginning, agree on some deliverables which will justify yourself getting rewarded. As soon as you get one of the agreed results, take time to reward yourself in some way.

For some tasks, just taking a break and relaxing for a few minutes will do.

For others, you may want to get a fresh cup of coffee and even treat yourself a dessert.

For even bigger and more demanding tasks, reward yourself by doing something even more enjoyable, like going to a cinema or taking a trip to some place nice, or even buying yourself something.

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Your progress may not seem to others like anything worth celebrating but, take time and do it anyway! It is your task and your reward, so any ways to stay motivated are good.

The more you reward yourself for the honestly made progress, the more motivated you will feel about reaching new milestones, thus finally accomplishing your goal.

Mix and Match

Now that you have these five ways of staying motivated, it is a good moment to give you the key to them all: mix and match!

Pick one of the techniques and apply it to your situation. If it doesn’t work, or if you simply want to get more motivated, try another technique right way. Mix different approaches and match them to your task for the best results.

Just think about it: Finding good reasons to work on your task is bound to helping you feel better; and identifying ways to make it fun will help you enjoy the task even more.

Or, if you plan a few points for easier tracking of your progress and on top of that, agree on rewarding yourself as you go; this will make you feel most motivated about anything you have to work through.

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Featured photo credit: Lucas Lenzi via unsplash.com

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