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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 October 16, 2019

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Do you like making mistakes?

I certainly don’t.

Making mistakes is inevitable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be at ease with them?

Perhaps there is a way to think of them differently and see their benefits.

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Why Mistakes Feel Dangerous

Mistakes often feel dangerous. Throughout human history, our errors have often been treated as dangerous for a variety of reasons:

  • Our vulnerability. We have limited and fragile support systems. When those systems fail, people often lose their lives.
  • Real dangers. Nature can be dangerous, and making mistakes can put us at the mercy of nature and its animal residents seeking a meal.
  • Ignorance. Many cultures scapegoats someone whenever there is a failure of some kind. Scapegoating can be serious and deadly.
  • Order. Many societies punish those who do not conform to the prevailing orthodoxy and treat difference and non-conformity as a mistake. Even our brains flash an error message whenever we go against prevailing social norms.

We have a history of handling mistakes and failure in an unpleasant way. Since each of us carries our human history with us, it can be a challenge to overcome the fear of making mistakes.

If we can embrace the reality of mistakes, we can free ourselves to be more creative in our lives and dig up some interesting insights.

Why We Can’t Avoid Making Mistakes

Many people operate under the notion that making mistakes is an aberration, a mistake if you will. You can call it perfectionism but it is a more substantial problem. It is really a demand for order and continuity.

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When we think we can eliminate mistakes, we are often working from a perspective that sees the world as a fixed place. The world, however, is not so obliging. Like it or not, the world, and everything in it, is constantly changing.

Change is more constant and pervasive than we can see with our own eyes which is why we often miss it. Our bodies are constantly changing. The natural conditions of the earth change constantly as well. Everything, including economic and cultural systems have life cycles. Everything is in a constant state of flux.

We cannot see all of the changes going on around us since rates of change vary. Unfortunately, when we try to create a feeling of certainty and solidity in our lives or operate from the illusion of stability and order, we are fighting reality and our natural evolution which is built on adapting to change.

It is better to continually bend into this reality rather than fight every change we experience. Fighting it can cause us to make more mistakes. Finding the benefits in change can be useful and help us minimize unnecessary mistakes.

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Lessons Learned from Making Mistakes

Life has so many uncertainties and variables that mistakes are inevitable. Fortunately, there are many things you can learn from making mistakes.

Here is a list of ways to harness the mistakes you make for your benefit.

  1. Point us to something we did not know.
  2. Reveal a nuance we missed.
  3. Deepen our knowledge.
  4. Tell us something about our skill levels.
  5. Help us see what matters and what does not.
  6. Inform us more about our values.
  7. Teach us more about others.
  8. Let us recognize changing circumstances.
  9. Show us when someone else has changed.
  10. Keep us connected to what works and what doesn’t work.
  11. Remind us of our humanity.
  12. Spur us to want to better work which helps us all.
  13. Promote compassion for ourselves and others.
  14. Teach us to value forgiveness.
  15. Help us to pace ourselves better.
  16. Invite us to better choices.
  17. Can teach us how to experiment.
  18. Can reveal a new insight.
  19. Can suggest new options we had not considered.
  20. Can serve as a warning.
  21. Show us hidden fault lines in our lives which can lead us to more productive arrangements.
  22. Point out structural problems in our lives.
  23. Prompt us to learn more about ourselves.
  24. Remind us how we are like others.
  25. Make us more humble.
  26. Help us rectify injustices in our lives.
  27. Show us where to create more balance in our lives.
  28. Tell us when the time to move on has occurred.
  29. Reveal where our passion is and where it is not.
  30. Expose our true feelings.
  31. Bring out problems in a relationship.
  32. Can be a red flag for our misjudgments.
  33. Point us in a more creative direction.
  34. Show us when we are not listening.
  35. Wake us up to our authentic selves.
  36. Can create distance with someone else.
  37. Slow us down when we need to.
  38. Can hasten change.
  39. Reveal our blind spots.
  40. Are the invisible made visible.

Reframe Reality to Handle Mistakes More Easily

The secret to handling mistakes is to:

  • Expect them as part of the process of growth and development.
  • Have an experimental mindset.
  • Think in evolutional rather than fixed terms.

When we accept change as the natural structure of the world, our vulnerability and humanness lets us work with the ebb and flow of life.

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When we recognize the inevitability of mistakes as part of the ongoing experiment which life is, then we can relax more. In doing so we may make fewer of them.

It also helps to keep in mind that trial and error is an organic natural way of living. It is how we have evolved over time. It is better to be with our natural evolution than to fight it and make life harder.

When we adopt an evolutional mindset and see ourselves as part of the ongoing human experiment, we can appreciate that all that has been built up over time which includes the many mistakes our ancestors have made over thousands of years. Each one of us today is a part of that human tradition of learning and experimenting,

Mistakes are part of the trial and error, experimental nature of life. The more you adopt the experimental, evolutional frame, the easier it becomes to handle mistakes.

Handling mistakes well can help you relax and enjoy all aspects of life more.

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Featured photo credit: Sarah Kilian via unsplash.com

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