Most of us think that more discipline relates to less freedom. The common line of thought is that discipline equals structure, which removes freedom.
This is what most of us think about the relationship between discipline and freedom:
We assume that there is a correlation between the two ideas. More discipline results in less freedom.
There is some logic to this thinking, but it’s false logic. If we were building houses, for example, freedom without discipline would offer some unusual results like these:
People are randomly building homes without considering rules or geometry.
Without considering math and the laws of physics, these houses can’t sustain their own weight. Absolute freedom means that they can’t withstand wind or water. They are always a second away from collapse.
How discipline frees you
If the people who had built their homes had used a little more discipline, the houses would still be standing. Instead of dealing with the aftermath of collapse, they’d be living comfortable lives in their stable homes.
This way of thinking about discipline is explained in the book, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink. Willink is a retired Navy SEAL. His impressive military career spanned 20 years and earned him many commendations. After retirement, Willink founded Echelon Front, a business geared toward teaching the principles that made a successful SEAL. His book details his leadership philosophy. He states,
Although discipline demands control and asceticism, it actually results in freedom.
Discipline allows you to practice the daily habits that get you the things you want. For example, when you have the self-discipline to wake up early, you get more free time. If you are disciplined enough to save your money, then you have the cash to take a vacation or make a big purchase that you’ve been wanting.
Exercising some self-control can go a long way toward getting you the things you want.
The boundaries for freedom
Wandering around with no plan may work well for unstructured vacation time, but it’s not going to help you achieve your goals. Setting boundaries for yourself enables you to develop the discipline that will give you the true freedom you crave.
Set rules to build habits
The right framework can help you build a concrete house on horizontal land. Life isn’t always going to make it easy to get what you want. You may have to put structures in place to help you accomplish your goals.
Left to your own devices, you’d probably waste a lot of time and lose productivity. By setting some rules for yourself, you can create a framework that builds habits.
Habits are automatic. If you develop positive habits, you’ll be able to do things that are good for you without thinking about it too much. Deciding that you are waking up early every morning and holding yourself to that standard eventually leads you to get up early naturally.
Having a framework for a formal report holds you accountable for its quality and helps you finish the work faster. With no standards, you might turn in sloppy work, or it might take you a long time to complete a simple task.
Bend the rules when you need to
You can make a different style of house that can be built on a slope based on the same framework. While the appearance may have changed, the function is the same.
The rules that you set for yourself aren’t meant to burden you. They’re just guidelines to help you stay on track. They may cause you a little discomfort, like when your alarm goes off and you don’t feel like getting up. You’ll quickly recover from this minor inconvenience, though.
Discipline is supposed to help you do things in a better way, but you should never feel trapped by it. You can follow your own rules, but you may need to bend those rules in certain situations.
For example, if you have to hand in your report to someone different, you might have to change your style to meet their standards. You’re still using discipline to get things done, but you’re still free to adapt your work.
Fighting against freedom’s true enemy
Freedom through discipline requires you to break your bad habits. Whether it’s sleeping in too late, failing to make a plan, or neglecting your health, you can change the things that are keeping you from true freedom.
1. Remove the triggers for your bad habits
Habits are hard to break because they come naturally to us. Identify where you need more structure, and make sticking to your plan the easy answer.
Imagine that you want to get into better shape so that you don’t feel tired all the time. You notice that you always feel too exhausted at night to work out, and you never get up early enough to go to the gym in the morning.
It’s time to stop making excuses and start acting. Pack your gym bag the night before, and train your body to wake up early enough to work out. You can’t use the excuse of not having enough time or not having the right gear. It’s already ready to go.
2. Reward yourself for doing the right things
Setting up a system of rewards and punishments keeps you accountable. Train yourself to maintain discipline by rewarding good behavior and punishing actions that keep you from your goals.
Your rewards and punishments don’t have to be huge and complicated. They just need to be enough to make you want to form good habits and stay away from bad patterns of behavior.
3. Track your behavior
You might not even realize when you’re doing something that keeps you from being free. Develop ways to track your behavior.
Jocko Willink recommends making a schedule or task list for yourself and sticking to it. When you do this, you prioritize what needs to happen every day. If you notice that you’re neglecting certain aspects of your life by not completing your task list, you can make changes.
Chances are, if you hadn’t made a list for yourself, you may not have even noticed what you were missing.
Reach new level of freedom
Doing whatever you want all the time isn’t real freedom, but you don’t have to be stuck. It may feel good in the short term to wake up whenever you want, procrastinate, and avoid things that will make you better and stronger, but that thinking will trap you.
Developing discipline can help you reach new levels of physical, mental, and financial freedom. We need a little bit of order to make sense of the chaos. Build the structures that are going to take you to the next level and help you weather the storm.
The best part about developing discipline is that it can start whenever you want. If you’re ready to change your life, grab a piece of paper and write out your plan! There’s no better time to start than the present.
A few years ago, I watched Brene Brown’s TED Talk on Vulnerability. Her story, her research, her authenticity, and yes, her vulnerability resonated with me deeply. One of the concepts that stood out the most was that in order to live wholeheartedly, we must feel the full range of emotions. The positive: joy, gratitude, happiness. And the not so positive: grief, fear, shame, sadness, disappointment.
This talk moved me, changed me and challenged me to think differently. And that is what TED talks have the power to do. They can make the hairs on the back of our neck stand up, bring us to tears, and most importantly, motivate, inspire and challenge our thinking.
Which is why I’m so excited to share these TED Talks for kids. I’ve always had a passion for working with children; I have three daughters of my own, co-lead two local Girl Scout Troops, spent time in my career working in education and am a member of the Galileo community advisory board (an innovation camp for kids).
I’m involved in all of these because I feel deeply how important it is to help our kids build their confidence, self-esteem, innovation and creativity. I want every kid to realize they are awesome just as they are. That they have the ability to make anything happen if they dream big and work hard. Imagine what that would do for our youth.
If you Google or scour lists of top TED talks, you tend to get similar ones popping up. That’s because they’re awesome. But they’re not all appropriate for kids.
How I shortlisted these TED Talks
I’ve done the hard work for you. Along with my family, kids, their friends and a few others, we vetted over 100 TED Talks and picked out the 17 that I believe send powerful and inspiring messages our kids desperately need.
So, whether your kid is 6 or 16, I hope you find something that inspires, moves, motivates and challenges them.
They’re short enough for young brains to stay engaged. While there is an 18 minute “rule” for TED talks, many of the most popular talks are 20+ minutes. Recently, as I toured middle schools for my daughters, one of the principals shared that a kid’s attention span is the kids age minus one. So, if you have an 11 year old, then 10 minutes is his/her attention span. You can’t expect him/her to listen to 18 minutes and stay focused the whole time. All of the talks highlighted below are under 15 minutes. Some are as short as three.
They all include life lessons I believe are important for today’s youth. For me, this meant searching for talks that would build confidence and self-esteem; help kids be true to themselves. Understand what makes a happy and successful life. How to dream big. To communicate, interact and treat others. Above all, these talks will help kids see that they are awesome and that anything is possible when they dream big and work hard.
They’re kid-friendly. You might think this is obvious, but I found many speakers share political views, curse, or share content or concepts that that could be scary or confusing for young minds. If you ask those around me, I’m probably a little overcautious about what I expose my kids too. I’m ok with that. They have plenty of time to see the darker side of the world as they age. I would be comfortable with my seven-year-old watching all of these.
They’re interesting. Kids need to be engaged, interested and motivated to even sit through a video. While this isn’t always easy to do, I’ve tried to find videos with likeable speakers, compelling topics and inspiring stories. And don’t worry, they’re not just for kids – these are awesome talks for adults as well.
Top 17 Ted Talks for kids
1. A Life Lesson From A Volunteer Firefighter (4:01)
I started with this one because all of my kids absolutely loved it. It’s an easy entry point for kids – short and sweet with a powerful message. (And what kid doesn’t like a firefighter?!)
Volunteer Firefighter and Activist Mark Bezos shares his story about how small things can make a big difference.
My 11-year-old’s key takeway? “It shows we don’t have to do something big to make a difference”.
Here’s a key piece of his message:
“In both my vocation at Robin Hood and my avocation as a volunteer firefighter, I am witness to acts of generosity and kindness on a monumental scale, but I’m also witness to acts of grace and courage on an individual basis. And you know what I’ve learned? They all matter.”
2. What Adults Can Learn From Kids (8:06)
One of my 11-year-olds was riveted by this one. In fact, at one point, I tried to increase the volume on the iPad while she kept pushing me out of the way so she didn’t miss anything.
Twelve-year-old Adora Svitak is incredible. This talk is inspiring not only because of what she says, but because of how incredible and confident this young girl is as she presents.
Here are some of my favorite excerpts from her talk:
“Kids don’t think about limitations…they just think about good ideas.” “Learning between grown-ups and kids should be reciprocal.” “When expectations are low, trust me, we (kids) will sink to them.”
3. Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection (8:50)
Recommended by several people when I was asking around, I found myself choking up in the first two minutes as Reshma shares her personal story about bravery in the face of failure.
“This is not a story about failure or resilience…it’s about bravery.”
She talks about our “bravery deficit”.
“When we teach girls to be brave, and we have a supportive network cheering them on, they will build incredible things.”
She shares one of my favorite philosophies: Progress, not perfection.
This is a great one for those who need a little more confidence to raise their hand, try out for that team, or face an upcoming challenge.
4. 10 Ways To Have a Better Conversation (11:30)
This is one of my all-time favorites. I’m becoming increasingly concerned about our kids’ ability to have a face-to-face conversation. Just look around at a restaurant and see how many kids have their faces in phones. One recent survey of managers said 46% of recent grads need to hone their communication skills.
As someone who spent many years earning a living helping people communicate better, I think this is necessary for every kid. It’s a lost art. A skill that is becoming extinct with the world of technology.
Radio Host Celeste Headlee provides great tips for how to have a better conversation, and, more importantly, how to listen.
At one point, she shares this thought written in the Atlantic by a high school teacher named Paul Barnewell.
“I came to realize that conversational competence might be the single most overlooked skill we fail to teach. Kids spend hours each day engaging with ideas and each other through screens, but rarely do they have an opportunity to hone their interpersonal communications skills. It might sound like a funny question, but we have to ask ourselves: Is there any 21st Century skill more important than being able to sustain coherent, confident conversation?”
My older daughters both really enjoyed this talk. They learned “how important it is to listen and to think about other people, not just yourself”.
My favorite line of all time: “There’s no reason to show you’re paying attention, if in fact, you are actually paying attention.”
This is a great one to share with your teenagers – even if you need to text them the link?
5. A Promising Test for Pancreatic Cancer… From A Teenager (10:46)
I just love this one. Jack shares his story, how as a teenager he searched for and found a promising cure for pancreatic cancer. Motivated by the death of a close family friend, Jack shows some of my favorite attributes: thinking, process, initiative, perseverance, determination, courage…and humor. He’s a fantastic speaker and will keep your kids interested and engaged.
One of my favorite quotes:
“You don’t have to be a professor with multiple degrees to have your ideas valued…Just imagine what you could do.”
“He did that all by himself?” One of my daughters asked at the end. Yep, he did. And you can, too.
6. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (6:09)
With three kids, I’m always driving a car full of kids somewhere. As I was researching for this article, during each of my rides, I took the opportunity to ask whoever was in the car about their recommendations. This talk was recommended by a 16-year-old high school student. (Thank you, Bella!) I had seen it before and was so glad she liked it as much as I did.
Angela Lee Duckworth left her consulting career and became a 7th grade math teacher in the New York public school system. She was fascinated by what helped students succeed. This talk is the story of what she found.
Here’s a quick preview:
“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint. “
Need another reason to share this with your kid? Angela highlights that kids with grit are more likely to graduate…and be successful in their chosen careers.
We all know how important grit and perseverance are; let’s help our children see that.
7. Dare To Dream Big (8:49)
With just over 22,000 views, this video hasn’t hit “mainstream” TED world yet, but Isabella Rose Taylor, a freshman in college and a working fashion designer, tells a fantastic story.
“Today I want to talk to you about dreams and stories.”
She shares one of my favorite stories about the 4-minute mile and how belief is such an important part of success.
“They didn’t all the sudden get faster or stronger, they just believed it was possible.”
The rest of her talk is filled with lessons on dreaming big, believing in yourself, courage, authenticity, and the importance of relationships.
“We should aim as high as possible and dream big.”
Yes. We. Should.
8. Yup, I built a nuclear fusion reactor (3:26)
Even the title shows the confidence that 17-year-old Nuclear Physicist Taylor Wilson has. As he says…and proves,
“Kids can really change the world.”
I love his passion and confidence. He started out with a dream and ended up meeting the President.
While this may not have any explicit life lessons, it’s incredibly interesting and fun to watch with kids. Approved by my 7-year-old, who said, “It was very interesting and I liked the pictures. I didn’t know an octopus could do that.”
The underlying lesson? For me, it shows how everything is incredible. When we look for beauty and awe, we will find it.
I also think it’s fascinating as Geologist David Gallow shares:
“And in a place where we thought no life at all, we find more life…there’s still 97 percent, and either that 97 percent is empty or just full of surprises.”
This teaches kids that there is so much in life and in their world to discover.
10. What Makes A Good Life? Lessons From the Longest Study on Happiness (12:40)
I’d say this talk is better for older kids. Robert Waldinger shares what makes a good life, from the longest study in history on happiness.
If your kids are having a hard time getting into it, head to 5:51 for the highlights:
“So what have we learned? What are the lessons that come from the tens of thousands of pages of information that we’ve generated on these lives? Well, the lessons aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
I love the focus on the importance of relationships and friendships.
11. The Happy Secret To Better Work (12:14)
Positive Psychologist Shawn Achor is funny, fast and witty. He begins his talk with an incredibly funny story about his sister and him when they were little.
He shares that:
“90 percent of your long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world. And if we change it, if we change our formula for happiness and success, we can change the way that we can then affect reality.”
If you want to get to the essence, head to 9:09 for his suggestions.
This is another one that’s probably best for older kids and teenagers.
12. Weird, or Just Different? (2:35)
The shortest talk on this list, Derek Sivers talks about the power of perspective. It teaches kids that we all have a different lens through which we see the world and we need to be aware of our assumptions and bias.
One of Derek’s thoughts:
There’s a saying that whatever true thing you can say about India, the opposite is also true. So, let’s never forget…that whatever brilliant ideas you have or hear, that the opposite may also be true.
My daughter’s thoughts: “It shows we can both be right.” YES.
13. Living Beyond Limits (9:44)
When I said earlier that I would let my 7-year-old watch all of these talks, this might be my one exception. Amy Purdy’s message is incredible but with an illness and near-death experience, it could be scary for little ones.
When she was just 19, Amy got bacterial meningitis and after a long fight for her life, she survived, but lost both legs below the knee. Now, a pro-snowboarder, she shows how “It’s believing in those dreams and facing our fears head-on that allows us to live our lives beyond our limits.”
“If your life was a book, and you were the author, how would you want your story to go?”
As my daughter and her friend watched this video, they loved Amy, were completely engaged by her story and got this lesson – “Don’t give up on our dreams just because something bad happens.”
14. 8 Secrets of Success (3:26)
In this short video, Analyst Richard St. John condenses a decade of research on success into three minutes. It’s a two-hour presentation he gives to high school students on what’s needed to be successful. Quick. Fast. Interesting with lots of great life lessons including serving, persisting, hard work and passion.
15. Nature. Beauty. Gratitude. (9:47)
The title says it all.
Filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg’s beautiful cinematic time lapse imagery is paired with words of perspective from a little girl and an elderly man about what makes life so beautiful.
It may feel slow for some kids, but contains a compelling and valuable message.
I loved when the little girl shared her perspective about why we should be exploring nature and not watching TV and when the elderly gentlemen shared these thoughts:
“You think this is just another day in your life? It’s not just another day. It’s the one day that is given to you today. It’s given to you. It’s a gift. It’s the only gift that you have right now, and the only appropriate response is gratefulness.”
Kids might also find it interesting why we say OMG. I did.
16. Why Some Of Us Don’t Have One True Calling (12:26)
This is a great talk, especially for high school students who are trying to figure out what to do with their life! In my coaching practice, this question still evokes a sense of stress, whether someone is going into high school, graduating from college, or in a mid-life career change.
Emilie’s powerful message:
If you have multiple dreams, goals and interests, “There’s nothing wrong with you. What you are, is a multipotentialite. Someone with many interests and creative pursuits.”
The statistics back up this concept. Studies have shown that only 27 percent of college grads have a job related to their major; the average person changes jobs 10-15 times during his or her career; and people change careers anywhere from 3-7 times over the course of their lifetime.
Emilie then goes on to share the skills and benefits of being a multipotentialite, complete with examples of successful individuals who have created a life that works for them.
My absolute favorite message from this talk is one that I’m deeply aligned with in my coaching practice:
“We should all be designing lives and careers that are aligned with how we’re wired… Embracing our inner wiring leads to a happier, more authentic life.”
17. How I Harnessed the Wind (5:52)
Incredible and inspiring. At the age of 14, William Kamkwamba, with very little education or resources, motivated by poverty and famine, created a windmill to power his family’s home. As he looked at his life, he felt that what he was living was a fate he couldn’t accept. So rather than live the life he was “destined” to live, he decided to change it.
Not only is this story about courage, drive and innovation, it will also help kids gain perspective about what others in the world are facing on a daily basis.
He closes with these words of wisdom:
“I would like to say something to all the people out there like me, to the Africans, and the poor who are struggling with your dreams. God bless. Maybe one day you will watch this on the Internet. I say to you, trust yourself and believe. Whatever happens, don’t give up.”
BONUS: I Think We All Need a Pep Talk (3:28)
Ok, so it’s not officially a TED Talk, but it was on their site and I just had to include it! Many of you have probably seen this Soul Pancake video before. I don’t need to say much. Just watch it.
Here are three of my favorite lines from 9-year old “Kid President”:
“We’re all on the same team.” “We were made to be awesome.” “Give the world a reason to dance, so get to it.”
Now What? Watch these with your kids!
Now that you’ve read through these options, it’s time to pick a few and watch them with your kid(s). I recommend you choose three that are relevant to your family, a situation your kid is in, a life lesson you feel is important for them to learn, or something that you’re just excited to share.
That’s the easy part. Now you have to get them to watch it!
Here are a few recommendations for sharing these with your kids:
1.Share your thoughts and a few W’s
Who is this talk about, why you think it’s important for them to watch and what you think they’ll find interesting. Get them hooked before they watch it. Giving them high-level context will not only get them interested, but get their minds primed for learning.
2. After you watch the video, have a discussion.
Not sure what to ask? Here are some ideas:
What did you think of the video?
What did you enjoy?
What do you think motivated this speaker to speak on this topic?
What did you learn?
What do you think you’ll do differently as a result of watching this?
3. Ask them to stick with it and be patient.
When I started testing these with my daughters, I could see in the first minute they were wondering if they really wanted to do this. I asked them to be patient, keep an open mind and stick with it. Once they got through the initial, “Ugh, Mom!”…. they enjoyed watching.
Lucky for you, the ones they couldn’t get through didn’t make this cut! Watch one (maybe two) at time. Stick with the age minus one rule.
I loved researching these talks, watching them with my kids and their friends, and hearing their thoughts and reactions. I hope they provide a great discussion for you and your family, some inspiration for your kids and something that moves, motivates and challenges you both.
I’d love to hear which of these resonated with you and your kids – and if you have other favorite TED talks you think would be great for kids, please let me know!