These 8 Ted Talks Will Change Your Life
Courtesy of Song of Style
Did you know that freedom of choice is often the enemy of happiness? Or that without disagreement, there can be no progress? Have you ever considered stress to be your friend? Or vulnerability to be your greatest asset? These are some of the radical questions asked in some of our favourite Ted Talks. We’ve dissected the revelations of our eight thought leaders to provide you with a bank of lifehacks. These invaluable lessons will transform your life by unlocking the keys to success, longevity, and happiness.
In her talk “Dare to Disagree,” management thinker Margaret Heffernan discusses how, even though we instinctively avoid conflict, it is actually a central component of progress. Alice Stewart, a doctor in Oxford who, in the 1950s, realised that x-rays given to pregnant women often caused miscarriages. For 25 years, Stewart fought to have her research appropriated into medical practice so that pregnant women would not endure the procedure. Her confidence came from knowing she right. And she knew she was right because of her statistician George Kneale. “My job is to prove Dr. Stewart wrong,” Kneale used to say. His job was to create conflict around her theories. Having a working relationship anchored by a thinking model of constructive conflict enabled Dr. Stewart to change medical history and save the lives of countless unborn children.
Unfortunately, as Heffernan points out, this model of constructive conflict works more easily when it is upheld in a one-to-one partnership. When an organisation is doing something wrong, individuals find it extremely difficult to be the whistleblower. As humans, we fear going against the grain. Heffernan references a study in which 85 percent of American and European executives acknowledged that they had issues or concerns at work that they were afraid to raise. The fact is, once one person raises a concern, others often either have been thinking the same thing, or agree with it once it is presented. The people working in organisations tend to call those who disagree with the consensus leaders, rather than outliers. They view conflict as thinking and are therefore not afraid of it. While open information systems are important, it takes courage for someone to use the information available to disagree with a consensus. However, it is disagreement that creates impacts and hones value.
Lifehack: Think of disagreement as learning and you will move the needle. Constructive conflict is a central component of progress.
Brené Brown has spent over a decade studying human vulnerability. As a Ph.D. researcher, Brown admits to finding her vocation because she had an interest in messy subjects but a yearning to make them neat and organised. Unfortunately, throughout the course of her vulnerability research, Brown realised that great joy, meaning, and true love only come to those who acknowledge and embrace their own messy vulnerability and the vulnerabilities of others.
As human beings, Brown articulates in her talk "The Power of Vulnerability," we have an intrinsic desire to feel connected. The one thing that keeps us from feeling connected is believing we are worthy of love and belonging. Through her research, Brown discovered that there was only one variable that separated the people who felt connected, those who had a strong sense of love and belonging, from those who struggled for that connection. Those with a sense of belonging believed they were worthy. They had the courage to be imperfect and the compassion to be kind to themselves. They were able to commit to unknown—to say “I love you” first, to start a company, to initiate sex. They were confident enough to embrace uncertainty and the possibility of being rejected because they saw their vulnerability as a strength, a beautiful strength.
Brown says, “You know who you are when you call your friends and say I think I need to see someone, do you have any recommendations?” You know because you’re willing to see your flaws and work on them. Those who numb vulnerability, numb everything. And when you’re numb, you can’t feel connected to anyone. Embrace vulnerability and you will create a sense of worthiness in yourself.
Lifehack: Acknowledge that you are good enough, but not perfect, and you will feel connected.
New York Times columnist and bestselling author David Brooks acknowledges two ways we think of success in his Ted Talk “Should You Live for Your Résumé…or Your Eulogy?” Résumé virtues, Brooks defines, are the skills you bring to the marketplace. They are the top university you went to, the analyst position you held at a top financial firm, the achievements you disclosed to prestigious business schools, and the Forbes 30 Under 30 label you accrue after achieving a professional success. Eulogy virtues, on the other hand, are the tenants of your character. They are the type of friend you are to others, the relationships you have with your family members, and the reliability you bring to your community. They are qualitative, not quantitative and they speak to what makes you unique as a person, not what qualifies you for a promotion. When you die, your eulogy virtues are what the world will miss and what will remain as your most potent legacy.
Brooks acknowledges that we live in a world that favours the success defined by our résumé virtues. But he concludes that true meaning and joy come from striving to embody virtues fit for our eulogy. While résumé virtues are built from your strengths, eulogy virtues are built from your weaknesses. It is how you wrestle with those weaknesses that builds your character.
Lifehack: Be cognisant of your résumé, but live for your eulogy.
When are you most productive? Is it in the wee hours of the morning? Perhaps late at night or on the weekends? Maybe it’s during your commute or as you let your mind wander when you work out. In his talk, “Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work,” Jason Fried acknowledges that most human beings’ most productive hours are never in the office between the hours of nine to five. Fired, a software engineer, says this is because the work day is shredded into a handful of “work moments.” Those precious 15 or 30-minute slices between mandatory meetings, follow-ups, and presentations where workers are allowed to actually get into deep work. Unfortunately, deep work, what we think of as real thinking, doesn’t happen in 15-minute interludes. It happens over long periods of time, i.e. those solitary early morning hours or late nights. It turns out work, like sleep, is phase-based. “There are five of them,” Fried outlines, “and in order to get to the really deep ones, the meaningful ones, you have to go through the early ones.” If you’re interrupted in those early ones, you don’t pick up from where you left off. You start over.
Fried identifies managers and meetings as the two most egregious interrupters of time in the office. They are the involuntary interruptions. Unlike television, a kitchen break, or checking your email (all of which are voluntary interruptions), these office imposed interruptions are out of your control. If you can’t work from home, advises Fried, try encouraging your office to opt for a silent afternoon or workday on a regular basis. “Four hours of quiet time at the office is incredibly valuable,” says Fried.
Lifehack: Swap “casual Fridays” for “silent Thursdays.” In other words, make an effort to give yourself four hours of uninterrupted work time at least once a week.
We’ve all heard it: sitting is the new smoking. But, in her Ted Talk “Got a Meeting? Take a Walk,” corporate director and author Nilofer Merchant gives us actionable steps to improve our mental and physical health, while maintaining productivity at work. The next time you have a one-on-one meeting, Merchant advises, ask if you can make it a walking meeting. Getting outside and on your feet doesn’t only add to your daily step count, it gives your meeting a jolt of creativity. “There’s this amazing thing about actually getting out of the box that lead to out-of-the-box thinking,” Merchant says. If you’re looking to reframe problems, whether it’s in governance, business, job creation, etc., walk the talk. The fresh air will drive fresh thinking and by walking with someone as you problem solve, you automatically orient yourselves to creating a doable, sustainable solution.
Lifehack: Make one-on-one meetings walking meetings.
In his Ted Talk, “The Surprising Science of Happiness,” Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert defines happiness in two ways: natural happiness and synthetic happiness. Natural happiness is what we feel when we get the outcome we hoped for. Synthetic happiness is the happiness we make when we don’t get what we want. Gilbert argues that while society has conditioned us to give less value to synthetic happiness, it has just as a great an impact—if not more—on our overall joy than natural happiness.
Synthetic happiness, he explains, is a by-product of our “psychological immune system.” Gilbert defines the psychological immune system as “a system of cognitive processes, largely non-conscious cognitive processes, that help [us] change [our] views of the world, so that [we] can feel better about the worlds in which [we] find [ourselves].” It turns out that some people create (or synthesize) happiness more easily than others. But conditions have an impact on happiness production as well. As humans we aim to put ourselves in situations that are flexible—where we have a choice to change the outcome. That’s why flexible plane tickets are far more expensive than those that are inflexible. In reality, Gilbert argues, our psychological immune systems work best when we are trapped. “Freedom to choose, to change and make up your mind, is the enemy of synthetic happiness,” he says. By limiting our choices, we make it easier to create our own happiness.
Lifehack: You can make your own happiness by limiting your choices.
In his Ted Talk, “How to Speak So That People Want to Listen,” sound consultant Julian Treasure reveals the four cornerstones of speaking so that people want to listen to you. First he reviews the seven deadly sins of speaking: gossip, judging, negativity, complaining, exaggeration, lying, and dogmatism. If you want your speech to be powerful and to really have an impact on the world, Treasure advises his listeners to think about the word “hail. Hail stands for Honest, Authenticity, Integrity, and Love. You must be true and clear in what you say. You must speak your true self. You must be your word. And you must be empathetic to the person you are speaking to.
Treasure doesn’t just reveal how to deliver valuable audio content, he also divulges secrets about how to deliver your message. Speak in prosody. Treasure defines prosody as “the sing-song, meta-language that we use in order to impart meaning.” It’s essentially the antithesis to monotone. Use Treasure’s six vocal warm-up exercises before an important talk or meeting and you will captivate your audience, whether it is a group of one or 100.
Lifehack: You can change the impact of your words by rehearsing six easy vocal exercises.
With nearly 11 million views, Kelly McGonigal’s talk “How to Make Stress Your Friend” is one of the most popular Ted Talks of all time. She addresses a condition that plagues most every human on the planet—stress. McGonigal reveals the shocking conclusion of a scientific study: “believing stress is bad for you” is the 15th largest cause of death in the US. Notice McGonigal didn’t say stress was the 15th largest cause of death, she said “believing stress is bad for you” is the 15th largest cause of death. This study prompted McGonigal, a health psychologist, to change the way she thought about and educated her patients about stress. Instead of recognising the symptoms of stress (i.e. heart pounding, faster breathing, breaking out into a sweat) as harmful, she thought about recognising those same physical changes as signs your body was energising itself to meet the challenge at hand. Another at Harvard University instructed its participants to think of stress in this positive way. The result? First, understand that a normal stress response causes your heart rate to go up and your blood vessels to constrict. That is why stress is often associated with cardiovascular disease. In the study, participants who viewed the physical symptoms of stress as helpful had a higher heart rate, but their blood vessels remained relaxed. McGonigal goes on to discuss other ways in which changing the way you think about stress can make you a happier, more competitive, and more confident human.
Lifehack: Think of stress as a sign of fitness, not weakness.
What's your favourite Ted Talk? Tell us in the comments below!