Learn how to enhance your productivity and motivation with these 15 TED Talks

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Maintaining motivation and productivity levels is an evergreen topic I like to write about from time to time, especially since this is something that many of us struggle with on a fairly regular basis.

With the constant hustle and bustle of everyday life, it is SO easy to get distracted or off-track. That’s why I thought that pointing you to some resources like the 15 TED talks you’ll learn about below can be a really helpful to develop lasting habits that help you become more effective.

Below you’ll learn about 15 excellent TED Talks that, in one way or another provide useful tips, information, and mindset shifts so you can enhance your productivity and motivation levels and start living your goal life.

That said, let’s take a look at the first talk…

Why you should define your fears instead of your goals

Watch the TED Talk here

Presenter: Tim Ferris

Run-time: 13:22

About the talk:

In this TED Talk, Tim Ferris shares his recipes for avoiding self-destructive and self-paralysis using stoicism, a means of mental toughness training aimed at helping people to thrive in high-stress environments and make better decisions.

The basic principle behind stoicism, according to Tim, is training yourself to separate that which you can control from that which you cannot control and then doing exercises that focus on what you can control. This decreases emotional reactivity, which can cause a lot of harm depending on the circumstances.

The specific exercise that changed Tim’s life was fear-setting, or defining your fears, which occurs as follows:

  • Practice visualizing, or writing down, the worst-case scenarios that you fear most, in as much detail as possible.
  • Next, figure out how you could prevent or decrease the likelihood of those scenarios happening.
  • Then, think about how you could repair the damage if the worst-case scenarios actually do happen.
  • The next phase is to think about what the benefits might be of attempting what you’re considering but are too afraid to do.
  • The last thing you should figure out is the cost of not taking action on whatever decision or action you are considering. If you avoid a certain action or decision, how might your life look in 6 months, 1 year, 5 years?

After completing this exercise, you might just realize that inaction is no longer an option because the positive impact greatly outweighs the negative impact.

The happy secret to better work

Watch the TED Talk here

Presenter: Shawn Achor

Run-time: 12:14

About the talk:

In this talk, Shawn talks about how if we study what is just average, we will remain average. But if we study that which is not average, maybe we can move what is “average” up, to something better, to something more positive.

Because it’s not necessarily our realities that shape us, but rather, it’s the lens that our brains use to view the world that shapes our realities. So if we can change the lens, we can change our happiness along with our business outcomes.

Many people assume that our external worlds predict our happiness levels. This isn’t necessarily true, though. The reality is that, if we know everything about someone’s external world, we can only predict about 10% of their long-term happiness.

Ninety percent of your long-term happiness is predicted not by your external world (for example, your job, your relationship status, etc.) but by the way your brain processes that world. So if you change your brain’s formula for happiness and success, you can change the way that your brain affects your reality.

For example, 75% of job success is predicted not by your IQ but by your optimism level, your social support, and your ability to see stress as a challenge instead of as a threat. However, most people operate according to the following formula for success: If I work harder, I’ll be more successful. And if I’m more successful, then I’ll be happier.

This is backward, though, because every time you achieve a success, your brain changes the line of where your marker for success lies. So you’re always in a state of striving for bigger and better. But the result of that is the goal of happiness gets pushed over the “cognitive horizon,” meaning happiness is never actually achieved.

So in order for you to be happier, you don’t need to first become more successful. Instead, you need to learn how to feel more positive in the present. Because when you feel more positive in the present, you experience a “happiness advantage,” involving a more positive-minded brain, which actually performs better than a brain that’s more negative or stressed.

A more positive-minded brain becomes better at…

  • Securing jobs
  • Keeping jobs
  • Being productive
  • Being resilient
  • Not burning out
  • Getting more sales.

So the formula for success should be reversed. When you make yourself happier in the present, you become more successful, as all of the learning centers in your brain get turned on and you become an overall better version of yourself.

Here’s how you can train your brain to think more positively (do everything on this list for 21 days in a row):

  • Write down three new things you’re grateful for each day
  • Journal about one positive experience that happened to you each day
  • Exercise each day
  • Meditate each day
  • Perform at least one random act of kindness each day, especially by sending one positive email praising or thanking someone in your social network.

How to save the world (or at least yourself) from bad meetings

Watch the TED Talk here

Presenter: David Grady

Run-time: 6:41

About the talk:

David says each and every day, our co-workers and other people in our lives steal from us… they steal our time. And we are all suffering from MAS (Mindless Accept Syndrome). For example, we might accept an invitation to a meeting that we know nothing about and that won’t benefit us at all. But we accept nonetheless because we were invited.

We need to stop doing this, though. We are not powerless, even if we think we are. So the takeaway here is to be more intentional about our time because we only have so much of it. So we need to start asking questions to make sure thing are good uses of our time before we mindlessly agree.

Inside the mind of a master procrastinator

Watch the TED Talk here

Presenter: Tim Urban

Run-time: 14:04

About the talk:  

When it comes to people who procrastinate, there are three characters at work in their brains…

  1. The rational decision-maker
  2. The instant gratification monkey
  3. And the panic monster (who comes out, scaring the monkey, very close to looming deadlines).

And as long as there are deadlines, the panic monster generally can kick a person who procrastinates into gear. However, there are two kinds of procrastination. When there are deadlines and when there are no deadlines. And when there are no deadlines, it’s another story. The procrastinator’s system doesn’t work as well because the panic monster doesn’t really come out anymore.

When there aren’t any deadlines, it’s totally up to you to be a self-starter, and the effects of procrastination are not contained and extend outward forever.

The effects of procrastination in this sense are that people become spectators at times in their own lives. They haven’t even been able to start chasing their dreams, never mind achieve them.

In reality, there really might not be such a thing as non-procrastinators, because we all do this to a certain extent in one way or another.

Everyone is procrastinating about something in life. So we all need to be aware of the instant gratification monkey in our lives.

How to gain control of your free time

Watch the TED Talk here

Presenter: Laura Vanderkam 

Run-time: 11:55

About the talk:

Laura opens with this quote, “We don’t build the lives we want by saving time.  We build the lives we want and then time saves itself.”

The things is, when you have to find time to do something (especially something unexpected), you can. Time is actually elastic. You can’t make more time. You can stretch time to accommodate what your priorities are.

You have to remember that every minute you spend is your choice. When people say they don’t have time, what they are pretty much always saying is it’s not a priority.

The way we spend our time is our choice (to an extent).

Try these exercises…

Pretend it’s the end of next year and you’re giving yourself a performance review and it’s been a really good year. What 3-5 things did you do that made the year so amazing professionally?

Then, write a holiday letter describing what 3-5 things you did that made the year so amazing personally?

Now, you have a list of 6-10 goals you have for the following year. Then, you need to break those goals down into actionable steps.

Then, you put everything that’s a priority to you into your schedule first. You do this by thinking about your week before you’re in it. A really time to do this is Friday afternoon.

Make yourself a three-category priority list…

  1. Career
  2. Relationships
  3. Self

There should be something in all three of these categories. And you should plan something for all three categories during each week. And if you do the math, you actually probably have a lot of spare time that you’re just not using—for example, breaks at work when you can meditate, bus commutes when you can read a good book.

You have to look at the whole of your time and see where you can fit in the good stuff that matters to you. Even if you’re super busy, you can make time for what matters as long as that’s what you’re focusing on.

How to make work-life balance work

Watch the TED Talk here

Presenter: Nigel Marsh 

Run-time: 9:58

About the talk:

In this talk, Nigel shares four observations about work-life balance:

One – You need an honest debate about this. Certain job and career choices are, at their core, incompatible with meaningfully engaging with your family and friends on a day-to-day basis. You need to be honest about the situation you’re in and find solutions that are realistic.

Two – You need to get to the truth. Governments and corporations aren’t going to take responsibility for your work-life balance. You need to keep the quality of your own life in your own hands. And you need to be responsible for setting and enforcing boundaries.

Three – You need to be careful about the timeframe that we use to judge our work-life balance. We need to elongate the timeframe so that you aren’t aspiring to have the perfect day each and every day, but you can’t elongate it so far that you’re saying things like, “I’ll get more balance once I retire,” because, at that point, it’s too late.

Four – You need to approach balance in a balanced way.  There are multiple parts to your life: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. And in order to be truly balanced, you have to tend to all of those areas. You need to remember that the small things matter. Being balanced doesn’t take a radical transformation.

The surprising habits of original thinkers

Watch the TED Talk here

Presenter: Adam Grant

Run-time: 15:25

About the talk:

Original thinkers are non-conformists. They have new ideas and they take action to bring those ideas to life. And what Adam discovered is there’s a sweet spot in between procrastination and precrastination where original thinking happens.

Moderate procrastinators tend to be more creative than both people who procrastinate heavily and people who consistently get things done ahead of schedule.

Because with the right amount of procrastination, you have time to consider alternate ideas and take creative risks. And sometimes, when you delay a task, you leave yourself open to new ideas flowing in and you’re freer to improvise. Procrastination can actually be a virtue for creativity.

Also, the concept of the first people to move on an idea having they advantage is actually a myth. It’s the people who improve on existing ideas who are actually less likely to fail. To be original, you don’t have to be first. You just have to be different and better.

Originals aren’t that different from the rest of us. They…

  • Feel fear
  • Feel doubt
  • Procrastinate
  • Have bad ideas

They just manage these things differently.

Original thinkers feel fear, but the key difference is they are more afraid of failing to try. Original thinkers feel doubt, but here are two different kinds of doubt:

  1. Self doubt – this is paralyzing and makes you freeze.
  2. Idea doubt – this is more energizing and motivates you to test and refine.

And the key to being original is changing your self-doubt to idea doubt. So instead of thinking things like “I am crap,” you instead think, “The first few tries are crap; I’m just not there yet.

You won’t get judged on your bad ideas. You need to speak up. Originals have lots of bad ideas. But they still try. The greatest originals are the ones who fail the most because that means they are trying the most. The more things you try, the more likely you are to come up with a winner. And sometimes, being quick to start but slow to finish can make you more creative in the end. You can also end up feeling more motivated when you doubt yourself sometimes.

How to succeed? Get more sleep

Watch the TED Talk here

Presenter: Arianna Huffington 

Run-time: 4:04

About the talk:

Basically, the simple answer to achieving a more productive and a more joyful life is sleep. She says, “The essence of leadership is being able to see the iceberg before it hits the Titanic.” In other words, you need to be able to see the bigger picture of your goals and personal lives. And if you aren’t getting enough sleep, this isn’t going to be possible.

Smart failure for a fast-changing world

Watch the TED Talk here

Presenter: Eddie Obeng

Run-time: 12:30

About the talk:

We solve many of the mistakes we made last year or whenever in the past without necessarily thinking about the future and what new challenges or problems may occur.

There are two ways you can fail in the today’s culture:

  1. You do something differently when you should have been following the proper protocol.
  2. You do something that’s never been done before and you get it completely wrong.

But failure shouldn’t necessarily automatically warrant a punishment. Sometimes, failure is “smart failure.” And it serves as a way of trying to adapt to an ever-evolving and ever-changing world.

So before just kind of blindly following protocol or established procedures, you need to ask yourself whether or not it really and truly makes sense for what you’re trying to achieve in your current and future circumstances.

The puzzle of motivation

Watch the TED Talk here

Presenter: Dan Pink 

Run-time: 18:33

About the talk:

This TED Talk reveals that providing external incentives, like monetary rewards, to complete tasks or work harder actually doesn’t really work in the modern age of business.

You would think that if want people to perform better, you would reward them. But that’s actually often not the case.
Incentivizing tasks can actually dull thinking and block creativity.

“There’s a mismatch between what business does and what science knows,” Dan says.

Rewards often narrow our focus and concentrate our minds. And while rewards can work well for tasks that have a simple set of rules and a fairly obvious solution, when it comes to tasks that require more creativity and outside-of-the-box thinking, rewards can actually make people focus too much so that it actually hinders their progress.

A much better approach for people in today’s business world is nurturing intrinsic motivation, which revolves around three elements:

  1. Autonomy – The urge to be independent
  2. Mastery – The urge to get better and better at something that matters to you
  3. Purpose – The urge to do what you’re doing in service of something bigger and more powerful than you

These three elements consistently work as much better motivators for people by increasing both productivity and creativity.

Why you will fail to have a great career

Watch the TED Talk here

Presenter: Larry Smith   

Run-time: 13:54

About the talk:

You need passion in your life, not just interests. You have to find the highest expression of your talent.

However, even if you find your passion, you are still likely to fail. And this is the reason why…

People often use human relations — their family and friends — as excuses, for example, saying something like they don’t have time to pursue their ideal job or career because they want to spend time with their friends or family.

And while spending time with friends and family is super important, you don’t want to use that as an excuse or as a way to mask the underlying issue, being that you are just too afraid to go for it.

You can have the whole package — being a great spouse, a great parent, a great friend and have a great career. You just have to not be afraid anymore and stop saying the phrase “If only I had…”

How to make stress your friend

Watch the TED Talk here

Presenter: Kelly McGonigal 

Run-time: 14:25

About the talk:

In this talk, the following question is posed: Can changing how you feel about stress change actually make you healthier in terms of changing how your body copes with stress?

According to Kelley, changing the way you view stress absolutely can make you healthier and thus better able to cope with your work-related and personal challenges.

Typical symptoms of stress often include elevated heart rate, sweating, anxiety, and feelings of pressure. But what if we reframed those symptoms and viewed them instead as ways that our bodies are energizing us and preparing us to face challenges.

When you start to rethink your stress responses as helpful to you, you can actually decrease your anxiety levels and make you feel more confident about handling tough situations. And when you start to think of stress in new ways, your body also believes you and starts responding to stress in a healthier way.

Moreover, stress makes you social, and being social and showing care and support can make you live longer by making you more resilient.

During stressful situations, oxytocin, which is also known as the cuddle hormone, gets released as a way of motivating you to seek support. “Your stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience. And that mechanism is human connection,” Kelly says. But one of the best parts is that the release of oxytocin also helps your heart heal faster from stress-induced damage.

So, in sum, learning to think about stress in a new, positive way and showing care and support for the people in your life can actually help you live a longer, healthier life.

How great leaders inspire action

Watch the TED Talk here

Presenter: Simon Sinek 

Run-time: 16:43

About the talk:

In this Ted talk, Simon discusses the concept of the golden circle, which contains the following rings: why, how, and what, and he explains why some businesses and leaders are so inspirational while others are not.

Why – This is the reason your business exists and why people should care about it.
How – This is your business’ unique selling proposition.
What – This is what your business does or what you have to offer.

Your business’ “why” is what is most important and what is going to inspire people to actually want to do business with you.

Simon says, “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it…The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe…And what you do serves as the proof of what you believe.”

As a business, you have to start with your “why” and lead with that. That’s the only way you’ll ever truly be inspirational and attract people who believe the same thing you believe, thus inciting a chain reaction of people who become interested in doing business with you.

Forget multitasking, try monotasking

Watch the TED Talk here

Presenter: Paolo Cardini

Run-time: 2:46

About the talk:

So many people multi-task. But the reality is, multi-tasking makes you less productive and it makes you miss out on just enjoying the moment you’re having. Switching back and forth from task to task takes up mental bandwidth.

So while you might feel like you’re being more productive by juggling multiple things, it’s actually taking you more time to complete each task as opposed to doing one thing at a time. So Paulo suggests mono-tasking over multi-tasking. You’ll save time and you’ll be able to enjoy the moment more.

Success is a continuous journey

Watch the TED Talk here

Presenter: Richard St. John 

Run-time: 3:48

About the talk:

Success isn’t a one-way street. For a lot of people, once they reach their goal, they think they can sit back and relax. But that’s not the case. You have to keep growing and learning and pushing yourself. Otherwise, you’ll fall back down the hill. Or, you might be outwardly successful, but on the inside, you may not feel as happy as you think you should.

You have to continuously do the things that brought you success and made you feel happy in the first place. Things like…

  • Having passion
  • Working hard
  • Focusing
  • Pushing
  • Generating new ideas
  • Improving
  • Serving
  • And persisting.

Don’t think of success as a linear progression. Think of it as being a circular and ongoing pursuit.

What do you think of these TED Talks? Are there any other talks on the subject that you particularly like that I in’t mention? If so, please leave a comment below and let me know.

Supercharge your productivity and motivation in your business and personal life with these 15 TED Talks

BONUS! Find this helpful? To download this post as a PDF, click here!

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