10 Potentially Life-Changing TED Talks

8 min read
Ted Talk

Ready for a change in your life but not sure how to get started? Tune in to these TED Talks to hear what the experts have to say when it comes to managing your time, dealing with stress, facing your fears, and more.

10. How to Make Stress Your Friend

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According to Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist, changing how you view stress can actually make you healthier. At least that’s what McGonigal discovered when she looked at the results of an eight-year study tracking the deaths of Americans. What the study showed is that of the 182,000 Americans who died prematurely, their cause of death was not due to stress but from a belief that stress was harmful to them. Those who believed stress was harmful to their health actually increased their risk of dying by 43 percent. Meanwhile, those who didn’t view stress as harmful had the lowest risk of dying–even when compared to people who had relatively little stress.

So, how does all this help you make stress your friend? Well, it goes like this: “When you change your mind about stress, you can change your body’s response to stress,” McGonigal said. Typically, when you’re stressed, your blood vessels constrict and your heart rate increases. For this reason chronic stress is often associated with heart disease. But, according to another study–conducted at Harvard University—when participants viewed their stress response as helpful, their blood vessels stayed relaxed. And, even though their heart rate increased, it was more like in situations where we experience joy. In other words, it was a much healthier cardiovascular profile. “Over a lifetime of stressful experiences, this one biological change could be the difference between a stress-induced heart attack at age 50 and living well into your 90s,” McGonigcal concluded.

9. How to Gain Control of Your Free Time

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Writer, author and speaker Laura Vanderkam says that the key to time management is remembering that time is a choice. Whenever you say you don’t have time to do something, it often just means you don’t see that particular task as a priority. To make the most of your free time, then, you must first look at “the whole of one’s time and seeing where the good stuff can go,” Vanderkam said in her TED Talk. “Even if we are busy, we have time for what matters. And when we focus on what matters, we can build the lives we want in the time we’ve got.”

8. Turning Fear Into Fuel For Brilliance

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According to entrepreneur, blogger, business consultant, speaker and author Jonathan Fields, uncertainty, a.k.a. fear, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, embracing uncertainty is what made him ditch his lawyer gig and focus on pursuing his dreams. Fields says that when we’re faced with uncertainty, instead of running from it we should accept it and then train our minds to handle it properly. One way we can do this is by putting our fears aside for awhile and doing things that help refuel our brains. This can include meditating, napping, eating, exercising, or listening to music. “When you do this, you’ll likely find yourself doing better work and becoming more creative and innovative with less effort and a lot less fear and anxiety,” Fields told Forbes magazine.

Here’s another option: creating certainty anchors. Certainty anchors are elements of your life that you can make routine. At work, it could be something as simple as working at the same time every day. It could also be something as simple as having a specific spot for your office supplies so you know exactly where everything is. In your personal life, you could try eating the same foods at the same time every day or doing your laundry the same way each time. “It seems a bit silly, but when you build a high degree of certainty around a lot of seemingly insignificant work and lifestyle activities, you drop certainty anchors… that tether you to the ground and allow you to float higher, to go to that place where you have to take risks, act in the face of the unknown, and know that you can always return to the relative certainty of those basic things in life,” Fields told Forbes.

7. Can You Change For The Better In Just 30 Days?

30 Day Challenge
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Former Google engineer Matt Cutts gives himself a new challenge every 30 days. According to Cutts, that’s just the right amount of time for you to develop a passion/hobby or simply just add some spice to your life. If you’ve ever wanted to fulfill some lifelong dream, give it a try for a month, he suggests. Not only will you be surprised at how much of a difference it’ll make in your life, you’ll also find that the time spent trying something new will be more memorable than if you were to just go about your regular day-to-day routine. Plus, successfully completing these 30-day challenges can serve as a self-confidence booster as well.

6. The Fringe Benefits of Failure

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In this TED Talk, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling talks about how failure helps you to focus on who you really are at the core. She goes on to say that if she hadn’t failed at her other endeavors, she might not have found the drive to succeed in the one area she always felt was her calling. “Failure gave me an inner security… failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way,” she told Harvard Magazine. And, you’ll never know your true strength until it has been tested, she added.

5. How to Find the Person Who Can Help You Get Ahead at Work

Ladder Of Success
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According to Wall Street banker Carla Harris, the way to get ahead at work is not “by putting your head down and working hard,” although that will definitely help. Instead, it’s by knowing the right people who can help you get your foot in the door. And, who are the right people? Sponsors. As Harris puts it, all evaluative processes (e.g. academia, health care, financial services, etc.) have a human element. Your sponsor, then, is going to be the person who not only has your best interest at heart but also has the power to get things done for you.

That being said, the next logical question that comes to mind is, “How exactly do I get a sponsor?” The answer is: You build relationships with influential people by connecting, engaging and interacting with them. That way, when you finally decide to ask them to be your sponsor, they’ll be more likely to say “yes.”

4. Three Ways to Plan for the (Very) Long Term

Plan Ahead
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American futurist Ari Wallach points out the dangers of “short-termism,” as he coins it. According to Wallach, short-termism prevents us from doing so many things, especially when it comes to major issues. That’s why the I-35W bridge collapse happened–because Congress was too focused on the short-term to put money into a real infrastructure bill, Wallach said. What we need to remember is that we must treat the word “future” as a verb rather than a noun. “It requires action. It requires us to push into it. It’s not this thing that washes over us. It’s something that we actually have total control over,” he said.

3. Why the Best Hire Might Not Have the Perfect Resume

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This TED Talk is not only something hiring managers can benefit from, but job seekers can benefit from it as well. When it comes to hiring employees, Regina Hartley, VP of HR supporting IT and Engineering for UPS, says that companies should stop overlooking the “scrappers.” So, what exactly does she mean by scrappers? Well, scrappers are the applicants who are just as qualified as the applicants who attend Ivy League schools and come highly recommended, yet their resume is lacking, so to speak, due to job hopping and the fact that they obtained a degree from a state school.

Another fact about scrappers is that many of them experienced hardships–poverty, abandonment, violence, alcoholism, learning disabilities, etc.–early in life. And, while most people think these kinds of events lead only to distress, studies show that these circumstances sometimes lead to growth and transformation. As a result, “scrappers are propelled by the belief that the only person you have full control over is yourself. When things don’t turn out well, Scrappers ask, ‘What can I do differently to create a better result?’ Scrappers have a sense of purpose that prevents them from giving up on themselves, kind of like if you’ve survived poverty, a crazy father and several muggings, you figure, ‘Business challenges? Really? Piece of cake. I got this’,” Hartley said.

FUN FACT: Steve Jobs was a scrapper. He was given up for adoption, went to college but didn’t finish, would often job hop, and had dyslexia. Yet, he was an amazingly successful businessman and entrepreneur.

2. Why Do We Sleep?

Sleeping In School
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In his TED Talk titled Why Do We Sleep?, circadian neuroscientist Russell Foster focuses on the effects of sleep deprivation. One sector of society he spotlighted was teenagers and how they are more sleep-deprived than other people. “They need nine hours for full brain performance, and many of them, on a school night, are only getting five hours of sleep,” Foster said. Perhaps that’s why major medical organizations along with TED speaker Wendy Troxel believe that middle and high schools should not start before 8:30 a.m. Sleep deprivation among teenagers is a serious public policy issue, and starting school before 8:30 a.m. could severely impact their health, Troxel said. That’s because “around the time of puberty, teenagers experience a delay in their biological clock, which determines when we feel most awake and when we feel most sleepy. This is driven in part by a shift in the release of the hormone melatonin. Teenagers’ bodies wait to start releasing melatonin until around 11:00 p.m., which is two hours later than what we see in adults or younger children. This means that waking a teenager up at 6:00 a.m. is the biological equivalent of waking an adult up at 4:00 a.m.,” Troxel added. And, if any of you have had to wake up at 4:00 in the morning, you know how hard it is to focus the rest of the day, Troxel said.

1. Prepare Our Kids for Life, Not Standardized Tests

Life Skills
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Author and education change agent Ted Dintersmith says that not only are standardized tests obsolete, they “really don’t tell us much about the potential of kids… they really don’t foster the types of skill sets and mindsets that kids are going to need going forward.” He then goes on to say that schools should assess (i.e. find out each child’s individual strengths) rather than measure (i.e. giving state-mandated tests) what is and isn’t working in the classroom. “It’s not so much smart versus not smart. It’s more: How do you engage with the world around you with what you’re hearing? Are you actively encouraged to generate your own thought-provoking questions, or are you valued and rewarded as a student for memorizing the content and saying it back? And too often in schools, it’s the latter, the memorize and say back,” Dintersmith concluded.


Do you watch TED Talks? Tell us which ones you’ve viewed and how they’ve impacted your life.