Wisdom//

The 10 Most Meaningful Lessons You Can Learn From Watching TED Talks

They can help you fight your inner critic, reframe your failures, and boost your self-confidence.

GLENN CHAPMAN / Staff/ Getty Images
GLENN CHAPMAN / Staff/ Getty Images

There’s something incredibly powerful about learning something new in just a few minutes, and many TED Talks provide important insights about well-being from a range of speakers, each with unique experiences and stories to share. We’ve gathered some of their speakers’ most meaningful and actionable insights here, so you can discover smart tips on relieving stress, fighting your inner critic, reframing your failures, and more.

1. You can train your brain to see negative situations as positive ones

When something goes wrong, it’s normal to take that negative experience and hold onto it in your mind —  but according to social psychologist Alison Ledgerwood, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of California, Davis, you can actually train your brain to take those negative situations, and turn them into positive ones. She notes that with cognitive reframing and mindful self-talk, you can start to see the glass as half full, even when it feels half empty. 

2. “Defensive failure” holds us back from reaching our goals

In a TED Talk featuring Amanda Crowell, Ph.D., a cognitive psychologist and doctoral lecturer at Hunter College School of Education, Crowell explains how it’s human nature to hold yourself back from achieving things you are subconsciously afraid of failing at. In order to fight defensive failure, she says you have to hone in on why you want to reach your goals, and reframe how you see failure. “Your brain defends you against real failure by redirecting you and distracting you,” she says. “Defensive failure is a cycle.”

3. There’s a benefit to celebrating our failures

When we let ourselves fail, and embrace those failures, social psychologist Thomas Curran, Ph.D, explains that we can relieve ourselves from the stress of perfectionism. In his TED Talk, he discusses the idea of celebrating your flaws, and how doing so can make you feel happier, more confident, and more self-compassionate. “[We’re fed] this idea that there’s a perfectible life,” he explains. “If we want our young people to enjoy mental, emotional, and psychological health, we will invite them to celebrate the joys and the beauties of imperfection as a normal and natural part of everyday living.”

4. You can become more creative as you get older

Most people think of career progression as a linear track, but Albert-László Barabási, a physicist and network theorist, explains that you can reach your career peak at any age — and doing so comes down to eliminating the paradigm shifts that tell you that you are your most creative early on. Your academic age, for instance, differs from your physical age — and Barabási says the trajectory is not as linear as you think. “Success can come at any time,” he notes. “It could be your very first or very last paper of your career.” 

5. Improving your adaptability quotient can help you succeed

Change is inevitable at any job, and adapting to those shifts can be both stressful and challenging. In a talk given by tech investor Natalie Fratto, she presents the idea of an “adaptability quotient,” explaining that you can actually improve the way you adapt to changes over time, and doing so can make you more successful as more shifts come your way. “Adaptability itself is a form of intelligence, and each of us has the capacity to become more adaptable,” she adds. “Think of it like a muscle… It’s got to be exercised.”

6. You can use a breathing technique to fight your inner critic

A lot of experts offer cognitive tricks to silence your inner critic, but in a talk given by Theresa Byrne, a self-defense expert and fourth degree Master Black Belt, she offers physical cues that help you fight that voice of self-doubt. One in particular is a breathing technique where you pause for a three-second inhale when you feel overwhelmed by fear. She explains that in martial arts and in life, stopping to take a deep breath can automatically calm down your nervous system, and can combat the voice in your head. “Breathing is the antidote for adrenaline,” she notes. “Every one of us can afford to stop and take a three-second inhale.”

7. Most people ask questions in the wrong way

We’ve always been encouraged to ask questions at our jobs, but according to Danish philosopher Pia Lauritzen, Ph.D., it’s possible that you’ve been asking them all wrong. In her talk, she presents her research on the impact of questions, and explains that shifting the way you pose your queries can make you more successful, and improve your connections to those around you. She says that by thinking about factors such as whom you’re asking, what others are already asking, and how you’re positioning yourself, you can ask questions more mindfully, and receive answers that help you succeed.

8. Adopting an “actor’s mindset” can help you communicate

Whether you’re introducing yourself to new people at a networking event or leading a meeting at work, you likely don’t think of what you’re doing as performing — but according to Michael and Amy Port, a husband and wife team of trained actors turned speaking coaches, perhaps you should. In their talk, the duo explains that in any communicative situation, it can benefit you to adopt an “actor’s mindset,” where you prepare in advance, channel your nerves, and define your objective. Thinking like an actor can help you prepare better for conversations, and brace yourself for any in-the-moment “stage fright” that may arise.

9. Employee happiness is essential to success

Every leader has different ways of approaching company goals and success, but in a TED talk given by Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya, he explains that at his company, his focus is on happiness among staff members. “For me, the success of a company, the number one sign is the happiness of employees,” he explains. “Being shoulder-to-shoulder and seeing people, working with them, understanding their conditions, and understanding how they feel… is very much tied to the success of the business.” Ulukaya adds that employee happiness is the factor that has ignited Chobani’s success — and that fostering community is a crucial part of any company culture.

10. Replacing “sorry” with “thank you” can make you more confident

Apologizing has become a habitual part of conversation, but it can also backfire when it comes across as insecurity, Maja Jovanovic, Ph.D., an author and sociology professor, explains in her talk.  Jovanovic says over-apologizing can can harm your self-confidence, and instead, she suggests replacing “sorry” with “thank you” to help you come across as more self-assured. “If you’re beginning and ending your sentences with ‘I’m sorry,’ don’t be surprised if there’s nothing left of your confidence at the end of the day,” she adds. “Instead of saying, ‘Sorry for complaining’ or ‘Sorry for venting,’ you could just say, ‘Thank you for listening,’ ‘Thank you for being there,’ or ‘Thank you for being my friend.’”

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