10 TED Talks to Help You Master the Art of Decision-Making You Can Watch From Home

Nadav Shemer
Master the Art of Decision Making

People aren’t born good or bad decision makers. Decision-making skills are something you can learn and improve, just like writing, speaking, or playing sports. Lots of great lectures have been given on the decision-making process. Here are our top 10:

  1. Sheena Iyengar, The Art of Choosing
  2. Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice
  3. Patrick McGinnis, How to Make Faster Decisions
  4. Dan Ariely, How to Change Your Behavior for the Better
  5. Bob Nease, How to Trick Yourself into Good Behavior
  6. Tom Griffiths, 3 Ways to Make Better Decisions – By Thinking Like a Computer
  7. Ruth Chang, How to Make Hard Choices
  8. Petter Johansson, Do You Really Know Why You Do What You Do?
  9. Sara Garofalo, The Psychology Behind Irrational Decisions
  10. David Asch, Why It’s so Hard to Make Healthy Decisions

Here’s all you need to know about each video, including what it’s about, the main points covered and what the defining message is.

1. Sheena Iyengar, The Art of Choosing

This is one of TED’s most-viewed talks on decision making. In it, Sheena Iyengar shares her ground-breaking research on how we make choices – and how we feel about the choices we make. 

Iyengar discusses three of the big assumptions people make – and the surprising problems associated with each one.

  • First assumption: If a choice affects you, then you should be the one to make it;
  • Second assumption: The more choices you have, the more likely you are to make the best choice;
  • Third assumption: You must never say no to choice.

Bottom line: In reality, many choices are between things that are not that much different. The value of choice depends on our ability to perceive differences between the options.

2. Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice

This talk complements psychologist Barry Schwartz’s best-selling book of the same name. The book gives practical tips on combating choice overload. The talk gives the background to Schwartz’s findings.

Through humorous examples from places like the supermarket and doctor’s office, Schwartz shows how having too much choice produces these negative effects.

  • It produces paralysis rather than liberation. With so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all;
  • It causes people to overthink the alternatives they reject, causing them to be less satisfied with the alternative they chose.

Bottom line: If you shatter a fishbowl so that everything is possible, you don’t have freedom and you don’t have satisfaction. Everybody needs a fishbowl.

3. Patrick McGinnis, How to Make Faster Decisions

Building on the findings of Schwartz and others, venture capitalist McGinnis shares the dangers of “FOBO” (fear of better options) and how to overcome it.

The crux of McGinnis’ talk is that with any decision you make, you first have to determine the stakes. When it comes down to it, there are only three types of decisions in life:

  • High-stakes decisions with long-term implications, like “which house should I buy" or "which job should I accept”;
  • Low-stakes decisions that have minor consequences, like booking a hotel or purchasing a printer;
  • No-stakes decisions that you won’t even remember in a few hours, like which show to watch on TV.

Bottom line: Once you’ve made your choice, one last challenge remains. You have to commit.

4. Dan Ariely, How to Change Your Behavior for the Better

In this popular talk, psychologist Dan Ariely explores why we made bad decisions even when we know we shouldn’t. He also presents a couple of strategies to trick ourselves into doing the right thing.

Taking a leaf from rocket science (yes, you read correctly), Ariely says behavioral change requires:

  • As little friction as possible. This means trying to understand what is slowing you down from making the right decision;
  • Energy (i.e. motivation). This means figuring out what incentives help you to make the right decision.

Bottom line: Our intuition often misleads us. By reducing friction and adding motivation, we can make better decisions.

5. Bob Nease, How to Trick Yourself into Good Behavior

You may have noticed that most behavioral research begins from the understanding that we naturally make bad decisions. Bob Nease picks up this theme and presents some tricks to align our good intentions with our actions.

Nease argues that we have two techniques we can use to trick our brain:

  • Make what is good as appealing as possible;
  • Make what is not good as unappealing as possible.

Bottom line: Behavior is mission-critical for the human endeavor, and it’s high time we embrace the limitations nature has imposed on us.

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6. Tom Griffiths, 3 Ways to Make Better Decisions – By Thinking Like a Computer

In an age when computers are learning to think like humans, it’s ironic that cognitive scientist Tom Griffiths asks us humans to think like computers. In this talk, Griffiths shows how we can apply the logic of computers to make better decisions – on everything from buying a home to choosing a restaurant.

Griffith’s takes us through the following strategies:

  • The 37% rule. For example, look at 37% of places on the property market, then make an offer on the next place you see that is better;
  • Explore-exploit. Make a decision about whether you're going to try something new (exploring, gathering information that you might be able to use in the future)  or whether you're going to go to a place that you already know is pretty good (exploiting the information that you've already gathered so far);
  • Keep those most recently used. If you’re about to make a decision, pull out the most recently used principle from your memory.

Bottom line: You can’t control outcomes, just processes. As long as you’ve used the best process, you’ve done the best that you can.

7. Ruth Chang, How to Make Hard Choices

Most of the talks on this list are by behavioral economists and cognitive scientists. This talk is a little different, coming from philosopher Ruth Chang. In it, she asks why some choices are so difficult – and what that means for the human condition.

Chang urges us to change the way we think about hard choices:

  • We shouldn’t think that all hard choices are big;
  • We shouldn’t think hard choices are hard because we’re stupid;
  • We shouldn’t think that hard choices are choices between equally good options.

Bottom line: Hard choices are not a curse but a godsend. It is here, in the space of hard choices, that we have the power to create reasons for ourselves to become the distinctive people that we are.  

8. Petter Johansson, Do You Really Know Why You Do What You Do?


Experimental psychologist Petter Johansson researches choice blindness – a phenomenon where we convince ourselves that we're getting what we want, even when we're not. In this talk, he shares experiments that aim to answer the question: Why do we do what we do? 

The experiments include:

  • Why people decide one face is more attractive than another;
  • Why people choose one political party over another

Bottom line: Know that you don't know yourself. Or at least not as well as you think you do.

9. Sara Garofalo, The Psychology Behind Irrational Decisions


In this short talk, Sara Garofalo summarizes much of the other research on decision making. She explains how to overcome cognitive bias that arises from heuristics, problem-solving approaches based on previous experience and intuition rather than careful analysis.

Bottom line: We can't just shut off our brain's heuristics, but we can learn to be aware of them

10. David Asch, Why It’s so Hard to Make Healthy Decisions

Ever wondered why we make poor decisions we know are bad for our health? In this talk, health policy expert David Asch explains how we can harness our irrationality to make better decisions – and improve our personal health decisions as well as the quality of our health care system.

Bottom line: When it comes to health care, understanding our irrationality is just another tool in our toolbox.

Nadav Shemer
Nadav Shemer specializes in business, tech, and energy, with a background in financial journalism, hi-tech and startups. He enjoys writing about the latest innovations in financial services and products.