Big or small, decisions aren’t as easy as they may seem.
Psychologists have found decision-making is fraught with hidden influences, tricky nuances, and the ability to make us happy in the short-term but unhappy in the long-term.
Some of my greatest insights into this aspect of human behaviour have come from TED talks, which break down research findings into their most digestible form.
Here are the talks that have changed how I make decisions.
Philosopher Ruth Chang's 2013 talk explains that people often struggle to choose between two equally good options that are 'on a par.'
People tend to view hard choices as burdens, but Chang would prefer we see them as blessings that grant us agency. Hard choices make us confront our desire to live in the city over the country, for example, or to eat a healthy breakfast over sugary cereal.
The takeaway: Whenever I face a hard choice, I celebrate it as a way to cement an aspect of my identity.
In 2013, UPenn psychologist Angela Duckworth presented the findings of her research on grit -- or the ability to keep trucking when life gets hard.
Duckworth has found across numerous fields that grit is the single-biggest indicator of personal and professional success, even more than IQ. And the best way to cultivate grit is to build a 'growth mindset' that sees circumstances are flexible, not rigid.
The takeaway: The moment when things start getting tough is the starting point for success, not a sign to call it quits.
In Barry Schwartz's 2005 talk, the Swarthmore College psychologist reviews research that says people are misled in thinking they should want as much choice as possible, whether it's the number of salad dressings at the supermarket or clothing styles at the mall.
It's actually possible to get worn out from making so many tiny choices throughout the day. It's called decision fatigue, and it can detract from the many important choices you need to make, whether at home or at work.
The takeaway: I limit my number of choices on purpose, because I know I'll be happier with my decision once I make it.
Behavioural economist Dan Ariely gave a talk in 2009 that suggests outside forces quietly nudge people toward certain outcomes over others.
A famous example is organ donation. Some countries have far higher rates simply because the form people fill out is opt-out, and people generally stick with the default option.
The takeaway: I do my best to take will power out of the equation by making the default option the healthiest, such as not buying junk food at the store rather than avoiding it in my cabinet every day.
UPenn psychologist Adam Grant remarked in 2016 that some of history's most original thinkers organised their time in interesting ways to achieve maximum creativity.
Specifically, Grant says people should put off their projects for a bit so they can let disparate ideas congeal into something original. It's not quite procrastination, because it's intentional, but it comes close.
The takeaway: If I want to solve a creative problem, the decision to leave and come back to it really does pay off.
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