7 Best TED Talks on Mindfulness: Inspirational Discussions that May Change Your Life
The TED Talk platform has become popular for many reasons, one of which is their simple slogan: “Ideas Worth Spreading."
TED Talks are an inspiring way to open your mind to new ideas, with the fun twist of having professionals on a variety of subjects tell real stories and describe real situations that help inspire others.
TED Talks are also often entertaining and given by speakers with energetic and humorous personalities to keep the listeners paying attention and engaged in the subject.
Unlike traditional presentations, a TED Talk is meant to be challenging, and can help you think about a specific topic differently.
When the talk is over, you might feel enlightened and have a new mindset for how to live your life. This is especially evident when it comes to the habit of practicing mindfulness.
If you’re someone who is interested in living more in the present moment, then you should check out these seven TED Talks that cover mindfulness:
In this mindfulness TED talk, travel writer Pico Iyer explores the current truth behind Shakespeare's idea that it is our own thoughts that make an experience good or bad.
Because of this, Iyer demonstrates how, despite his love for travel, his favorite place to be is sitting still because this is where he can reflect on his experiences and truly learn from them.
Iyer tells his audience that you can change your life by changing your mind. He uses the example of houses being destroyed due to natural disasters.
While one person may believe that their life has been ruined and everything has been taken away from them, another may see it as a reason to have a fresh start in life. This goes to show that it is how one decides to interpret a situation that will make a difference in how they feel.
I found that the best way that I could develop more attentive and more appreciative eyes was, oddly, by going nowhere, just by sitting still.
- Pico Iyer
People often think that, in the hustle and bustle of today's society, you have to go everywhere to gain new experiences and discover new things—but sometimes it is best to go nowhere. Take a minute to sit still and listen to yourself thinking to find out if you are truly happy, and what is making you that way.
Iyer mentions how advances in time-saving technology are actually pushing us to seek out spaces to retreat, and that the very people who are creating new technology are at the forefront of the return to stillness. They “are the ones wisest about the need for limits."
Part of giving yourself that stillness is taking an Internet Sabbath, meaning you go completely offline for 24 to 48 hours each week. During this time, you can gather a sense of direction and proportion for your thoughts.
Use this time to take a step back to look at the bigger picture of your life. While technology has given us many great things over the years, it hasn't given us insight on the wisest way to use technology, so it is important to take breaks from it.
Do you ever take 10 minutes to do absolutely nothing? Puddicombe suggests taking 10 minutes out of every day to meditate and familiarize yourself with the present moment.
We are so distracted in our world that we are not living in the moment anymore, which leads to stress and overwhelmed feelings. People assume that this is just how life is these days, but that does not have to be the case.
Taking time for mindfulness is not only something that can relieve pressure from your mind at the moment, but can also act as a preventative measure for mental health.
We can't change every little thing that happens to us in life, but we can change the way that we experience it.
- Andy Puddicombe
If you teach yourself how to take mindfulness breaks, when you experience difficult emotions in the future, you will be able to cope with them more effectively.
Many assume that meditation and mindfulness are about stopping thoughts and having the ability to control one's mind, but they are more about taking a step back to look at passing thoughts with a relaxed mind.
This creates a balance that will let you allow your thoughts to come and go without getting too involved in judging or analyzing them. Instead of letting your thoughts distract you and cause anxiety, you can just acknowledge them.
It is a common saying that humans only use 10% of their brain capacity, but the truth is we are suffering from information overload. There is too much information being thrown at us in our society, and while we can use 100% of our brain capacity, we are given more than we can handle.
When this happens, we can choose what to pay attention to. So, as the "brain's boss," does our attention guide us well?
In this TED talk about mindful behavior, Amishi Jha calls us to “pay attention to our attention."
She makes the argument that your attention changes how you perceive situations, and stress and mind-wandering decrease your ability to pay attention.
With a mindfulness practice, you are able to tame your mind-wandering and let your attention be a trusted guide for your life. If you are able to train your brain to have more stable attention, you will have less brain fog and distractions.
Jha did a study to prove her ideas after hearing the story of captain Jeff Davis contemplating suicide while driving on a bridge after coming home from Iraq. She wanted to study how his distraction from driving and his wandering mind affected his perception of his life.
Pay attention to our attention.
- Amishi Jha
To do her study, Jha did brain wave recordings to see the impact that attention has on perception. She found that attention amplifies perception, making situations seem more dramatic than what they truly are.
She also found that stress has a powerful influence on attention, and people can generate their own mind-wandering and create stress, which can diminish the fragile power of attention.
With studies showing that we allow our minds to wander 50% of the time, it can be easy to see how mind-wandering can lead to human error.
This can be especially detrimental for professionals like soldiers, doctors, and judges, who have to pay attention at all times in order to avoid critical mistakes. To fix this problem, it is important to look at the opposite of a wandering mind, which is the practice of mindfulness and awareness.
Mindfulness training can protect your brain from stress, which is likely to negatively impact your attention.
The more mindfulness training you do, the more benefit you will have against future stress. This can ultimately help people transform their own attention, and allow their attention to be a trusted guide for their lives.
Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard teaches people that humanity will be able to prosper on Earth for the next 150,000 years if and only if people make serious changes.
Put simply, altruism is the wish that everyone can be happy and find the source of happiness. If people are able to take on the world’s greatest challenges with an altruistic mindset, they will ultimately be taking care of their own happiness.
Altruism is helpful for short- and long-term decision making in one's personal and professional lives. It can teach us how to grow qualitatively rather than quantitatively, meaning that the quality of our lives will improve rather than the amount of things we have in our lives increasing.
However complex politically, economically, scientifically the question of the environment is, it simply boils down to a question of altruism versus selfishness.
- Matthieu Ricard
Through mindfulness meditation, people can become more altruistic and create a world of individual and societal change. Studies have shown that it takes very little practice of caring mindfulness meditation to create a structural change in the brain from selfishness to altruism.
We face a lot of challenges in our everyday lives, but one of the main challenges of our time is how we can reconcile the economy in the short-term, the quality of life in the mid-term, and the environment for the long-term.
The truth is, if you have more consideration for other people, these will be reconciled automatically, making the world more altruistic.
Doing this involves enhancing the cooperation of people to work together, creating a sense of sustainable harmony, and practicing caring economics to create a healthy environment.
In this TED talk, design thinker Tristan Harris offers listeners a call to action to change the way technology is designed. While not exactly a "mindfulness" TED talk, the technology he talks about can be quite useful in creating a lifestyle that is more mindful.
Technology is currently designed to save people time, but in doing so, it also takes away people's ability to choose, and damages the quality of communication.
For example, when you send a message to someone, they receive it right away, distracting them from whatever they are working on and taking away their choice to become aware of the message or not.
As we steal each other's attention from the tasks at hand, we also take away productivity and add to the amount of time it takes for the recipient of the message to get back on track.
With technology that is designed in a different way, people can regain their right to choose where they want to focus their attention. This would help upgrade the goal of sending a message from getting the message off of our minds to creating high-quality communication between people.
We want to have a relationship with technology that gives us back choice about how we spend time with it, and we're going to need help from designers, because knowing this stuff doesn't help.
- Tristan Harris
Doing this would require company leaders to change their goals and priorities of new technology to creating net positive contributions to people's lives.
It would require designers to look at their responsibility of providing higher value to users, changing people's lives to be driven by time well spend rather than just time spent.
Finally, users need to create a demand for technology that gives us back the choice of how we are going to spend our time.
Matt Killingsworth, a happiness researcher, began studying happiness when he noticed that, over time, people have gained all of the material things we thought we needed to be happy, but we are still seeking out happiness.
To study this phenomenon, he designed an app called Track Your Happiness. This app prompts people throughout the day to report their happiness in real time. Through this app, Killingsworth discovered a few key insights into the root sources of happiness.
Mind-wandering very likely seems to be an actual cause, and not merely a consequence, of unhappiness.
- Matt Killingsworth
Killingsworth found that people are significantly less happy when their minds are on something other than the task at hand than when they are living in the present moment.
He concluded that much of our happiness comes down to the contents of our experiences, and one main factor involves our tendencies to focus on something other than the current moment. In other words, a wandering mind equals an unhappy mind.
When we start thinking about other things, our worries, anxieties, and regrets start to surface. But when we are able to put those things aside, our reported levels of happiness increase.
Brother David Steindl-Rast, a monk and scholar, says that the one thing that everyone has in common is the desire to be happy. According to him, the key to being happy is to be grateful.
You may have everything you need to be happy and still not feel joy. Alternatively, some who have great misfortune will still be happy because of their ability to be grateful.
The ability to be grateful is a valuable gift that is freely given to all people. When you live gratefully, you are able to be aware that every moment you are given is a gift. Because each moment holds its own opportunity, grateful living encompasses the idea of being thankful for each opportunity you are presented with.
If you think it's happiness that makes you grateful, think again. It's gratefulness that makes you happy.
- David Steindl-Rast
It is important to realize that every moment of life offers a chance to be thankful for the things we have, and an opportunity to enjoy them. A gift that you don't have a moment to enjoy doesn’t lead to gratitude. In other words, the chance to do something with these moments is the real gift.
To be grateful, people have to take the time to stop and look around them before moving forward.
Steindl-Rast says we need to "Stop. Look. Go." in order to give ourselves the opportunity to enjoy the moment and find gratitude. People often rush through life and don't slow down or stop to see what the present moment has to offer. This causes people to miss the opportunities they are given to be grateful.
It is a challenge to rise to occasions that come to us out of suffering or bad circumstances. While we do not have to be grateful for a personal loss, we can still be grateful for each moment we are given during that time to learn.
Add more mindfulness to your life
Hopefully these TED talks on mindfulness will be helpful as you add more self-awareness and joy to your daily life.