5 TED Talks About Habits

Lately on my blog I’ve been talking about habits: how they are formed, what they help us accomplish, and how we can use them to find more success and happiness in our lives. For today’s article, I wanted to share some ideas from TED talk videos.

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a non-profit organization devoted to spreading new ideas around the world. In 18 minutes or less, speakers give brief but powerful talks about their innovative ideas.

These ideas can be regarding almost any topic: business, entertainment, global issues—you name it. If you have any questions regarding any topic, TED will most likely have the answers. In fact, TED talks can be helpful when it comes to the psychology of habit formation.

Whether you want to learn about how habits are formed or break a bad habit, TED talks are here to help.

#1: “Try Something New for 30 Days” by Matt Cutts (2011)

When this speaker was in a rut, he tried something new for 30 days. If you want something badly enough, it turns out that this is the perfect amount of time to form a habit. Inspired by Morgan Spurlock’s ideas, Cutts challenged himself to a variety of changes.

These include taking a picture every day for a month, writing every day for a month, biking to work every day for a month, and more. He also challenged himself to remove negative things from his life for a month, such as sugar and screen time.

The results are pretty incredible. He discovered that he had more self confidence. He also found that he was more careful with his time and was less likely to let his life pass him by. Cutts’ main idea is that if you start small, sustainable changes in your life, the results will be highly beneficial.

If there’s something you’ve always wanted to make into a habit, try it for 30 days. You won’t be disappointed.

#2: “Why Some People Find Exercise Harder Than Others” by Emily Balcetis (2014)

Balcetis is a social psychologist who is fascinated by why some people see the world one way, and why some people may see it in the exact opposite way. Everyone filters the world through their own perspective, but what makes things harder for some than others?

In this talk, she researched why the majority of Americans swear that they will hit the gym on New Year’s, but break this resolution by Valentine’s Day. She hypothesized that some people’s mind’s eye just see exercise as easier or more difficult than others.

Through her studies, she concluded our bodies and our minds work together to see how the world around us works. When she also measured participants’ motivation, she discovered that highly motivated people saw the finish line as much closer than unmotivated people.

She developed the idea of “Eyes on the Prize,” where people focus their attention on their goals. People who keep their eyes on the prize are more likely to see their goals as achievable than those who think of their goals as far beyond their reach.

#3: “A Simple Way to Break a Bad Habit” by Judson Brewer (2015)

Brewer is a psychiatrist and addiction expert. In this talk, he uses neuroscience and mindfulness to study why we partake in bad habits, and how we can break them.

First of all, he explains the three step process to forming a bad habit: trigger, response, reward. When you feel bad or anxious, you immediately want something that will help you feel better, like sweets or a cigarette. However, in the long term, these things are bad for us.

Of course, we aren’t doing this consciously. Remember, don’t be too hard on yourself. If our brain did all of its work consciously, then you would be reminding yourself to breathe right now.

Brewer’s main idea is that since we form these bad habits unconsciously, we need to start becoming more mindful of our actions.

If we really think through the harm that we are doing to our bodies, then we will not reach for that third piece of cake or that cigarette. In fact, one of the participants said that cigarettes now smell bad to her because she made herself more aware of what she was doing.

If you turn toward yourself and become interested in the way your body works, then you will be more likely to break your bad habit and replace it with a good one.

#4: “The Power of Forming Habits” by David Nevins (2016)

Although one common belief is that you are who you are inherently, that may not be 100% accurate. Actually, your brain chemistry is much more complicated than that.

According to research, it takes one to two months to truly develop a habit. Instead of forming abstract, possibly unrealistic goals such as “I’ll get more in shape” or “I’ll read more,” it’s important to establish more tangible habits.

This would mean saying “I’ll exercise for 45 minutes every day,” “I’ll drink 3 glasses of water every day,” “I’ll read for an hour a day,” and then slowly augmenting these small habits in order to reach your larger goals.

Although in the beginning, this change may not be visible, it is important to keep yourself motivated by staying focused on your larger goal.

#5: “Saving For Tomorrow, Tomorrow” by Shlomo Benartzi (2011)

Economist Shlomo Benartzi is the co-founder of Save More Tomorrow which is a program that works as an example of behavioral finance.

Questions of behavioral finance ask why do we insure our phones more than our lives? Why does the average American household spend over one thousand dollars a year on lottery tickets?

Benartzi wants to focus on how to help people form better money managing habits. First of all, we must understand that only half of Americans even have access to 401k plans. Another thing we must understand is that self control isn’t a problem in the future, it’s a problem in the present.

When you spend, you are instantly gratified. Spending is a lot more fun than saving. Saving is also a lot more difficult, since joining things like 401k plans can feel overwhelming and time consuming.

Benartzi’s program turns these problems into solutions by making sure that you save more tomorrow, as well as making joining 401k much easier.


Ultimately, mindfulness as a way to form better habits is a huge part of these TED talks. If you become more aware of the way you spend your time and money, then you will start to live the life you really want. If you become more aware of your bad habits, then you will be able to break them. Practicing mindfulness and watching TED talks are two ways to get ahead.

Which TED talk did you find the most helpful? Comment below!