Some days, you just feel … blah.
It happens to all of us. It can be short-term, like when we’re exhausted or bored, or we’re embarking on a new project but have no idea where to start. Other times, it’s a little more long-term, like when we feel like we’re tapped out of good ideas, or stuck in our careers.
Where should you go from there?
In times like these, we all have our own coping mechanisms. But if what you need is some words of wisdom and a little motivation, check out the 10 TED talks below. We’ve curated some of the best TED talks for when you’re feeling down and out, stuck, unmotivated, or generally in need of a confidence boost. Check ’em out, and bookmark them for when you need a little encouragement. They could be just what you needed.
10 Inspiring TED Talks That’ll Boost Your Self-Confidence
1) “Success, Failure, & the Drive to Keep Creating” by Elizabeth Gilbert
Length: 7 min. 14 sec.
Before she authored the book Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert was an “unpublished young diner waitress,” devastated by rejection letters. And even after she published the book and it became a huge success, she found herself identifying strongly with her former self — and feeling the urge to quit the fame game and move to the country to raise corgis.
In this TED talk, Gilbert reflects on the strange and unlikely psychological connection between how we experience great failure and how we experience great success. She then offers simple (though hard) advice for making sure your creativity survives its own success.
2) “The Power of Believing You Can Improve” by Carol Dweck
Length: 10 min. 20 sec.
Carol Dweck starts her talk off with a short but powerful story about a high school in Chicago where students didn’t receive failing grades. Instead, they received the grade “Not Yet.” The grade implies that not passing the course doesn’t mean you’re going nowhere, but rather you’re on a learning curve.
Dweck uses this story to frame the rest of her TED talk, where she talks about her research on “growth mindset” — the idea that we can actually grow our brain’s capacity to learn and to solve problems. She talks about two different ways to approach a problem that’s just a little too hard for you to solve: Are you not smart enough to solve it … or have you just not solved it yet?
3) “How to Live Passionately — No Matter Your Age” by Isabel Allende
Length: 8 min. 16 sec.
I’m a long-time fan of Isabel Allende, author of (among other wonderful books) The House of Spirits. She’s 71 years old, but says she’s still 17. Hey, why let society decide when you’re old?
In her TED talk, she talks about how we all experience age differently. She talks about her fears as she gets older, and shares how she plans to keep living passionately. Through aging, she says she’s gained freedom — mainly, the freedom from having to prove things to people anymore.
“My body may be falling apart, but my brain is not, yet,” she says. “I love my brain. I feel lighter. I don’t carry grudges, ambition, vanity, none of the deadly sins that are not even worth the trouble. It’s great to let go. And I should have started sooner. “
4) “How to Build Your Creative Confidence” by David Kelley
Length: 11 min. 29 sec.
When have you, or others in your life, opted out of being creative? Many organizations divided people into categories: Either you’re a “creative,” or you’re not. But designer and educator David Kelley suggests that creativity is not limited to a chosen few.
In this TED talk, Kelley tells really interesting, touching stories from his legendary design career and his own life, and offers ways to build the confidence to create. He believes that when people gain this confidence, they start working on the things that are really important in their lives — and come up with more interesting ideas.
5) “The Day I Stood Up Alone” by Boniface Mwangi
Length: 7 min. 20 sec.
(Warning: NSFW. There are graphic images in this video.)
Boniface Mwangi is a photographer whose job was to document the horrific violence in his home country of Kenya — and watched as his government kept it silent. Finally, he made a plan to protest against the corruption: During a large public meeting where the Kenyan president was speaking, he and a few friends would stand up and heckle the president to get his attention.
But his friends never showed. “I was scared, but I knew very well that that particular day, I had to make a decision. Was I able to live as a coward, like everyone else, or was I going to make a stand?”
He says what he decided to do in that moment showed him who he truly was. As he says, “There are two most powerful days in your life. The day you are born, and the day you discover why.”
6) “How I Beat Stage Fright” by Joe Kowan
Length: 8 min. 3 sec.
Humans are fearful for a reason. It served us well as a species for thousands of years so we wouldn’t be killed off by predators. But, as Joe Kowan explains, it’s a little less wonderful when that same, visceral, body-hijacking sense of fear kicks in in front of 20 folk-music fans at an open mic night.
Kowan used to just write songs, but at some point, that wasn’t enough anymore. He had all these stories and ideas he wanted to share with people, but his stage fright was keeping him from doing it. The week of his 30th birthday, he decided to put that fear behind him, a process he describes in this talk.
7) “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are” by Amy Cuddy
Length: 20 min. 55 sec.
Body language can have profound effects on how others see us. We make sweeping judgments and inferences from body language, and those judgments can predict really meaningful life outcomes — like whom we hire or promote, whom we ask out on a date, and so on. But, even more importantly, body language can affect how we see ourselves.
Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy’s research on body language proves that we can actually change other people’s perceptions of us (and even our own body chemistry) simply by changing body positions. In this TED talk, Cuddy specifically talks about how “power posing” — i.e., standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisone levels in the brain. If we do it for even two minutes at a time, it can have profound positive impacts on how we feel and whether we succeed.
8) “The Game That Can Give You 10 Extra Years of Life” by Jane McGonigal
Length: 19 min. 23 sec.
Now here’s a wild story: Two years prior to giving this TED talk, game designer Jane McGonigal suffered a severe concussion and became bedridden and suicidal. Suicidal ideation is common following traumatic brain injuries, and hers became so bad that she began to fear for her life. At one point — and she says she’ll never forget this moment — she said to herself, “I’m either going to kill myself, or I’m going to turn this into a game.”
That was her ticket to getting better: turning it into a game. She dove into scientific research and created the healing game she called SuperBetter. In this moving talk, she explains how a game like hers can help boost resilience. (And she promises watching the talk will add 7 1/2 minutes to your life.)
9) “Where Does Creativity Hide?” by Amy Tan
Length: 22 min. 42 sec.
Where does creativity come from? Are some people born with it? Is creativity a function of some other neurological quirk, like psychosis or depression? Are some people equipped with certain skills that enable creativity, like artistic ability? Or is creativity developed mostly through experience?
You may know Amy Tan as the author of The Joy Luck Club, or one of her other well known books. In this TED talk, she dives into her own creative process and stories of her life that could lend a clue to where it comes from. She reminds us that, in our moments of doubt, even if there is an answer, there is uncertainty in everything — and that’s a good thing. In fact, that space where the uncertainty is can be the birthplace of creativity: She finds that by filling those holes with her own imagining, she can find particles of truth and discover new possibilities she’d never considered before.
10) “The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get” by Susan Colantuono
Length: 13 min. 57 sec.
Some people, Susan Colantuono included, believe that leadership manifests at every level of management. There’s a tremendous number of awesome leaders in middle management, and many of them are women. But for Colantuono, this raises the question: Why are there so many women stuck in the middle — even when they’re doing everything right at work and taking all the right advice?
In this TED talk, Colantuono shares a simple and surprising piece of advice. The talk’s aimed primarily at women, but there are universal takeaways in here for men, too, as well as for new graduates and mid-career workers.
Which TED talks would you add to this list? Share with us in the comments.