Read the full transcript of entrepreneur Derek Sivers’ TEDx Talk presentation: The “Good Enough” Life Choice at TEDxTaipei 2012 conference. To learn more about the speaker, visit his website here.
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Derek Sivers – Writer, entrepreneur
Okay. I’m so excited to be in Taiwan. I’ve always wanted to come to Taiwan. And I would actually like to meet every single person here. So, in case I don’t get the time, I wanted to put my e-mail address up here so that everybody here can e-mail me and say hello.
The only thing is [Chinese language]. So, please e-mail me in French.
Okay, and next, I need the audience to do something for me. I need everybody to sing a long-low note. Go hummmmmmmm.
Little louder. Hummmmmm.
Okay, thank you.
So, to do a great talk in Taiwan, to live up to my excitement to be here, I’m going to talk about “The Meaning of Life.”
Are you ready to learn “the meaning of life?” I know the answer; are you ready?
Okay. What word do you think goes there? Life is what? Any ideas? Sound something? Anybody?
Okay, I’m going to propose a few ideas.
Let’s say that life is choice. Life is all about choice. We make a hundred little choices everyday. We make a hundred big choices in our life. And these little choices and the big choices we make change our entire life. They are what our life is our choices.
So if life is choice, how do you make good choices? Well here are some ideas.
Ignore Logic and Trust Emotion
First, learn to ignore logic and trust emotion. And what this means is, you know we have different parts of our brain, right? So, at the base of our brains, at the top of our spine is the ancient brain that we share in common with lizards and rabbits. And it’s called amygdala. So this emotional brain just stores instincts, fears, and gut feelings, right?
So at the front of our brain, we have the prefrontal cortex. That is a relative new development that handles logic, language and prediction, right? What’s interesting is that everything we learn gets processed through here and it’s processed but it’s permanently stored here as emotions. So we often like to think of ourselves as smart, rational beings, and whenever we have to make an important choice, we try to think it through very rationally. But the truth is that this thing in the front is pretty new, which is why a 5-dollar calculator is still better than this at math.
So the way that you make better choices in life is to understand this about your brain and understand that this gut-feeling is the culmination of everything you have ever learned in your life is stored as emotional gut reactions. And it’s been proven that people make better choices when they trust their gut-feeling on something that is usually more correct than when they try to over-think it and use their 5-dollar calculator brain.
Learn to Seek What is Only Good Enough
So next, how to make good choices: learn to seek what is only good enough. And what this means is in this modern world, we have more choices than ever. But if you try, because all of these choices, you try to make the best possible choice, and you drive yourself crazy trying to find the best option to do the best thing with your life to choose the best career, the best school, the best partner, then you’re going to make yourself miserable.
Whereas if you learn to understand this feeling of saying “this is good enough and I’m happy with this”, you actually make better choices and you feel better about it.
Learn to Embrace Limits
Next, learn to embrace limits. What this means is that every choice you have to make in life causes a little bit of pain. It’s a little tough when you have to make a choice. So while it’s true that we all need some choice in life, this doesn’t mean that more choice is better. So we find that we are actually happier when we let other people make some choices for us. This is why when you go to the doctor — say if you are very sick and you go to the doctor, you don’t want the doctor to say, “I don’t know, what do you want to do?”
You say “no, tell me what to do!”
And this is also part of the appeal of religion. That religion says “follow these rules.” And it’s been proven over history that people like having rules, being told what to do. It relieves some of that for us.
Learn to Choose What’s Important, Not Urgent
So lastly, learn to choose what’s important not urgent. What this means is that, you know, what is urgent are the SMS messages, the phone calls, the texts, and the e-mails. These things are urgent.
But what is important is perhaps spending 1,000 hours learning a new skill that will really help you in your career or your life.
Or what’s important is giving your full attention to your child, or your partner or even a potential new business relationship. And what is important is taking time to get outside and slowly eat a meal of real food. But none of these things will ever be urgent but these are important. That’s how to make better choices.
So, let’s say that life is choice. What do you think? Pretty good argument?
Okay. Everybody, I need you to sing the note again. Hummmmmm. Okay, next idea.
What if life is time? We can say life is all about time. The meaning of life is time because life is defined by the time between when you’re born and when you die. That’s what we call life. So, the meaning of life is time.
If true, how can you use time wisely? First is to remember that it’s limited. So imagine if you only have 1 hour with an old friend that you haven’t seen in a long time, you’ll make very good use of that 1 hour.
Or imagine that if you find out tonight that you’ve only got 1 year left to live, you’ll make the most of this last year that you have, more than if you think that your life is infinite. So you can use time more wisely if you always remember that it’s limited.
Next, it is important to be mostly future focused. What this means — future focused means the people that are always working towards the future. They floss their teeth, they practice hard, they exercise, they study, they are putting more importance on the future than the present moment. The problem is that the people who do this are usually more successful in life and even happier except it often comes at the expense of things that require a present focus such as family and relationships. The classic case, you know, the CEO who has been married 6 times. Very successful but doesn’t get any attention to the present moment.
So, it’s important to be somewhat present focused. That means giving your full attention to what you are doing right now and not always have your head in the future. But if you do this too much, then those are the people that are notoriously, like they forget to brush their teeth, they are not as healthy, their bank accounts are empty because they’re never thinking of the future.
So, it’s important to only be somewhat present-focused. And it’s important to be somewhat past-focused. Meaning to remember your past is to live twice. And if you keep your life in the context of your past, it means you remember where you are in life and also you realize that being able to re-interpret the past events that happened to you is a very powerful thing, because it teaches you that you can rewrite your upcoming future as well.
And lastly, the zone is what we call that state where you are completely lost in what you are doing. The state of flow. They found that people at the end of their life that were the happiest are the ones that have spent the most time in the state of flow in the zone, loving their work.
So, that’s how to use time wisely. What do you think? Pretty good argument that the meaning of life is time? Okay.
Back to the note everybody! Hummmmmmm.
Now sing the major third. Hummmmmmmm.