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Making decisions with integrity

Robbie Steinhouse

Robbie Steinhouse, author and founder of, on how to make decisions with integrity

Integrity and trustworthiness should be at the heart of the decisions we make.  However we can often fall short of these standards, not through deliberate choice but because we do not fully understand the psychology of deciding. In this piece I’d like to look at this psychology and provide some pointers to how we can make better decisions.

It is helpful to think of two decision makers at work in our mind. One is conscious, rational and deliberate: we sit down and ‘think’ a decision through, then make an aware decision. The other is unconscious and automatic.

Both, sadly, have their flaws. The rational mind is never quite as rational as we’d like it to be. Hidden behind its careful thinking are usually unquestioned assumptions.

One basic problem is our view of ourselves. Often people set unrealistically high standards for their behaviour, yet they know this is not really achievable – so they do nothing, stuck between what they think they ‘should’ be like and what they really want to do. Psychologists call this the Idealized Self, the person we would like to be, but will never fully become. Ask honestly what you actually want to do and whether doing so goes against any of your core values.

Values themselves can cause difficulty. Even if we are firm believers in integrity, what exactly do we mean by that? Does it mean transparency or ‘never selling out’?  Most other admirable-sounding values can be interpreted in subtly different ways. Truth, for example – is that never lying, or does it allow ‘white lies’ that stop people getting hurt? It’s not my job in this piece (or anywhere) to tell you what your values should be, simply to flag up that when making important decisions, you need to have a clear view of what these important words actually mean.

Prejudices and false beliefs can also interfere with clarity of thought. The gaming industry itself is often on the receiving end of these, so you should be in a good position to clear prejudice about others from your mind. 

So, the rational mind is at least partially a prisoner of unquestioned assumptions about self, our values and the world around us. What about the unconscious mind, then? Is it better just to go on gut feel? When playing games, this is the route we usually follow – but is it right for every decision? 

Once again, the system is imperfect. Research has shown that the unconscious mind suffers from built-in biases, that can damage the best-intentioned decision.

The best known one is Loss Aversion. Our unconscious mind, due to our survival instinct, is excessively biased to avoid risk. Faced with a decision, it may well give you an uncomfortable feeling. This can be confused with a sense that you are making a choice that is morally wrong. To unpick this, ask yourself which of your values the decision threatens to violate. If the answer is none, then the feeling is not actually conscience but Loss Aversion at work. Time to sit down and objectively think through if your planned course of action is worth the risk. 

There’s also a phenomenon called Cognitive Ease. This is the opposite of the excessive caution above. When we are in a good mood and something feels like a nice easy option, we can ‘go with the flow’ without really considering further. A significant decision needs more conscious thought, especially if values are involved.

Many people have an inner voice that says ‘I am not good enough’. This can be mistaken for conscience, but it is not. It’s just a piece of debris from childhood. Like an old record, it will just play and play, whatever course of action you take. Challenge it. At least, learn to sift out any positive purpose it has for you (such as protection). 

If this all sounds overcomplicated, take heart. Good decisions are made every day, by people who have thought through who they are and what they believe, and who understand the biases of their built-in, ‘unconscious’ mind. Such decisions aren’t just ‘based on’ integrity; they push it out into the world out there, making that world a better place.

Robbie Steinhouse’s Making Effective Decisions (published by Pearson Education in ebook) is now available to buy 


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