with greg layton

The Inner Chief is for leaders, professionals and small business owners who want to accelerate their career and growth. Our guest chiefs and gurus share powerful stories and strategies so you can have more purpose, influence and impact in your career.

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In this episode of The Inner Chief podcast, I speak to Nuala Walsh, Founder & CEO of MindEquity and author of “Tune In”, on the art of decision-making like a ninja, and learning to control your emotions and recognise your biases.

With over 30 years’ experience in FTSE-50 and Fortune 500 financial services firms, Nuala is Founder & CEO of MindEquity Consulting, as well as a Founding Director of the world’s first Global Association of Applied Behavioural Scientists. Prior to that, she was an award-winning Chief Marketing Officer at Standard Life Aberdeen, and has had previous executive roles with Merrill Lynch, BlackRock, and PA Consulting.

Today, she sits on multiple Advisory Boards including The British & Irish Lions Rugby Union, Basketball Ireland, and The Innocence Project, is President of The Harvard Club of Ireland, is Deputy Chair of The Football Association’s Inclusion Board, and is a Gender Taskforce Advisor at World Athletics.

Listed among the Top 100 Most Influential Women in Finance, she holds degrees in multiple disciplines including a Masters in Behavioural Science from the London School of Economics, a Masters in Business Studies; and a BA in Philosophy.

Nuala is a seasoned lecturer and keynote speaker, with her work on behavioural science research published and aired on the Harvard Business Review, TEDx, the Economist, the Telegraph, Forbes, BBC, and Fox Business.

In this episode we talk about:

✅  How choices shape your decision mindset and outcomes

✅  The 2 Systems of thinking and how to optimise them for decision-making scenarios

✅  What you can do to control your emotions such as regret and rage so as to de-risk bad decisions

✅  Recognising your biases, of which there are over 200, and

✅  Why not making a decision, is still a decision!

Connecting with Nuala Walsh

You can connect with Nuala via LinkedIn.

Books and resources

Similar Episodes on decision-making


“We live in this highly overstimulated world, people are rushing to judgement more than ever, people are feeling unheard, and the reality is, they are unheard, because we can't hear them, because we're too busy, too distracted.”


On environment versus choices

  • We are a product of everything we've learned, everybody we've met, the company we keep, the environment we work in, etc. So, people know that and get that pretty, pretty easily. But on the other hand, people then also like to think that, well, it's, it's, it's, I'm not a product of my circumstances. It's all about the decisions.
  • Do we have choice? Does the environment shape us or do we shape the environment? And well, before I went, I had a view that in actual fact, if you're a strong personality and you know where you're going and you're goal oriented, you can do anything. But there were lots of examples in life and we see that of how people's strong personalities do things. 
  • But when we spent a couple of weeks in Africa. As part of my first job, I actually realised that I was wrong. No matter how bright you are, how strong-willed you are, how much self-belief you have or how ambitious you are. But in many cases, sometimes the, the, your circumstances can overwhelm you.
  • The point that you can make choices. But you must make them in a, in a context specific, situation specific environment as well.
  • Maybe you can't choose to change your circumstances like some of the people that I did meet in Africa and other places, but you can change your attitude to wherever you are as well.
  • So there is something in there, this whole concept of having choice, being a good architect. of your own decisions. Empowering yourself to be a decision ninja. Fusing the voices that you listen to. Fusing the voices that you don't. Tuning out.
  • You are a product, you're a product of, your decision mindset, even though, of course, there are, there are circumstances that stop you doing certain things, but you do control what's in your mind and you do control your attitude to whatever, whatever decision scenario you're facing.

On decision science

  • It encompasses a number of different disciplines from neuroscience, behavioural science, psychology, and there's a very strong influence on social science and sociology.
  • People like what they can explain. We are pattern-seeking people and explanation hunting machines, if you like. And, we want to make sense of things. And, therefore, we don't appreciate that enough. There are so many different biases that the average person is susceptible to.
  • We make 35, 000 a day and 95 percent of those are actually made unconsciously.
  • Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, advocates something that's called System 1 and System 2. And basically, he suggests that you either make your decision in System 1 or System 2. System 1 is that automatic, intuitive, fast paced mode of thinking, and you do, you kind of use that for a routine decision. You drive, you wash your teeth, you make tea, you don't really think. And, and then system two, which is slower, deliberate, and analytical. Obviously that's something that you would use for a more complex decision, or an investment that you might be making or a political decision or whatever. And everybody, no matter who they are, no matter what age they are, no matter how successful they are, they tend to go to system one or system two problems. And they use system one – that fast, intuitive decision making – on areas where we should be using system two.
  • Obviously the conclusion will be well you must use systems. But system two is that you are equally prone to biases, you, but they're different biases. So you might be prone to the illusion of invulnerability within – you think nothing can go wrong, or you might have certainty bias, or you might neglect probability, or you might neglect probability. Keep escalating your commitment. Like in that hiring example, you just keep going and going, or you use confirmation bias to constantly confirm the original decision.

On controlling your emotions and state of being

  • What I try to focus on here is the positive and negative. So obviously we know it works both ways. So the rollercoaster reasoning that we undergo is phenomenal. You do have these fleeting hot and cold states.
  • This illogic voice just runs in our head. And in the moment, the judgement just gets completely over, overwritten. But the problem is that our most important decisions are made through this effective lens. And Yep The emotions of course have, they're potent, they're predictable and they're harmful. Now sometimes they're beneficial.
  • Rage is one that I, I focus on quite a lot because I think, I think it's one that's maybe underestimated, but regret is huge. Regret, there's so much, and it's a good lens to make decisions. I actually do apply what I call the regret test when I can't decide what's on there. So. If I was, any decision, I'm thinking, which will I, which will I regret more, doing the thing or not doing it?
  • The thing is to catch yourself doing it. And when you're doing it, ask yourself, why am I doing this? And it's what caused it. Who am I really trying to impress?
  • It has an instant, what they call an instant pooling effect, which I think can be really, really powerful for people.
  • If you calibrate your decisions before they happen. So in the, so before you conclude, basically if you pause, reflect on whatever it is you're doing, ask yourself a couple of these questions.
  • If you apply this regret test, it instantly cools your ardour (excitement), so you're not in a hot state. Suddenly It's on to the worst case scenario. So, if you're unsure and if you're deciding between options and you think what's the worst thing that can happen here?
  • Then you think, well, how likely, so you apply the probability test then. How probable or how likely is this to happen? In most cases, the worst case scenario is kind of unlikely.
  • If this terrible, terrible worst case scenario happens, what can I or my team or my company do about it? And if you have a solution. You might want the solution, but you have a solution. So you have a solution to this worst case scenario. You have, you have shrunk the consequentiality of your decisions.
  • It's really powerful because you've suddenly taken the emotion out of it. You have reduced the consequentiality. You're no longer as afraid of it. And that's why you don't make a decision because you're sitting in some state of. Paralysis and fear, and that's why you're procrastinating.
  • You can't go so far down the negative spiral that you become the size of a cat, make a decision. But equally, if you swing too far, right. To the domestic bias, naive optimism overconfidence. What you're doing is underweighting the risk. So it is a happy state. It is a balance there and that's why, that's why very simply people say consult others for decisions.

On not being distracted by outcomes

  • We decide whether a decision is a good decision based on the outcome.
  • No matter what, they will justify it. We will all justify our decisions. And there are a number of different moral mechanisms, if you like, mechanisms that people use to justify their decisions. And often it is, it is done to justify moral, immoral decisions. So people you, and, and they're called the Principles of Moral Disengagement.
  • In a negative scenario, people choose to reframe it, possibly even positively.
  • You judge decisions based on their outcome, usually. The salesperson has great sales in a company. Well, the company, the leaders are normally going to give them champagne rather than go, well, now, how exactly did you do that?
  • Leaders tuned out because it didn't suit them to hear there might be something wrong. And not to listen to those alarm bells.
  • The managers who are absolutely guilty and complicit by being bystanders in that particular situation.
  • If I asked you, Greg, who were the three people you go to for advice, you would pick three people who look like you, and three people who like you. And that, of course, is another trap. Because you're in that zone of we all go to what's familiar and similar rather than looking for differences.

On becoming a decision ninja

  • The decision ninja is a way to describe the end state. So, let’s say what you want to be is a good decision-maker. So, a decision ninja, someone who gets it more right than wrong. And that involves being intentional, being noticing what's said and what's not said.
  • What you have to do first is analyse where you're, where you, where, what are the biases that you're exposed to? So unless you, unless you appreciate first, what are the traps that you're falling into?
  • I've suggested that people introduce decision friction. But by decision friction, it's like the system two that we were talking about earlier, you deliberately interrupt your thought before forming a judgement. And it's simply adopting a series of prompts or new rules or nudges or questions like the ones that we were talking about earlier. Do that, interrupt your mode of thinking when you slow down. So you can't just slow down yourself if you're in a hot state. it's like a speed bump for your mind and the good news, Greg, is that you only need to do this temporarily to filter these negative voices or adverse voices during a hot stage. 

On not making a decision at all

  • People suffer a lot when they're making a decision, they can't make the decision, and they, and that is not a good state to be in when you're struggling, roughly just can't decide, because you're so torn with the consequences. You have disproportionately magnified consequences in your mind of X or Y. We do that. And that is, that is what's keeping you trapped in that zone of indecision. So, how do you make people more aware of that? I think they know. I think they know that no decision is a decision.
  • For example, the people who just say, well, let's defer that or let's put that off. It's very understandable why they do that, because in many cases, I think that there was a Harvard study that showed that. CEOs are 12 times more likely to get the top of job or individuals are more likely to become a CEO, rather, if they make, if they're, if they make quick, fast decisions. So, a fast decision in that case is rewarded rather than an accurate decision or a good decision.
  • Calling it out like you just have there, I think would be a very good way to do that. So that you bring it out there and make it comfortable for people to say, it's okay not to be able to make a decision.
  • Today, in a social media environment, your Twitter followers decide about some of your decisions, and some of your misjudgements and oh my goodness, You will be cancelled before you will be, before you will be complimented on anything. So it's a dangerous world from that perspective.

Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders 

  • Tune in to the voices that really matter, when it matters. So that you stand out and not lose out. 

Deal hope,