“Our best evidence of what people truly feel and believe comes less from their words than from their deeds.

– Robert Cialdini

There is a science to how we make decisions.

We don’t always sift through each bit of information before coming to a decision.

In today’s information-loaded world, that would be too time-consuming, too mentally taxing.

And so, we rely on mental shortcuts to guide our decisions.

Psychologist and author Dr Robert Cialdini has identified seven principles upon which these shortcuts are based:


Principle #1: Reciprocation

According to this principle, a favour is met with a favour: if someone gives you something, you feel an obligation to give back something in return.

Look at this example: a person from an organization that seeks donations offers you a small gift (perhaps a little book, badge, or flower) and insists that you take it. It is only when you take it do they ask for a donation. Feeling obligated, you concede to the request for a donation.

Principle #2: Liking

This principle states that we are more likely to give in to the requests of the people we like, such as family and friends as well as people who:

  • are physically attractive
  • share the same interests and tastes as us
  • praise and compliment us.

Companies, for example, utilize this principle to sell their products to the public; they associate their products with people or things the public likes, anticipating that the public will come to like their products by association. Look no further than social media influencers and big-name athletes with endorsements deals to see this principle in action.

Principle #3: Social Proof

The Social Proof principle says that we decide what is correct based on what other people believe to be correct. Instead of exerting mental effort analysing every detail, we look to others for cues on how to model our behaviour, more so in uncertain or ambiguous situations.

Think about product and restaurant reviews you’ve seen online. We read them to ascertain whether a product or restaurant is – according to others who’ve tried them – ‘good’, and therefore worth the purchase or visit.

Principle #4: Authority

According to this principle, we tend to comply with the orders, requests, or recommendations that come from a recognized source of authority. We are so strongly inclined to obey those in positions of power or expertise – such as police officials, doctors, judges, and teachers – that we even respond to symbols of authority (titles and uniform/dress codes).

For example, if a (legitimate) police officer signals you to pull over or a (qualified) doctor prescribes a course of treatment, you are likely to do exactly as they say.

Principle #5: Scarcity

This principle states that we find things with limited availability more appealing or valuable than things that are abundant. The Scarcity principle is related to the concept of loss aversion – the tendency to avoid losing something because the pain of loss is perceived as being more powerful than the pleasure of gains.

Think back to when the pandemic first hit: sanitizers suddenly became limited, and thus more valuable.

Principle #6: Commitment and Consistency

According to this principle, once we commit to something, we stick with it. The principle works by forcing us to align our beliefs with an action we already committed to, to avoid conflicting beliefs or behaviours. And, once we make one small commitment, it becomes easier to make progressively larger commitments.

Have you ever signed up for a free trial only to invest in the full, interrupted use of a product once the trial period was up? That’s the principle of Commitment and Consistency at work!

Principle #7: Unity

This principle states that when we feel we belong to a group or community, we’re more likely to be influenced by it. Identifying a person as belonging to the same group as ourselves prompts us to work harder for that person’s well-being than we would for someone outside the group.

We tend to form ‘in-groups’ based on things like ethnicity; religious, political, and sports team affiliations; national loyalty; mutual enemies; and shared perspectives and emotions.

For example, if your religious group is opposed to watching a controversial movie that was recently released, you are less likely to watch the movie.


While mental shortcuts certainly help us make efficient decisions, they can be used by others to sway us into purchasing or believing something (even when that isn’t what we truly want).

The key to using mental shortcuts wisely (and resisting outside influence) is knowing your highest values and living by them.

Do you know what your highest values are?

Drop me an email at ilze@ilzealberts.com or send me a WhatsApp if you would love to discover what your highest values are and live a more authentic, inspired life.

We are, after all, our best selves when we live in congruence with what’s most important to us.

From my heart to yours,


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