How many times do you find yourself in situations when you feel like your heart is telling you one thing while your brain is telling you something completely different?
For me, this used to happen WAY more often than I liked and when it did, I hated the angst that came along with not knowing which direction to go.
Why does this happen? How can our internal guidance system get so out of sync with itself? How can our brain, gut and heart all be telling us different things and trying to send us off in totally different directions?
My personal experience with this phenomenon and the research that I’ve done on the subject, have taught me that they’re not…not really.
Even though the seeming discord between our heart, gut and head can leave us feeling torn, confused and unsure as to what to do; I have come to the conclusion that this is all just an illusion and that the problem lies not in not knowing what to do, but in not trusting what we know. It may seem like our heart, gut and head are all sending us different messages, but in truth, when we look deeper; they are simply sending different kinds of data to support that which we really do (deep down) know to be true.
When I talk about the heart, gut and brain, I am actually talking about our passions (heart), intuition (gut) and logic (brain). Three elements that together, combine to make up our internal navigation system. A system that really is working in harmony to direct us toward our most FabYOUlous life–even when it appears that the three elements are acting in direct opposition to each other.
First, let’s take a look at our heart which represents those things in life that we are most passionate about. Our families and our relationship with our significant other can certainly be things that we are passionate about but so can our hobbies, our dreams and–if we are very, very lucky–our professional vocation. Anything that brings delight, gives us a sense of purpose, is energizing rather than exhausting and causes such a state of flow that we lose track of time, can fall into this category. In short, our passions are those things that we just can’t stop thinking about and that we don’t want to stop thinking about because they make us feel alive and excited about the future.
Next is our gut which is representative of our personal intuition–hence the notion behind the saying “having a gut feeling”. Intuition is a bit more nebulous and difficult to pin down than our passions, but is nonetheless, incredibly important in helping us to navigate the often treacherous waters on the way to our most FabYOUlous life.
Intuition is a knowing that is built upon one’s (often subconscious) capacity to read signals, patterns and clues based upon past experience. It is a form of unconscious reasoning that is rooted in the way our brains collect and store information.
While many people attribute spiritual nuances to the phenomenon of intuition (and I don’t have enough evidence to refute these claims so I can’t discount their validity), there is a lot of real science behind these “gut feelings”. As you gather knowledge–whether it’s about what kind of music your boyfriend likes or how to create a website–your brain will begin to recognize patterns and then begin to unconsciously organize these patterns into blocks of information. This process was dubbed “chunking” by the late social scientist, Herbert Simon, PhD. As time goes on, your brain chunks and links more and more patterns together and then stores these clusters of data in your long-term memory. Then; when you see a tiny detail of a familiar pattern, you instantly (though usually subconsciously) recognize the larger composition. That mental recognition is commonly regarded as a flash of intuition.
The third element of our internal navigation system is our brain which (logically) represents our sense of logic and reasoning. These are the hard and fast, tried and tested facts that we know to be true. We know that the square root of 9 is 3 and that we will get burned if we touch a hot stove. We don’t have to spend a lot of time analyzing this data or testing these hypotheses; our brain represents all of the things that we know that we know.
Life is such a piece of cake when all of these elements–our heart, gut and brain/passions, intuition and logic–are working in concert with each other. But what about those times when they aren’t; or at least seemingly aren’t? What about the times when your heart tells you that your latest online dating match is the one, but your gut tells you to keep your profile active and your brain tells you to not even bother with the date and to just adopt another cat instead (because duh–cats are awesome and the last cat you adopted never made you cry or doubt your self-worth)? What are we supposed to do when faced with such contradictory feedback from our internal navigation system?
There are those out there who preach that we should ignore the facts and follow our heart, while others want “just the facts ma’am”. We also run into those who tell us to listen to our intuition while others say that intuition is nothing more than a bunch of new-age hooey.
How on earth are we supposed to make any sense of this?
The answer to this conundrum is to gather the feedback from all three elements, analyze the feedback by asking “why is my head/heart/gut telling me this?” and then putting the puzzle pieces together in a way that is not contradictory. It might sound like a complicated process but I’ve personally worked through it enough times now to know that it isn’t as difficult as it sounds and that it really is possible to bring each element into harmony with the others.
The decision making process that works most effectively for me follows these steps…
1.) Figure out what decision needs to be made and explore alternate possibilities. For example, if you are debating about whether or not you should look for a new job; be sure to consider a variety of options such as staying at your current job but seeking out a mentor in a higher position, or, looking for ways to start your own business, or, exploring career paths in a completely unrelated industry. Let your mind roam free and come up with as many possible alternatives as possible.
2.) Let the monkey out to play. Sometimes I tend to lose control of my thoughts and every time this happens I refer to my state of being as “monkey mind.” I start recalling every past mistake I’ve ever made, every worry that manifested in real life and every possible reason as to why my potential plans will most definitely fail…all of them.
The only effective way that I’ve found to deal with this obnoxious monkey is to let him chatter away until he runs out of steam. If you try to shut the monkey up, he’ll just get louder and louder until he’s screaming in your brain. Rather than letting that happen, let him have the time and space to do his chattering. Write down the thoughts (both good and bad) that he flings at you. Don’t dwell on the thoughts that come to mind, just acknowledge them, write them down and move on. Eventually, the monkey will pipe down and you’ll be able to think rationally again.
3.) Walk away and breathe. This is often the most difficult step for me, and yet it is probably the most important. In order to really tap into the power of your internal guidance system, it is important to take a little time to back away from the issue. Go for a walk, say a prayer, meditate, listen to some death metal if that’s your thing (it’s kinda my thing, so no judgement here)–just do your best to not think about the problem/decision/issue. Let the dust settle a bit on your emotions so that you can come back to the situation later, with less attachment and less angst.
4.) Try on the scenarios to see how they feel. This part of the process involves exploring each possible option that you are being faced with and seeing how your body responds. If you are thinking about changing jobs, do your fists clench? Does your heart race? Do you notice a knot in your stomach? Or, maybe the opposite is true; do you feel lighter? Does the tension that you’ve felt in your shoulders for a month suddenly disappear? The clues in your body may be subtle, but if you look for them, you’ll almost always find them. At this stage of the game, you don’t necessarily want to try to apply any meaning to what you’re feeling, you just want to notice your feelings. Our hearts tend to speak to us through our bodies, so being in tune with your body is one way to gain better clarity when faced with major decisions. Again, don’t try to read any meaning into what you’re feeling–just allow the feelings and sensations to happen and make note of them.
5.) Start a convo with your feelings. Okay–you don’t really have to talk to yourself here (though I sometimes do) but it is time to start making a few inquiries into your feelings. Imagine that each of the physical sensations from the previous step is another person. Ask the “person” what it is that they are trying to convey to you. Are your fists clenched out of anger because you feel overlooked and disrespected at your current job or are they clenched out of a fear of the unknown with a new job? As you ask these questions, make note of the direction of your thoughts and any intuitive “nudges” that pop up.
6.) Do a value check. What are your most cherished values in life? Connection? Freedom? Security? Spontaneity? Once you know your values, try viewing each possible outcome through the values lens. Maybe the clenched fist that you noticed when thinking about a new job is because the new job is in a town that is two hours away from home and though it would pay more, it would also be in conflict with the value that you place in connection to family.
7.) Make a decision. Throughout this entire process, you’ve been gathering data from you heart, gut and brain. It might appear that this data is still contradictory, but look deeper. I recently got to watch this process play out with a friend of mine who desperately wanted to leave his job and start his own business. He knew that his heart was on board with his new venture but he kept feeling a hitch in his intuition and he couldn’t stop thinking about his father’s experience of failing in business. He finally realized that all three elements of his internal guidance system were telling him different parts of the same story. His heart was telling him to go for it and start his new business. His gut was telling him to build his business as a “side hustle” while he was still working at his job so that he’d still have income coming in to support his family until his side business took off; and his head was telling him to take an online accounting class to make sure he fully understood the bookkeeping requirements of a new business so as to avoid the financial problems that his father endured. As I spoke with him about the process that he used to make his decisions, he stated that he had felt confused because he felt like his heart was leading him to start his business, but he had genuine reservations (from his gut and brain) about making a big leap and risking his family’s security. Eventually however; he learned that all three were encouraging him to pursue his business dream but to do it by building a bridge rather than taking a leap. Listening to all three elements of his internal navigation system allowed him to make the right decision in the right way for his situation. He now has a thriving business that allowed him to leave his full-time job after only eight months and he is living every day with passion and purpose.
It really is possible to bring your heart, gut and brain into line with each other because the truth is, they already are aligned. Sometimes it just takes digging a little deeper to understand the guidance that they are providing. The dig is worth it though and can lead you to making empowering decisions that help to facilitate your most FabYOUlous life.