After making one too many bad decisions that I justified by saying I was “following my heart”, I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes you shouldn’t follow your heart. I suspect that’s going to be a controversial statement, and I’m open to the debate, but here are my thoughts on it…
What does “following your heart” actually mean?
Let’s be clear about this. Your heart does not make decisions. Your heart is a muscle that pumps blood around your body. It’s incredibly important. Vital in fact. But it is not a decision-making tool.
So why do we talk about following your heart?
Our heart is the area that we associate with emotions, particularly love. It is what we connect with a feeling state, as opposed to a thinking state. We can also use the term “heart” to mean “the innermost or central part of something.” So when we talk about following our heart, what we perhaps mean is that we are making choices that come from a place of deep emotional longing.
What’s so wrong with this?
Nothing. There are definitely times when you feel something so powerfully that you know it is the right thing to do. Those are the decisions you make that you throw yourself into, whole-heartedly and they can be pivotal moments in your life. I’ve definitely made those kind of decisions. Deciding to turn down a promotion to travel and teach yoga instead was definitely one of them. There were plenty of logical, financial and sensible reasons why I shouldn’t have done that, but actually that way of life was not making me happy. So taking the risk and “following my heart” was a good call.
However, I have also been in situations where I know rationally I am making a really poor decision, but I’ve justified it by saying, “I know it doesn’t make sense, but I’m following my heart.”
I read an great article recently by Steph at Blissbombed, who wrote that,
When you’ve been in a dark place, the heart and intuition can be a bit off-kilter. It wouldn’t be uncommon to think, “I should leave this situation, but my heart is leading me to stay out of compassion for [insert bad situation].” If you’ve been ignoring or betraying your intuition for a while, it loses its voice and becomes warped.
This resonated a lot with me. Sometimes the feeling of wanting to do what you know is wrong can be really strong. This is especially true if it’s driven by fear – especially fear of being alone or fear of failing. People who stay in damaging relationships, or abandon projects that scare or challenge them may justify it by saying they’re following their heart.
When shouldn’t you follow your heart then?
If you find yourself with a heartfelt longing to do something, check in with your head. This doesn’t have to be a case of “head” versus “heart”. If you’re making a wise choice, often you can find a way which is perfectly in tune with both. In the example of me leaving my job, yes, there were financial reasons to stay, but I also knew the alternative could be financially viable. What’s more, my “head” knew as well as my “heart” that my current situation was not fulfilling me.
So there are a few questions you can try asking yourself. Steph at Blissbombed suggests this one:
What is the most self-respecting thing I can do now?
I’d also recommend considering:
Is this longing driven by fear? And if so, how could I face this fear rather than letting it steer the course of my life?
What is the most healing action I can take now?
When you follow these kinds of questions, you’re being far more honest with yourself than using an evasive “I know it’s bad, but I’m following my heart.” Sometimes, your heart can be seriously confused. Tune into your intelligence, your knowledge and your wisdom, and you’ll find the rest follows.
I’d love to know what you think to this – what are your experiences of following your heart?
With (genuine!) heartfelt love,