My client had worked for many years as part of the top management team at a large human services agency.

She was well-paid, and her organization’s work had tangible impacts on the lives of many people in her community.

But she was bored.

For many years, she’d longed to work more directly with people, to see the difference she makes in peoples’ lives directly, and to feel more challenged by her work.

She’d contemplated negotiating for a more direct service role in her organization, but that required taking a pay cut.

She’d thought about starting her own consultancy, supporting other leaders to have the types of systemic impacts she’d achieved at her organization. But starting her own thing felt risky.

Her heart told her she needed a change. But her head tells her that she couldn’t afford a pay cut or financial risk. And so she came to me for help getting clear.

In one of our first sessions, my client asked me the question:

“Should I listen to my heart or my mind? Which is most important?”

I want to share with you what I told my client in case you, too, ever find yourself asking should you trust your heart or your head.

First off, we need a better question.

When people ask whether they should trust their heart or their head, they often end up feeling unnecessarily trapped.

The reality is that we are whole beings. When we convince ourselves that we must choose between our heads or hearts, we risk getting stuck in a false dichotomy and feeling stuck bouncing between the two.

Even when different parts of us disagree vehemently with each other, they each have important information to share.

If we ignore any part of ourselves, we risk missing out on important information and choosing a path that doesn’t honor our full selves.

Second, to make a wise decision, we must first pause and listen.

One of the main reasons people stay stuck in confusion is that listening to their inner guidance—and acknowledging that they need a change—can feel scary.

Every big decision requires that we let go of something, and letting go can be painful. And noticing the pain doesn’t always make it go away. So if you haven’t wanted to listen, you may sense.

But avoiding the pain and ignoring our inner guidance can have really scary repercussions, too. So many people unconsciously pursue paths that don’t align with their heart’s desire and wake up years later, realizing they’re off course.

And while most people don’t initially believe that noticing their bodies’ sensations or naming their needs is helpful, the neuroscience is clear that acknowledging our inner experience is key to soothing our nervous system.

Third, the more helpful question is: What do you need?

It’s important to acknowledge that not everyone has the systemic support needed to pursue a career path that aligns with their heart’s desire. And yet, many of us actually do have more ability to honor our longings than we recognize.

With this in mind, the first step to choosing a path that honors the wisdom of both our heads and hearts is to pause and ask them what they need.

I distinguish between needs and strategies, needs being the essential qualities that motivate all human action like purpose, connection, or livelihood. (Click here for a list of needs to get you started.) In contrast, strategies are the actions we take to meet our needs. For example, writing this article to you is a strategy to meet my needs for purpose, connection, and livelihood.

People often get stuck by thinking there’s only one or two strategies to meet our needs. We open our eyes to many more possibilities when we get curious about our underlying needs.

When you turn your attention to your head, heart, and entire body, you may discover a part of you—which I call the Voice of Doubt—that pipes up with What ifs and Yeah buts.

Although many people ignore their doubt, our Voice of Doubt is actually trying to keep us safe. It’s trying to alert us of needs that might not be met if we take a risk. It’s unlikely to let go until we acknowledge the needs it’s pointing to.

When we turn toward the voice in our heads with warmth and kindness and get curious about what it truly needs, we can gain valuable information that can help us honor our needs. And once we listen to each part, it becomes easier to mediate between them.

So, what happened for my client?

My client took time to listen to the needs and concerns of her heart’s longing and her Voice of Doubt. Prompted by her doubt’s concerns, she examined her financial needs as well as the values she wanted to prioritize in this next phase of her work.

After taking a serious look at her finances, my client realized that she could afford to take a pay cut but she didn’t want the anxiety of relying on self-employment entirely.

Instead, she wanted to step fully into the aspects of her job that she loved, delegate several administrative tasks, and have spaciousness to explore other paths.

She negotiated down to a 30-hour work-week. She dedicated the remaining hours to exploring new paths, without the financial pressure to have to earn money during that time.

Her heart and head felt in alignment with this decision. She said it felt like all the lights turning on in her body, like that carnival game where you hurl a huge hammer down onto a metal button and the ball shoots up to 100. “Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!”

So, with all this in mind, rather than trying to choose between your heart or head, I challenge you to pause and get curious about what need each is trying to communicate.

Try this now—

  1. Grab some paper  and a pen. Bring to mind a challenge you’re facing. For example, you might be trying to discern whether to say yes to a request or which task to prioritize.
  2. With warmth and kindness, turn your attention to your head (yes, your physical head). Notice any sensations or emotions that are present.

    Ask your head and any sensations you notice there: What do you want to tell me? And, what do you need? Write down what you notice.
  3. With warmth and kindness, turn your attention to your heart (or the space in the center of your chest, a couple of inches below your collarbone). Notice any sensations or emotions that are present.

    Ask your heart and any sensations you notice there: What do you want to tell me? And, what do you need? Write down what you notice.
  4. With warmth and kindness, turn your attention to your belly as well. Notice any sensations or emotions that are present, including the range of sensations you might feel between your low belly and the space at the bottom of your ribs.

    Ask the sensations you feel in your belly: What do you want to tell me? And, what do you need? Write down what you notice.
  5. After listening to what each part has to say, go back through a second time. Ask each part—Is there anything else you want me to know? Write down what each has to say. Repeat until each part feels complete.
  6. Once each part feels complete, take a bird’s eye view of what you’ve written, and consider what each part has shared.

Ask yourself—Given all of this information, what’s my next step?

You might feel clear about how to resolve your challenge. You might identify one tiny baby step that moves you to honoring your needs more.

Or you might discover more questions and realize you need to do some research or have conversations with people who know something about your challenge.

The key to clarity is to keep paying attention to the information that your head, heart, and gut want to share.

It can take courage and patience, but if you stay curious and keep listening, you’ll equip yourself to make choices that take into account the fullness of who you are.

If you’d love more support tuning into the wisdom of your heart and your body’s wisdom, I invite you to sign up for my free video series—Somatic Practices for Social Change.

In this free video portal, I’ll guide you through practices to help you soothe your nervous system, tune into your inner guidance, and access the wisdom of your entire body.

When you consistently engage in these practices, connection to your inner guidance can become your default state, even in the most challenging circumstances. I hope you enjoy!

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