Head, Heart, or Gut?


Use your head. Stop rationalizing. You’re overthinking it. Follow your heart. Your emotions will lead you astray. Go with your gut. Your instincts are wrong.

How do I know whether to trust my head, my heart, or my gut? I don’t know that I have an answer, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about and I’d like to explore the question.

We hear so many voices telling us which part of ourselves is the best and the truest. Which part won’t lead us down the wrong path. Which parts are just looking for an opportunity to screw us up.

We have thought-filled brains, emotion-filled hearts, and instinct-filled guts. Is there really only one of these looking out for our best interests? Sometimes they agree and sometimes they don’t. What does that mean? What part should we listen to? Is it always the same part?

As usual, I have more questions than answers, but it’s important to consider what we look to when making decisions. Whether we want to or not, we make decisions everyday. Decisions are hard enough when we trust ourselves to discern the right choice. When we second guess everything we think or feel, decisions become practically impossible.

Personally, I think the different parts of us all have roles to play. It’s when we give some parts dominance and deny other parts a voice that things can really get out of balance. Instead of wondering which part of us is most trustworthy, maybe we should be asking how we can listen to all parts to get the fullest picture possible.

Just because each part of us has value doesn’t mean we should accept what it has to say without question. No matter which part we’re talking about, it’s important to dig deeper into what is underneath the information we’re receiving. What is that part’s motivation for what it’s telling me to do or not do? What is it’s role in my life? Overall has it been feeling heard or shut out? Am I getting the whole picture?

Let’s take a closer look at some of these different parts…

We’re often told that the mind is logical and rational. If we gather the facts it will be clear what we should do. Factual evidence is valuable, but our minds can be a little tricky sometimes. They can take what we believe and find all sorts of evidence to support that belief…while conveniently leaving out evidence to the contrary.

For example, if I believe I’m clumsy, my mind can probably come up with all sorts of times I tripped, ran into someone, or dropped something. But it might leave out all the times when I’ve done things requiring balance, dexterity, or coordination. Without seeing all the available information, the picture I’m getting can be pretty skewed. If we’re not careful, we base our beliefs on the facts our minds are telling us without realizing we’re not getting the whole story.

On top of that, sometimes we can look at the facts from every angle and come up with a decision that looks great on paper…but just isn’t quite right for us. We’re not robots, nor are we all the same. We are complicated and very human people. In addition to making sure we’re getting all the facts, we need more than just facts. It doesn’t matter how much we know something intellectually…until we believe it with our whole selves it’s not going to be reflected in the way we live.

That brings us to our hearts. Some believe our hearts know things in a truer way than our heads and that trusting ourselves means following our hearts. Others think emotions only cloud our judgment and trip us up.

I think our minds and our hearts are not so much at odds with each other as they are part of team to give us a fuller, more balanced view. It’s important to acknowledge and appreciate our feelings. It’s also important to dig deeper into what those feelings are really communicating.

Our feelings don’t make us good or bad. There isn’t a right or wrong way to feel. Emotions are a natural response to our circumstances.

But we do have a choice about how we respond to those feelings. We can tell ourselves we’re wrong to feel that way and try to manufacture different feelings or shut out feeling all together. We can wallow in our emotions and let them define us without ever learning what they’re trying to tell us. We can take those feelings as absolute truth and let them dictate the direction of our choices and life.

Perhaps a more helpful approach is to examine why we feel a certain way and choose carefully how we want to respond. Are your feelings pointing to an unmet need in your life? How can you take responsibility to make sure that need is met? Do you feel differently than you think you should feel? Where is that expectation coming from? Is your heart disagreeing with your head? What is that telling you? Sometimes our feelings are complicated and even contradictory. Often they will change over time.

While it’s not necessarily wise to base our decisions solely on our feelings, we lose valuable information when we dismiss them. If I feel fear around doing something it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it. It doesn’t necessarily mean I should either. Rather, digging into the why behind my fear can provide helpful insight into my motivations and the potential risks and benefits.

Physical feeling is less talked about, but just as important as our thoughts and emotions. We’re told to go with our gut instinct. But often we spend more energy trying to ignore or cure the symptoms we feel in our bodies than we do trying to be aware of them and learn from them.

No one necessarily enjoys experiencing a churning stomach, a squeezing chest, or tingling at the base of their skull. Have you ever paid attention beyond just trying to quell the discomfort to decipher the nuances of what your body is trying to tell you?

Shelve your opinions and emotions for a moment. Do you know specifically what your body feels like when one of your boundaries is being crossed? Can you tell the difference in your body between the nervousness of attempting something exciting and the anxiety of forcing yourself to do something that you just really don’t want to do? How does your body feel differently when you really believe in yourself?

Our bodies can actually give us a lot of information if we’re willing to pay attention. Getting clear on how our bodies respond to different situations can give us a signal that we need to check in with ourselves about what’s going on. Now this certainly doesn’t mean that you should hold back every time you get butterflies in your tummy, but understanding your physical response to different kinds of stress or excitement provides more data to complement your thoughts and feelings and enhance your understanding.

The next time your body reacts in a situation, instead of trying to force your body into neutrality, take a moment to really notice exactly what sensations you are feeling and ask what your body is trying to tell you. Also, the next time you’re trying to make a decision try taking a moment to set all the other facts and emotions aside and just see how your body responds to the different possibilities. Sometimes our bodies can give us a clarity that our busy minds and hearts cannot.

I don’t have a solid answer to this question of whether it’s best to trust our minds, hearts, or guts. I think each part of us has valuable information to share and that each part should be given a voice. But it’s also important to remember that the information we’re receiving isn’t necessarily objective. I think we need to both dig underneath the surface of what each part is saying to discover what is really there and check what one part is telling us against what we’re hearing from other parts to make sure we’re getting as full a picture as possible.