When you face a difficult or important decision, how do you approach it? Do you conduct research and talk to friends, family members, and maybe even an unbiased expert or two? Do you list the pros and cons, or if you’re really analytical, create a weighted-average spreadsheet? 

All of these can be key steps in drawing a well-considered conclusion. But don’t neglect the value of checking in with your heart – and sometimes even following it.

Heart = Gut = Intuition 

There is some science to support following your heart, although the scientific community doesn’t typically use that phrase. Instead, they refer to “intuition.” 

Researchers have been studying intuition for decades. Some say that “going with your gut” carries risks associated with unconscious biases, while others contend that intuition is actually an amalgamation of our life’s experiences mixed with learning and intelligence and can often be quite useful. Regardless of where one falls on this debate, one thing is certain: Following our heart can help us ensure that our decisions are in line with our deepest desires and values. 

Getting to Know Your Inner Voice(s)

In her essay, “How to Tune Into the Voice Within,” acclaimed writer and life coach Martha Beck describes her own inner voices – one named Fang and the other, Buddy. Fang is the meticulously groomed, always punctual advisor who Beck relied upon as a young adult to guide her every professional decision. Buddy, on the other hand, is more of a laid-back surfer dude. She writes:

“When clients tell me they need to find their ‘inner voice,’ I suspect they’re already listening to one:  a loud, logical, convincing Fang-voice that echoes teachers, parents, priests, and angry personal trainers. You have no problem hearing this voice: the problem is, its counsel rarely leads to fulfillment. You sense there’s someone else knocking around in your psyche: someone whose counsel might make you happy – the kind of wise, primordial self I named Buddy.”

She says Buddy is “true inner wisdom.” The following quotes are how Beck describes that inner wisdom.

“Wisdom is sensory, not verbal”

Wisdom is, indeed, that gut feeling you get when you sense something isn’t right – or when something is right. 

After taking all the logical, rational steps described above – from conducting research to talking to trusted advisors – check in with yourself before acting on a decision and see how you feel. Just sit with any conclusions you’ve drawn and ponder. Notice sensations in your body. Does your forehead wrinkle a bit? Do you feel pulsing in your temple? Does the space between your shoulders tighten or does your stomach feel a bit queasy? Alternatively, do you feel at ease, content, maybe even joyful? Such feelings might be your heart speaking to you. 

“Wisdom is calm, not fearful”

Sometimes our heart is drowned out by the cacophony of other voices in our head – the ones who remind us over and over again what we “should” do and warn us at every opportunity about the risks we face if we don’t listen to them. “You’ll fail.” “Friends/family members won’t like it.” “Your boss won’t understand.” If these messages play on a continual loop in your mind, remember that inner wisdom speaks best in peaceful settings. In this case, meditating can help quiet the shouldas and the whaddabouts working so hard to silence your heart.

“Wisdom is chosen, not forced”

Your heart will not brow-beat, guilt, or shame you into a following a particular path. In fact, it is generally quite passive. It will sit and wait patiently for you to hear its message. Then you will need to choose whether to listen. 

Your Heart Will Not Always Lead You to Success

The objective of listening to your heart is not perfection. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. Instead, the goal is peace. By following your heart when you choose a particular path – even if it leads to a less-than-ideal outcome – you will know that your decision was guided by what matters most to you. And that will always leave you feeling as though you did your best.

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Carol Swanson writes articles in the wellbeing and finance sectors. She can be reached at: [email protected]