How To Know If You Should Follow Your Heart (Or Ignore It!)

Photo: Sidney Hendriks, DSAP Project, and Pexels via Canva
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Following your heart is seductive. It seems romantic and gives you one seemingly simple idea of how to best focus your time and energy on work, friendships, or falling in love.

Yet, that somewhat vague advice is not that easy to follow, especially in these dynamic times when you too are in motion as you grow and strengthen your abilities.

Whether you decide to launch a business, follow a new career you’ve always talked about, or take your relationship to the next level, your dreams or hopes may not be enough for choosing smart directions and actions.

But logic, strategy, and data are not enough, either. There are times you need to listen to your heart.

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Here are 5 signs you should follow your heart, especially when making decisions and choices.

1. It's what you truly want, not just what feels comfortable.

You're not just making this decision or choice because it's easy, feels safe, or is expected.

Have you noticed what happens to you and others who get stuck in repeated patterns? It often occurs when your investment in a project or relationship makes it difficult to let go. You hope that doing the same thing just a little longer will work.

The danger lurks in staying wrapped in an emotional cocoon of comfort and predictability that could unravel and leave you feeling unfulfilled if you were not listening to your healthy instincts.

Do any of these examples of following only your heart relate to your situation?

  • You have long-term, habitual relationships with people (lovers or friends) who need you or fill your own yearning for connection.
  • You work with the illusion of variety and change, but it doesn't match your values, skills, and growth over time.
  • You commit to professional projects that lack potential for meaning, progress, and satisfaction.

2. Your own cues and experiences support your feelings.

Greek philosopher, mathematician, physicist, and writer Blaise Pascal's suggestion to "know thyself" can be effective advice for creating a good life. A lifelong process, awareness is also essential for figuring out times to follow your heart and times to ignore it.

Your body, your intuition, and even your conversations can tell you if you should listen to your heart.

Your body: Usually your body tells the truth. Although these symptoms can indicate physical problems, notice signs of discomfort with an actual or planned situation when you have headaches, back pain, muscle, or joint pain.

On the other hand, your heart might be sending positive cues when your breath flows easily and deeply. The same goes for your sleep patterns. In contrast, do you go to sleep easily or spend a lot of time ruminating about a particular issue without closure?

Your intuition: Trust what emerges from all those stored patterns, chunked experiences, and first impressions. Since it’s based on deep knowledge and experience, don’t distrust it just because it seems instant.

Also available in your body, the "second" brain in your gut. It adds to the accumulated wisdom you may not acknowledge because, like intuition, its guidance seems to come from nowhere. The second largest numbers of neurotransmitters exist in your gut.

Reflective conversation: Whether with yourself or others, avoid repetitive conversations about what you should do. Instead, first, clarify your thoughts and ideas by jotting down the main themes. Then, check out your themes and assumptions by asking a few people you respect open-ended questions, starting with "what," "when" and "how." For example, “What do you think of ...?”

Listen to their responses and pay attention to your emotions and feelings that support good choices and expose questionable ones.

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3. Your choice is based on positive emotions and motivation, not fear.

When you're feeling fearful, postpone the impulse to follow your heart. Almost always, strong, negative emotions distort good judgment and effective choices.

To clarify fear's presence, jot down a few specific keywords and phrases that pop up when you ask yourself, "What am I afraid of?" Then, explore what relates to that feeling, where it comes from, and perhaps its associations with past experiences.

Impatience is also a distraction and deterrent to making good choices. When that feeling reflects boredom, neediness, or anxiety, avoid action until you can clarify what’s pushing you to act immediately.

Wait and sleep on it, or take a vacation of several days from overthinking your situation and options. Then, imagine yourself actually doing what you have in mind. What emotions emerge? Do you feel free and satisfied or limited in some way?

Many accurate and authentic motivations can overlap whether following your heart involves relationships or work.

4. Your thoughts are in line with your values.

When your heart tugs you in a certain direction, assess whether it aligns with your values or not. To help you figure it out, make a list of your top five values, and put them in priority order.

Here are five values to consider, but feel free to add your own:

  • Trust
  • Opportunities for growth
  • Joy
  • Security
  • Fairness and balance in a situation

Then, assess your choices in light of your values to make sure your heart is pushing you in the right direction. Ask yourself if your choice supports the use of your strengths and possibilities. This basic question can help free you from limiting habits in work, love, and friendships.

5. You have the courage to move forward with your vision.

Start by appreciating some of what’s packed in the very meaning of courage. The word is derived from the French word "cor," meaning "heart." This definition of courage can guide you toward authentic choices and actions in relationships, at work, or in other areas of your life.

When you think of all the associations with the heart — such as compassion, wholeness, and inner strength — you’ll see how it holds keys to realizing the potential in your true self and expressing your powers.

So after you've considered these five perspectives and their value for following your heart, embrace your intrinsic courage and follow your heart — when it's truly in your interest. Go live the life you deserve!

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Ruth Schimel, Ph.D. is a career and life management consultant, and author of the 'Choose Courage' series. She guides clients in accessing their strengths and making viable visions for current and future work.