Confused by all the suggestions that you should lead from the heart, but be careful following your heart? Of course, some recommend that the only way to find happiness is to follow your heart. Others caution that following your heart leads to disaster. What happens if you lead with compassion?
How can you allow your heart to lead, and yet make choices and decisions that allow you to feel safe and secure? Can you rest, knowing that you made the best possible choice?
I believe it is possible to follow your heart and allow the heart to lead. At the same time, use your rational judgement, consider all possibilities and obstacles. Then, come up with a plan that will overcome the challenges.
Random passions, impulses and desires
When I suggest that you follow your heart, I am not referring to an Awkward Yeti comic of your heart off chasing butterflies!
I realise that the heart can just run after instant gratification, where it fails to look at the consequences for itself or others. And that’s not the “follow your heart” that I am advocating.
I’m also not advocating wearing your heart on your sleeve. Or responding immediately to all feelings and emotions, such as when you are upset or mad. Or even making decisions when you feel blissfully happy or otherwise overcome by emotion.
Most of us, at some time, have felt the urgency to act on our feelings, only to regret it later.
But, there is a deep difference between the intensity of our emotions or feelings and the urgency and reasonableness of acting upon them. When you are overly passionate, it’s difficult to make deliberate decisions. On the other hand, well thought through decisions cannot be devoid of emotion.
Responding to feelings can be empowering, but there are ways to do this that are authentic and true to you.
Compassion: what it means to be lead from the heart
In mBraining (Soosalu & Oka), we find that each of the “brains” or intelligence centres has a prime function. There are three primary neural networks that we can work with: head, heart & gut.
HEAD BRAIN PRIME FUNCTIONS
- COGNITIVE PERCEPTION — cognition, perception, pattern recognition, etc.
- THINKING — reasoning, abstraction, analysis, synthesis, meta-cognition, etc.
- MAKING MEANING — semantic processing, languaging, narrative, metaphor, etc.
HEART BRAIN PRIME FUNCTIONS
- EMOTING — emotional processing (e.g. anger, grief, hatred, joy, happiness, etc.)
- VALUES — processing what’s important to you and your priorities (and its relationship to the emotional strength of your aspirations, dreams, desires, etc.)
- RELATIONAL AFFECT — your felt connection with others (e.g. feelings of love/hate/indifference, compassion/uncaring, like/dislike, etc.)
GUT BRAIN PRIME FUNCTIONS
- CORE IDENTITY — a deep and visceral sense of core self, and determining at the deepest levels what is ‘self’ versus ‘not-self’
- SELF-PRESERVATION — protection of self, safety, boundaries, hunger, and aversions
- MOBILIZATION — motility, the impulse for action, gutsy courage and the will to act
When your heart is working optimally — when it is emoting, valuing and relating — the highest expression of the heart is compassion. Compassion has its origins in Latin — compati= to suffer with. In Spanish, we see this as compartir= to share.
Compassion is more than just loving, it is also kindness and caring. It involves being thoughtful and decent. Empathy is understanding another’s pain — but compassion goes further, desiring to alleviate the pain.
So, when I invite you to follow your heart, I am inviting you to truly love yourself, including with tough love. I am inviting you to be compassionate, kind and caring towards yourself, and towards others. If you truly loved yourself, what changes would you make in your life, no matter how difficult and painful they might be at the moment?
Six factors to consider when you follow your heart:
What do you want and desire for yourself when you truly love yourself and others around you? As you can see, I am not talking about a passing fancy. I am inviting you to take an emotionally intelligent decision and action.
I invite you to think it through, using your rational and analytical brain to support and inform your decision. And to acknowledge the role that your gut might play in this process.
#1: Emotional intelligence when you are lead by your heart:
Corporate leaders are praised when they lead from the heart because they listen.
Today, I am inviting you to listen.
Become someone who listens to yourself, your wants and desires, your emotions and your values. What is truly important to you in life, and how are you prioritising this?
Become someone that is available — especially for yourself! Nurture your self-awareness, so that you can become aware and empathise with others. Self-awareness means that you notice what you feel, why you feel it, and the impact that these emotions are having on you and others around you. This allows you to choose your tone, build strong relationships, and be truly concerned about others.
Emotional intelligence will allow you to be kind and caring — first to yourself, and then towards others.
#2: Using rational thinking and analysis:
When you love yourself, you will make time and space to not only consider what you want and desire but to think it through carefully. Emotional intelligence, especially compassion, brings a simple maturity that values your emotions, wants and desires, as well as the importance of the analytical and creative mind.
There is no EITHER/OR when you are truly compassionate and loving. It requires that you be both — emotional and rational. You are not choosing whether to be logical or compassionate — you are choosing to use all the resources of your mind to build the life of your dreams. This requires that you recognise that if you are overcome with emotions, you fail to use all your resources!
And so, with compassion, you choose to start from a place of inner calm, where intellectual reasoning is not blocked by emotional overload. At the same time, if there is no emotion, there is no reasoning at all. When we cut off our emotions, we become cold and calculating, becoming a spectator to life, rather than a participant.
It is only when we understand the role that both heart and head play, together, that we understand the power we hold in our hands.
#3: Planning & prioritising when you are truly filled with compassion:
When you allow your head and heart to work together, you can begin planning (head) and prioritising (heart). How you value different plans and projects, and the importance that they have for you is a function of your heart, not your head and rational thought. You might try to assign values or numbers, but at the end of the day, it is the heart that truly decides what is important.
Once you accept this, and you allow your compassion to lead, you will discover that you can work on your priorities with a clear head. If something is not important, it has no place in your plans and scheduling.
If you consider the Eisenhower Matrix, for example, your heart will decide what is important to you (advised also by your head) and then allow your head the job of planning around your schedule and the urgency of tasks and responsibilities.
When you have this clarity of vision, it is easy to decide where you need to invest your time, energy and attention. You will no longer be guessing, but following your heart with sure footing.
#4: Feeling safe & secure:
Additionally, when you follow your heart, do not leave aside your safety and security. This might be financial, physical or even emotional. But it is an important aspect of following your dreams that you need to address.
Each one of us has a level of risk tolerance. That varies from person to person. Only you can be the judge of how much you are willing to risk to follow your heart. Be aware of what you need for safety and security — honour it.
This does not mean that you will not take calculated risks in following your heart — of course, there are risks! You will undoubtedly feel uncomfortable, possibly even scared at times if you make changes. But when you are certain that you are making the most loving choice for yourself — medium or long-term, you will have that inner knowing that it is worth it.
This provides a sense of being in control — choosing for yourself.
Because you love yourself, you are willing to honour your heart’s desires and take risks! Passion will not just be placed on the back-burner.
#5: Listening to your gut instinct:
If you are taking care of your safety and security, there is also a place for loving yourself enough to listen to your gut instinct! There is so much wisdom within you — not just the thoughts of your head, but also the primal response to subconscious information. Your mind may overthink. Your inner critic might say too much, making up stories and creating scenarios.
Remember that your head is not meant to play a role in your safety and security — that is a role for your gut to play!
You have probably got accustomed to letting your head lead the show — protagonist, that has to be front and centre in every scene. This is a time to remember that your body is composed of many parts, each with a vital role to play.
Your heart will ignore the red flags!
Your head may even rationalise if you want something badly enough.
Remember that as an embryo your gut is the first to form — before the heart, before the brain. This is a primal instinct.
It can be wrong. This is not the same as intuition — and it can also be confused with fear.
Learn to tell the difference.
When your gut says “no”… this is a voice to be listened to. You may decide that it is worth the risk and to proceed — but love yourself enough to first listen. Make an informed decision with all the information available to you.
#6: Self-preservation with compassion:
Finally, recognise that you need to be true to yourself. Part of the role that your gut will play is that of self-preservation — honouring who you truly are.
If you have been living inauthentically, failing to follow your heart, you may feel this as a gnawing in your gut. A reminder that you have lost yourself, and as you begin to honour your dreams and desires, you may find a fire begins to stir again deep within you.
One of the roles of your gut is to protect who you are — and as you embrace that identity, living with purpose, you will need to clear away the older versions of you. Your gut may struggle to differentiate between the old version of you that it spent years protecting and the newer version that is being revealed.
Are you ready to do the deep work of revelation? To lovingly reveal to yourself and to the world who you really are?
Learning a new way of living: compassion
How you love yourself is how you teach others to love you. (Rupi Kaur)
Learning a new way of being will take time, patience, kindness and consideration. The same way that you would treat a young child learning something new.
As you make your plans and goals, know that you are honouring who you really are. This will require that you practice self-awareness and emotional intelligence along every step of the way — noticing your emotional responses when you feel out of your depth or insecure.
Give yourself permission to make mistakes as you grow and chase your dreams — learn to fall forward as you follow your heart.
Compassion allows you to change the world — for yourself and for others.
Imagine what you could do if you would live from a place of loving yourself enough to follow your dreams!
Originally published at https://bethgray.coach on October 6, 2019.