By Isadora Baum
When it comes to making big decisions, you probably lean more toward thinking with your head or your heart, as it’s typically ingrained in your character. There’s not one right way to respond to a situation, but sometimes certain circumstances might benefit you better when you think in a particular way, even if you just don’t quite know it yet. The best way to manage your thought process is to find a healthy balance where you can make decisions using both and realize which method might serve you best. Here are some tips for understanding whether you’re prone to leading with your heart or focusing more on what you’re head is saying, and how to navigate these situations when you’re looking for the perfect answer that most resonates with what you really need.
You’re Leading With Your Head
“Leading with your head is cognitive process that involves self-awareness and typically weighing the pros and cons of a situation. It’s typically not a quick or impulsive decision, but something people feel like they have a good reason to do or that will produce a beneficial outcome,” Dr. Holly Richmond, PhD, a somatic psychologist, licensed marriage and family therapist, and sex therapist, told POPSUGAR.
“It may involve consequential thinking, which means you play out the outcome in your head if you were to engage in certain actions. It also may involve planning out steps to take to achieve your goal,” said Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW.
“An example of leading with your head is: someone asks you to go on a spur-of-the-moment trip for the weekend that sounds amazing and you want to go, but then you think about the things you need to do and how tired you might be heading back to work Monday morning, and you decide it’s not a good idea,” Richmond said. In general, situations that provoke leading with your head tend to have some explicit risk involved, meaning if you choose to do the thing your head is telling you not to, there could be a negative impact, she said.
You’re Leading With Your Heart
Leading with your heart is the opposite of cognitive thinking — it’s a somatic, body-based process. “Leading with your heart is a gut reaction, where you might find yourself saying something like, ‘This just feels like the right thing to do.’ Instead of thinking about a decision, you feel about it. There is a felt sense of what you need and what you want,” Richmond said. “This often feels chancy — like, ‘[Damn], I hope this works out!’ but not doing it would be soul crushing and leave you with regrets,” she said. “Often people have a gut instinct which goes against what logical thinking will tell them,” which can freak them out, added Hershenson.
“I see people struggle most with leading with their heart when it comes to relationships. There are no guarantees in any relationships, especially new relationships where the foundation of trust isn’t established yet, so there’s always a risk of getting deeply hurt if you lead with your heart,” she said. When people lead with their heart, it may feel like a bigger risk than if they lead with their head (an emotional risk vs. a negative practical outcome), but there’s also the potential for bigger reward, she said.
How to Know Which to Use
If you know you are a fairly impulsive person and can look back at several not-so-great decisions you made, it’s worth taking time with the next choice that feels like a tug-of-war between what you want to do and what you know you should do. “Take a deep breath and pause for one minute to consider the pros and cons. Play out the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario and use your head to discern which direction you believe the situation will go,” said Richmond.
Similarly, if you are a cautious person and a worrier, leading with your heart and trusting your gut also requires you to be present and take a moment to cultivate that felt sense of what it is you want. “I don’t recommend that people weigh the pros and cons when they are already critical thinkers (they do that naturally), but instead that they pay attention to what their body is feeling and where. That could sound like, ‘I feel excited. My heart is pounding in my chest.’ Finding the balance between the excitement of taking a risk with the presence of mind and body to truly assess all possibilities is a great goal to shoot for,” she said.
Training yourself to tune into your heart and turn off your head is a matter of practice in mindfulness and self-awareness. “It’s taking the time to check in with yourself to notice if the decision sits well with you. A quick way to assess that is by asking, ‘Am I second-guessing myself?’ If so, take a deep breath, go for a walk, or sit quietly and visualize the decision in pictures rather than thinking about it in words,” said Richmond.
Also, notice if you feel happy, hopeful, scared, or anxious when you think about one outcome over the other. The body holds so many answers, and by tuning in, we have the potential to be in a place that feels authentic, self-aware, and self-assured, she said.
Any Clues Based on the Situation?
This could be helpful with regard to big-life scenarios. “Big life examples — a new job for sure. Where finances are involved (which has an enormous impact on your quality of life), leading with your head can be a safer bet. That’s not to say never take a risk to pursue your passion, but just be sure you have an accurate perception of what’s involved and are prepared if things don’t go exactly as planned,” said Richmond.
On the other hand, relationships are tough. “I almost always encourage my clients to lead with their heart. A relationship that is based on a business decision, as in, ‘He looks great on paper,’ almost never end well. Your heart has to be in it. There needs to be longing, passion, love, lust . . . all of the complex emotions we experience when we’re choosing a partner to spend our lives with,” she said.
A takeaway: “In matters of business and finances, leading with your head can be the safer bet, but in matters of relationships and love, I think leading with the heart pays off in the long run,” said Richmond.