• Why “Follow Your Heart” is Dumb Advice

    There are these videos that play in my head sometimes. Memories of the past that seem so vivid it’s like I’m right there again. I can see details, smell the smells, and feel all the feelings of that moment. And then at the end of the video, all I can do is hit the facepalm emoji in my mind and wonder, “What the hell was I thinking?”


    Don’t get all judgy. You have these videos too! We all do. We look back on our younger selves and question how that person was ever allowed to use sharp objects, operate heavy machinery, or participate in a democracy. That person was a train wreck waiting to happen.


    Why was that person so delusional? What kind of demon had taken over to make them make those decisions? It doesn’t even matter what the decisions were about. Love. Money. Sex. Shooting your new compound bow straight up in the air just to see how high it would go while completely ignoring the laws of gravity.


    Don’t worry. It missed me by a good five feet.


    The reason for many of these bonehead decisions that we all make – minus the bow and arrow example – is that we were basing the decision on limited information and a faulty assumption. We assumed that our hearts were on our side and would never lead us astray. Hint: they’re not always and they will.


    Listen to Your Heart


    It’s a hugely popular idea. It’s been around for a long time. It’s sold millions of movie tickets. It’s why people keep buying Nicholas Sparks books. And if you’re of a certain age, it’s why you know the lyrics of a Roxette song:


    Listen to your heart when he’s calling for you

    Listen to your heart there’s nothing else you can do


    Ha. Now it’s on repeat in your head too!


    It seems like great advice. After all, your heart knows you, right? It must know what’s best for you. And every time the girl in the Hallmark movie dumps her arrogant rich boyfriend for the down-home, ruggedly good looking, and super awesome local guy that she met in the bookstore in Maine it always works out in the end. And it snows. What more could you want?


    There’s a problem though. You’ve got video footage of your heart making decisions that fall on a spectrum from cringe-worthy to freakin’ scary. Luckily for those of us that grew up before smartphones, those videos are not on YouTube! Why would your heart mislead you like this? There are a few very real reasons.


    Your Heart Is NOT a Good Decision Maker

    From a very literal definition, your heart is an idiot. All it does is pump blood. It’s really good at its job, but that’s it. One thing all day. Every day. And then you die.


    I know. When we say “listen to your heart” we’re not talking about that muscle that’s keeping things moving in your chest cavity. We’re talking about your emotions. But the same reality exists. Your feelings suck at making decisions.


    If you know for a fact that you need to lose 10 pounds or you’ll end up being put on cholesterol medication like an old guy, you would think that you would decide to avoid that bacon double cheeseburger. But all of your friends are going out to lunch at a place that is famous for bacon double cheeseburgers, and you haven’t been with these friends for a few weeks and you’re feeling a little like they may not like being around you anymore. So what do you do? You trick yourself by ordering a side salad and hope for the best, and with that your emotional heart feels better but your physical heart is going to need a little help later.


    Making decisions based on our emotions only is limiting our input in a way that can severely alter our outcomes. We’re like second grader’s doing math. In second grade math, there’s a rule – you can’t take a larger number from a smaller number. Ten cannot be subtracted from six in second grade. This is because second graders need to learn math based on limited information. But then in 5th grade, the game changes. Nobody told those second graders about negative numbers. Stupid second graders. Making our decisions based on the limited information our hearts provide is like a second grader taking a 5th-grade math test. We may get some of it right, but the rest is just guessing.


    Your Heart Will Lie To You


    If you’ve spent any time with adolescents, or if you ever were an adolescent, you know this story. Good girl meets bad boy. She sees in him what nobody else sees. They fall in love. They were meant to be together forever. And all of this happens between Algebra and History.


    As time goes on, her friends start to notice that he doesn’t treat her right. Her parents start to catch her lying about where she’s been. Teachers notice that the grades are slipping and she’s just not herself. And then someone gets up the nerve to tell her. What is her heart’s response?


    “You don’t know him like I know him! We’re in LOVE and you’re just jealous! I KNOW what the odds are against this working, but we’re going to beat those odds. You’ll see!”


    The problem is that every once in a while someone does beat the odds. It’s what keeps people playing the lottery. And it’s what keeps people in a loop of bad relationships because “the heart wants what the heart wants.”


    Your emotions are awesome. There’s no taking that away. At the same time that they’re awesome, they can be super deceitful. The deceit usually comes from the past. Somewhere along the way, you were given a story. It may be a story of how no one pays attention to you. It may be a story of what a loser you are. It may even be a story of how amazing you are no matter what stupid thing you did. These stories stick with us. Whether we know it or not, these stories shape us and how we respond to others. So when someone comes along and makes us feel a certain way, we think we have finally escaped that old story. With our feelings as the compass, that person could be Ted Bundy, but we’re still getting in that van with him.


    Your heart says, “You’d better hold onto her because she may be the one,” but your family is screaming, “She kills puppies for fun! That should be a sign!” Trusting your heart to always guide you in the right direction is a little like trusting a politician to keep his promises. It will lie to you when you least expect it.


    Thank You, Mr. Spock.


    I realize that all of this shade that I’m throwing on our emotions makes it sound like I think everyone should relate like robots computing all of the possible outcomes and eliminating risk. Number one, that puts me out of work. Number two, yuk. What a boring and colorless world it would be if it weren’t for human emotions!


    In fact, it’s just the opposite. Emotions are phenomenal. Even the ones we try so hard to avoid add a richness to our lives that can’t be measured. Some of us even need to work a little harder at connecting with and expressing our emotions.


    The ultimate goal when it comes to the heart is to allow it to do its job. This means that other jobs should be given to other areas of our life in order to provide balance. I had a mentor once that used the imagery of the chuckwagon to illustrate this.


    If you can, picture the Old West chuckwagon. If you can’t picture it, Google it. The wagon is your life. Out in front are two horses. One is emotion. The other is logic. Heart and Head are their names. As long as they work together, life stays on course. But when we let one get too far out in front, we end up in the ditch with another video to add to our facepalm collection.


    So please feel free. Listen to your heart all you want. But don’t use your brain as a door stop. Follow your heart while paying attention with your brain. And don’t ever shoot that arrow straight into the sky because it WILL come down and scare you to death!

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