Head vs. heart: Where should you make decisions from?


Fact Box

  • Merriam-Webster defines following one's heart as 'to do what one would really love to do.' 
  • According to Jung/Myers-Briggs personality theories, people make decisions 'either by objective logic or subjective feeling. Thinking and Feeling are opposite preferences. A person's natural tendency toward one will be stronger than the other.'
  • A recent Medical Alert Buyer's Guide poll found that when making general decisions, 79% of people 'follow their head,' while only 21% 'follow their heart.' Further, the survey found that 68% agree that 'following one's heart when making business-related decisions could cloud their judgment.'
  • A 2019 research article on neurocardiology and neurogastroenterology found that 'both the heart and gut regions have complex, adaptive and functional neural networks' that weigh into our decision-making processes.

Andrew (Head)

While the idea of following one’s heart may seem quaint or even romantic, the reality is that the head makes all decisions--the heart is simply a muscle. In this case, ‘the heart’ is a metaphor for emotions involved with the decision-making process or one’s ‘gut feeling.’ Emotions are little more than chemical releases in the brain at a biological level, and ‘gut feelings’ can be explained by profoundly ingrained thinking, behavior, and memory patterns. Even when we think we’re ‘following our hearts,’ it’s really just a manifestation of our incredibly powerful brains. 

This isn’t to say that emotions can’t be an important part of decision-making. Since they represent our reactions to stimuli based on our typical patterns of behavior and thinking, they can be a powerful tool in the decision-making process. However, we should use techniques such as mindfulness to make the most out of these experiences by asking questions such as, why do I feel this way, or why is this event making me so upset? In this way, we can ensure that we fully control our decision-making process.

Finally, emotional decisions made in the moment and strictly following the passions of the heart can be rash, abrasive to others, and even dangerous. Many of the most successful people in history have chosen a pragmatic, reason-based approach to decision-making. By fully considering our choices and thinking through the results and consequences, we can be sure that we are making the best possible decisions.

Maha (Heart)

There's a reason why the saying 'follow one's heart' has survived for centuries and is still related to future generations: because it works. 

First off, decisions aren't created equally. Therefore, it's impossible to approach all of them logically without factoring in the heart. For instance, most individuals follow their hearts when choosing a romantic partner, picking a vacation spot, or getting married. This is because the mind tends to form decisions based on fear and avoidance, not love and trust.

Even some decisions which may appear to require analytical thinking can benefit from the heart's input. Take choosing a job, for example. Whereas following one's head may ensure more money in the bank, following the heart guarantees higher job and career satisfaction.

What makes emotional decision-making so powerful are the emotions themselves, as they play an essential role in people's lives, motivating them to act or protecting them from harm. Interestingly, brain damage affecting someone's ability to experience emotions can decrease their ability to make good decisions. This may be because emotions act like 'internal GPS,' guiding individuals toward what would best serve them. If a decision feels right, it's because it aligns with who they are. 

In addition to benefiting individuals, decisions made with the heart may also benefit society overall. One study revealed these decisions increase prosocial behavior, i.e., the intent to help others--something that American society needs, especially as social institutions promote a selfish vision of life

So, maybe it's about time to let emotions drive thoughts and actions and influence decisions. Especially since emotions help add further clarity to the decision-making process.

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