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How to make a decision: head, heart or gut?

Making decisions can sometimes be a tricky deal. People will tell you to ‘listen to your heart’ or ask ‘what is your gut instinct’? But sometimes it’s hard to know. When making any decision (whether it’s about work, a change of lifestyle, a relationship, a course of study, a major purchase or even some of the smaller decisions) we need to understand what our head, heart and gut are telling us.

The head

Our head uses logic. Our head will look at all the information we have, and it will use previous experiences and our belief systems to look at the pros and cons. This can be an effective way of making a decision. However, sometimes our experiences and belief systems are shaped by fear or lack of self-esteem and so our head may tell us that something is not possible when actually it could be the best thing for us.

The heart

Our heart is based on emotion, and emotions can be pretty fully-charged. They can also change from moment to moment. Our heart sometimes runs towards something we desire even if it is not good for us.

The gut

Our gut is the home of our intuition. It is often referred to as the second brain. It is our subconscious – the seat of our higher wisdom. It is often the nagging thought that tells us something doesn’t feel quite right. Or that little prod that keeps urging us to do something that we may be scared to do.

How to make a decision

So which one do we listen to? The answer is actually all three. The ideal scenario is that your head, heart and gut all agree on which is the right decision. When this is the case we can proceed confidently.

The next time you are trying to make a decision, try this five-stage process. You may have two or three options to consider, in which case go through the process for each option: Step 1 Lie down, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Allow yourself to completely relax. Starting at your feet, focus on relaxing each part of your body, working up your legs into your hips and torso, your back, your arms and hands and up your neck into your head. Continue to focus on your breathing and allow your thoughts to slow down. When you feel calm and relaxed, think about the decision you have to make - if you are deciding between options, pick one. Step 2 Take your attention to your gut – really focus on this area and send your breath here for a few moments. Really experience what it feels like to be ‘in your gut’. When you feel focused on your gut, think about your chosen option. Be aware of any sensations that arise. Does your gut expand or contract? Notice your breathing – does it slow down or speed up? What emotions do you experience? Are you feeling excited, nervous, calm? Notice any tension. Do you feel open and light or constricted and tight?

Step 3 Next, take your attention to your head. Go through the same process. Notice your body’s reaction – your breath, your heartbeat, your emotions, your thoughts. Notice any expansion or tension in your head. Does it feel light or heavy?

Step 4 And finally bring your attention to your heart area, think about your chosen option and follow the process again. What do you notice? How do you feel?

Step 5 Bring your attention back to your breathing, relax and open your eyes.

What did you learn?

Think about each of the three areas. What were the sensations that arose? Start with your gut, then your head and then your heart. Any expansion, lightness and calm is a sign that the decision is right for you. Any tightness, contraction, tension or heaviness is a sign that the decision may be wrong at this time.

What if your head, heart and gut don't agree?

The ideal scenario is that your gut, head and heart all tell you the same thing. If that is the case – bingo! Decision made!

But what if your gut expands and feels calm but your head is racing with fear and concern? Or your heart thinks the decision is the best thing since sliced bread but your gut is contracting to the size of a pea?!

Pay the most attention to your gut. If your head and/or heart don’t agree, examine why. For example, if your decision is whether to end a relationship, your gut may say yes but your heart may say no. Consider what your heart is telling you; it will be related to emotion. It may be telling you that you will be hurt and upset as you still love this person. Accept these emotions, give them the attention they deserve and try to work through them. But listen to your gut!

Or you may be trying to decide whether to quit your job and start a new one with a better salary. Your head and heart may be telling you this is a great idea – you’ll have more money, you’ll be able to get away from your nagging boss. But if your gut contracts and feels tight – pay attention. More money may not be the answer and who knows what the new boss will be like. Again, consider the messages your head and heart are giving you, give them the attention they deserve and then work through any issues that arise. Ask yourself is more money really the solution or are there other options?

When you have worked through questions and concerns that may arise in your head and heart, try the process again on another day and see if your head and heart begin to change! Our gut is where we hold our higher wisdom – it is not clouded by beliefs, experiences and emotions. Ignore it at your peril!

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