Our Brains, Our Hearts, and Our Guts

Which way to go …

I’ve been thinking a lot about decision-making lately. Whether to take or pass on an opportunity. Whether or not to tell someone something. And, of course, for this sabbatical — what do I focus on next in my life?

And it has me pondering on the various ways we all go about making decisions.

There’s, of course, using our brains. What’s the logical thing to do? We look at the pros and cons. We weigh the advantages and disadvantages. We calculate the risks and rewards. We do all this work to figure out the rational decision to make.

Then, there is following our hearts. What are our passions urging us to do? We think about how we would feel going down one path or the other. We sometimes laugh in the face of reason and make the most illogical decision because it feels right.

And finally, there is going with our gut. What’s our instinct telling us? We tap into something primitive, survivalistic even. These are often our snap decisions. The decisions we make without too much analysis or reflection.

So, what method to use?

Oh yes, that’s right, we need to decide how to decide. How meta.

Of course, the answer is — it depends. For financial decisions, we might use our brains more. For personal relationships, we might follow our hearts.

And for me, a lot of times, I’m using a combination of these various decision-making organs. Take theater, for example. It is my hobby — my passion, really — but I approach it like a job because it requires the same hardwork and discipline (and time commitment!). And I have to make a lot of decisions — from choosing what to audition for, to accepting or declining a role, to opting to do one show over another.

I find that I first do a gut check. What’s my first instinct? Then I use reason to weigh my options. Does the timing for this play work for me? Will I grow from this role and gain new skills? Will having this credit on my resume help get other work? This is the stage where I’m often using others as a sounding board. But ultimately, I feel like I solidify my decision with my heart. How will I feel if I accept or decline this opportunity?

Yes, sometimes conflicts arise when our brain, heart and gut point us in different directions. But again, I think that figuring out the best approach to take depends on the type of decision.

And then there are the decisions you make where you know neither outcome is great. These can be draining decisions to make, and I find I usually just go with my gut or follow my heart.

Oh, and of course, there’s the fear. The absolute terror that we’ll make the wrong decision. But that’s where I think it’s good to recognize how I’m making the decision. It’s the thing I can point back to when I’m having doubts.

Now, things get even harder when looking at much bigger decisions, like … oh, I don’t know — what new career path to follow! But I think the key for me will be breaking down this massive resolution into micro-decisions along the way. And I’m sure I’ll have to use my brain, my heart, and my gut.

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