The ‘Head’ and ‘Heart’ of Life

We are rapidly moving into Fall. A time when days shorten noticeably, the air becomes brisker in the morning and evening, leaves are painted another color, and pumpkins announce the beginning of the holiday season. I enjoy the Fall. By this time of year, I am tired of 93-degree days and being hot! I enjoy the changing leaves, and fires in the firepit. I enjoy watching nature begin to prepare itself for winter. There is a pattern and rhythm to it that is amazing. Fall also represent a little more time inside.

When I started thinking about our topic for this post, my first thoughts were about the ‘head’ and ‘heart’ of leadership. I worked on that theme for a while. Then, I had a small epiphany – this topic is not just about leadership, it’s also about life. That opened all kinds of thoughts. It is my observation that there are many people who struggle to blend their ‘head’ and their ‘heart,’ opting instead for either/or. I hope our discussion about head and heart provides value for your journey

Thanks to those who responded to my two-part posts on the confluence of grace… and letting go. I always appreciate your participation and what perspective and stories of yours the subject recalled.

Do your best and be well…



The ‘Head’ and ‘Heart’ of Life

I consider ‘matters of the head’ to be about ‘thinking.’ They include things like problem solving, analysis, critical thinking, and education, although education in its broadest terms is more than just your thinking. At some level I hope we all have found education to be important. The knowledge we gained from our education helps us to navigate in the world and with other people. It is the foundation of our ability to work and earn a living. Education comes in many forms – formative education (K – 12), advanced education (graduate, or specific training like law, medicine, MBA). After our education is behind us, we come to realize that we are learning a lot, and more, by being out in the world and from our choices.

Studies indicate that matters of the heart (things dealing with our social and emotional skills) are more of an predictor of success than what we know because they are the key skills for building and sustaining relationships. (This might not be as true for professions that are more technically oriented (i.e., science, engineering, architecture, etc.))

An example of a social/emotional skill would be if we have a friend who has lost someone they love, our response should be one of empathy and compassion. This is just one example of how our response (empathy in this case) helps us in building our relationships. At the end of the day, those people who are best in the relational area tend to do better. You still must be competent performing your job (knowledge and execution), but building strong relationships allows you to have influence in those relationships. That is particularly helpful for leaders, but also has applicability in our everyday relationships.

I have found that one of the key components to navigating well the social and emotional areas of our life is to be present, to be ‘awake and aware’ to what is going on in the immediate situation. To be able to take in not only what is physically occurring, but also what is emotionally going on with ourselves and others. For many, it is difficult to be/remain awake and aware. Our tendency is to spend more time thinking about the past or the future which stunts our ability to be in the present.

My father preferred the ‘head’ parts of life. He was a scientist, enjoying the analytical (figuring out problems and the best way to do things). He was not easy to get to know, but I came to appreciate and love his quieter nature and how his mind worked. It took me a long time to understand how he loved, but when I did, I knew he cared deeply about his family, God, and his job.

My mother preferred the ‘heart’ (relational) parts of life. She was a teacher and loved working with kids and other people. She was a giver and cared deeply about how you felt. She openly expressed her love through her hugs, encouraging words, and the energy she put into making sure you had what you needed.

I am a miraculous combination of my parents, able to enjoy both the head and the heart parts of my life. I have found that the example of my parents helped me to understand more fully the value of both sides of my makeup and the beauty of integrating them whenever possible.

My experience is that learning to integrate both your head and your heart leads to a more fulfilling life. The head parts help you to be able to ‘perform’ your roles successfully, executing whatever processes and producing whatever results are necessary. The head helps you solve problems and to think critically. The heart allows you to add, whenever possible and appropriate, your humanity (caring). This can be a key difference for how others connect with you and how rich those relationships are.

My observation is that we have a natural preference for either ‘head’ work, or ‘heart’ work. It is like our preference in school for either math and science or English and the social sciences. Most of us learned early that although we may prefer one subject over another, we must develop sufficient ability in the areas that we don’t prefer to function (i.e., know enough math to pass the class and navigate the ‘math’ problems you will encounter in the world).

What I have learned doing a lot of Emotional Intelligence work with people, is that for us to be more effective in our relationships it is helpful to have an awareness of our emotions; to be appropriately emotionally expressive; to create and sustain relationships; to be empathetic, to be flexible. If I prefer the ‘head’ work, it is likely I will struggle in one or more of these areas.

The greatest surprise for me is that developing a greater ability in one or more areas of social and emotional intelligence has proven to be a ‘tweak’ for most people not an overhaul. For example, I had one client who had serious issues (his identification) with empathy. I had him put a message on his calendar two days a week, “who needs empathy on my team or in general?” That message reminded him to think about the people around him not just the ‘business’ of the day. Then we worked on what the message might look like. “I was sorry to hear about ___________. I hope that comes out okay.” He created two other variations and practiced delivering them in an empathetic way. When I asked him a month later how things were going, he said he was amazed what a difference it was making in his relationships at work. He also said he was surprised how easy it was, and how well the reminders on his calendar worked.

This approach also works if I am trying to be more ‘business’ (head) focused. What are the key things that I need to track, and the people that I need to check in with? Again, I may not be as good (focused) on this area compared to my ability to handle the relational parts of my job. Notes on a calendar often are helpful in adding focus to areas that I want to improve. Keep in mind that you aren’t trying to become ‘world class’ in the other area, you are trying to build habits that will help you to become more effective in that area. You don’t have to ‘move the needle’ far for people to notice a difference because it’s an area that wasn’t as well developed.

How well the ‘helpful hints’ work to prime your thinking has a lot to do with how strong your preference is for ‘head’ or ‘heart.’ The stronger the preference the more time it will take for you to create change in the area you chose. The hardest thing to overcome is your own awareness about how strong your preference is.

The ability to have effectiveness in both areas of our lives is a key to our success. That said, which area is your stronger preference? How would it benefit you personally and professionally to develop your non-preferential area more fully?

Toward a better you…



Of Interest: Your Three Brains – How Your Head, Heart, and Gut Work Together For A Better You.  Your Three Brains – How Your Head, Heart, and Gut Work Together For A Better You (