Few things are as misunderstood as following your heart.
Most often people think that it means doing whatever it is you feel like doing at any point in time. But this will only lead to you wasting your energy and chasing your tail, because in the short term the heart is notoriously fickle.
In the short term our feelings tend toward instant gratification. Our short-term emotions often gravitate to whatever will give us a quick buzz, a short-term high. This is not a good way to live. It makes us flabby and idle and, in the long run, it will leave us unfulfilled.
But yet at the same time the heart is the very best compass we have to point us in the direction we should go.
How can this be?
Because our short-term whims are often the direct opposite of what will make us happiest.
I was coaching a pair of clients yesterday. On a piece of paper, describe your perfect day, I said. What time will you wake up? What will you do at different times of the day? What time will the day end?
(This was just a quick exercise, by the way, not a highly detailed visualization. But perfect-day visualizations always make wonderful tools.)
Five minutes later they were ready. Since they had very different personalities, they came up with two very different days. (One involved interdimensional travel. The other did not.)
We went through each set of activities together. Why did you choose this? I asked about each event. How does each action or activity make you feel? One by one we teased out the emotions that made each day perfect.
And these were the answers they came up with. Happy. Excited. Nervous, in a good way. Focused. Absorbed in the task. Loved. Feeling like I’m contributing to the world. Like I’m making a difference. Feeling creative. Having fun. Exhausted, in a good way. Fulfilled. It feels good to be building relationships. It feels good to be learning new things.
These emotions, and others like them, are the ones that make us happiest. No matter where we are, these are the emotions that make our lives feel perfect. The exact combination will differ for everyone; after all, we’re all different. But what we want to do is live our lives in a way which is filled to the brim with these good feelings.
And so this is the right way to follow your heart: find out which emotions make you happiest, and focus on them. Move in the direction of these feelings. Let them shape your choices. Bring them more and more into your life. Make that your discipline.
These are the things that really matter. As long as we feel these things in our lives, the details of how we get to them cease to matter as much. And when our lives are filled with the deep joy that comes as a result, that’s when we can truly start to benefit the world.