03/03/2016 04:40 EST | Updated 03/04/2017 05:12 EST

The Difference Between Following Your Heart And Trusting Your Gut

Anastasia Vishnickaya / Alamy

At first glance, you might think that "following your heart" and "trusting your gut" are similar. They're both about listening to your intuition, right?

It depends. I think our heart -- and, by that, I mean our desires and hopes -- can definitely help us become more intuitive and make an intuitive decision or choice.

Yet here's the stumbling block with our heart. It can sometimes become too focused on what we want to do or what we hope (sometimes desperately hope) will happen.

As many of us have learned the hard way in life, if we desire or hope for something too strongly, those intense feelings can blur us to the reality of what's best for us.

That purely emotional or hopeful voice -- But I love him, I know it'll work out! I don't care about the rotting foundation, I love this house! It doesn't matter what it costs, I need it -- can drown out the sound of our intuitive voice.

As a couples' mediator and relationship coach, I often see this play out in relationships. I can speak with someone who intuitively knows his or her partner will never change or that their relationship is beyond repair, and yet they will still cling to false hope or an unhealthy definition of "love."

Often, this person will rely on excuses to delay the inevitable decision he or she knows has to be made. I can't leave her until she's finished the semester. I can't leave him until after his grandmother's birthday. I can't leave until I find someone to take my aquarium. I can't leave until I can afford a new couch.

The excuses are sometimes so transparent they would be laughable if they weren't so sad and self-damaging.

Eventually this person comes around. When he or she does, the expression is always along these lines: "I knew in my gut it wouldn't work, but I kept hoping. I just loved him/her so much that I just didn't want to accept it was over."

People do this in all areas of life. We know in our gut that we shouldn't buy that shiny black car with the suspicious knock under the hood -- but wow, it's just so cute! That knock will go away on its own, right? Of course it will!


Fast-forward a month and about a gazillion dollars in mechanics' fees, and perhaps we're willing to admit the truth. I knew in my gut it was the wrong decision.

In fact when I recently set out to buy a new car, my dad had some great advice for me: go car shopping when you're in a bad mood.

That seems counter-intuitive, doesn't it? But it isn't. In reality, that kind of approach often lets us hear our intuition clearly, without it being filtered by emotions that might mislead us or compel us to make an impulsive decision.

Yikes. Our gut can be a real buzz kill, can't it? Yes, but think of your gut as a genuine friend. As someone who will tell you what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear.

To sum up, I'd say that in the best of circumstances, our heart and our gut tells us the same thing. We feel loving or hopeful or happy, and on top of that we have an intuitive gut sense of peace and confidence with our decision.

Our stomach flips with true joy rather than churning with anxiety. In the wake of a big personal or professional decision, we feel satisfied and content, rather than doubtful or stressed.

Intuition is something I've come to really value, both professionally and personally. As an avid Greco-Roman Classicist, I even wrote a book about it called Ancient Intuition.

It's fascinating to learn how intuition has been extolled by some of our greatest thinkers, from Aristotle to Einstein, and how it has acted as a catalyst for some of our species' greatest accomplishments from pre-history to modern times.

It can act as a catalyst in our individual lives, too. Intuitive people tend to live with more certainty, clarity and contentment, and tend to make decisions that are truly in their best interests.

In the end, intuition isn't New Age thinking. It's ancient wisdom that you already have inside of you. So put your heart and your gut to work for you. Your life will be better for it.

Check out Debra's book, Ancient Intuition: Ignite the Spark of Awareness Already Within You.

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