March 22, 2009
Use your head, stupid
I base too many of my decisions on my heart rather than my head. Is it time to change tactics?
By Sumiko Tan
I've been thinking seriously about getting a second dog for some months now but am racked with indecision.
I long for the company of a puppy. It's been five years since I held one in my arms.
I want to bury my face in its milky, musky puppy smell. I want her eyes to melt into mine and I want to tap her cold, wet, little black nose.
I can picture the furry white ball tearing around the house and playing with my current dog, who does seem lonely.
The other day, I fancied I received a sign that I should get another dog. I was out running when I saw a woman with a golden retriever. It was a puppy and - I swear - our eyes locked and he smiled at me. (Well, he was panting and his tongue was hanging out. He looked like he was smiling.)
Now, all this is my heart talking, of course.
My head is telling me a different story.
It is saying that another dog will mean a lot more work for everyone at home - and not everyone around me likes dogs, to boot.
It is asking if I honestly will have time to give the newcomer my full attention, and whether I am capable of providing equal love to both dogs.
Most of all, my head is telling me that a second dog would cause my first dog to be upset and why would I want that?
And so, I don't know. Should I or shouldn't I?
The head prevailed recently, though, when I was deciding whether to send my car to the workshop.
The car's engine would sputter a bit whenever I reversed it in the morning, although it would run smoothly later in the day.
My head said I should get it checked. What if there was something seriously wrong and it caused me to have an accident?
But my heart went, oh, don't worry. It's such a hassle having to go to the workshop and what are the chances of anything being faulty? This can wait or, better still, be ignored.
In the end, I decided to get the engine checked. Indeed the wiring had gone awry. I got it fixed and now feel more assured when I'm behind the wheel.
Generally, though, I am more a heart than a head person.
Even when it comes to the 'hard' stuff in life like money, I tend to let emotions rule my actions.
For example, I'm easily swayed when people spin sob stories and so have ended up lending them quite a bit of money. I also have problems getting them to pay me back.
But nowhere is this heart-over-head inclination more apparent than in friendships and relationships.
I've gone through decades being guided by what my heart feels is right - or wrong - about a relationship rather than what my head says I should do if I were to consider the circumstances in a detached, objective manner.
I wouldn't say the outcomes have been bad - on the contrary. But I do wonder if my life would be more fulfilled if I had acted purely based on rational thought than on spontaneity and sentimentality.
Would I have, at least, not wasted time with frogs with zero chances of turning into something better despite being understanding and giving them love and attention? Would heartaches have been avoided if I had gone with my head and cut my losses? Maybe.
Still, I can't fathom how anyone can use hard reason and cold rationality to define a relationship. How can one live a life as detached as that?
A colleague who says he is an outright head person gave me an inkling of what it's like to be like that:
'I rationalise everything and try to make a decision based on cost-benefit,' he said. 'I still make rash decisions, mind you, but most of the time I will think it through and try to weigh the 'intangibles' with the 'tangibles'.
'So if I go shopping I don't just go for the cheapest or best value. I try to weigh the happiness I get from instant gratification, the brand, the design etc.
'I even try to think with my head in love matters, which makes my partners sometimes feel that I can be quite detached.
'The upside is that the capacity for regret is less, because I tend to feel that I always made the right decision at the time, given all the information I knew.
'The downside is that it makes me quite a cautious person overall, and I feel a lot of regret for not having the guts to follow my heart in some instances, because I might have been happier.'
Another colleague says he uses his head when it comes to important matters like health and savings, but when it is something that is not crucial, he goes with his gut because, even if the outcome was bad, you just wave it off.
Still, for him, 'when it involves affairs of the heart, the voice of hope will always silence the voice of reason'.
Hope is the crux of the matter for heart people like me, who are said to use our right brain more.
We are guided by emotions and intuition and refer to even our subconscious. (Dreams hold significance for us.)
We may tend to whine and fret but are ultimately cock-eyed optimists. This is because our decisions are based on what we choose to see, and hope to see, about a situation rather than what the reality is.
When we act on a decision, we do so with great energy and inspiration. Our actions bring us happiness, but sometimes only for the short-term. When the forces of reality come down on us - as they will - we are crushed.
Head decision-makers, on the other hand, use their left brain and place great store on their ability to make sound judgments.
They are cautious, strive to be rational and fear rocking the boat. They will analyse the ins and outs of a matter, weigh the best- and worst-case scenarios and map the probabilities of these happening.
More often than not, they will get a decision 'right' and their life is stable. But the downside is that they do not experience the heights of happiness that life also has to offer.
No person is all head or all heart, but we tend to be driven more by one than the other.
I suppose the key to a balanced life is to be conscious of which guides you more, and then to deliberately consider the other side when faced with a decision.
If, after seeing all the options, you still think the original course of action is best, then go with what your heart - or head - had told you to do.
Problem for me is that I've done that, and I'm still undecided about that second dog.