I’ve long intellectually understood the difference between listening to your head versus listening to your heart but I heard an interesting way of feeling the difference recently. When you are trying to listen to your heart, or truth, or your wisdom or intuition – whatever you may call it – you’re listening for something that arises below your neck.
Everything above it is your head talking. Your thinking brain, your monkey mind… the incessant stream of noise and thoughts that we (particularly Westerners) are overly identified with. We think we are our thoughts. We think our thoughts are reality.
Our heads, our thinking brains, provide an immensely useful tool when used quite deliberately. But they are also responsible for:
- dwelling in the past or the future
- repeating our default stories about ourselves and our lives
- keeping us small, limited or stuck.
I’ve been practicing tuning into the space ‘below my neck’ recently as part of a new course I’m doing – this has shown me exactly how ridiculously noisy and controlling my head actually is. Somehow for the really big decisions (buying a house, moving cities, countries or even relationships), my intuition bubbles up and I trust it enough to lead the way. But day to day I find my brain a lot more convincing.
One of the biggest insights I’ve had is about the default stories we carry around about ourselves, and the huge role these play in keeping us small, limited, or stuck. These are the stories we all have, that we probably formed about ourselves when we were very young, that have over time become our ‘truth’. They are firmly stored in the recesses of our minds, but have a huge impact on our current beliefs, mindset and behaviour.
Here’s a really common one. Think about those group situations where everyone is asked to draw something. Guaranteed at least half the room will start expressing how they can’t draw, how they’ve ‘never been artistic’. I know this because I used to say it about myself. Now I’m really fascinated noticing all the people around me with the same story. It feels a lot different to let go of that story about yourself and just get on with drawing a picture. This is a pretty harmless story in the scheme of things, but it illustrates the point.
Here are some other examples:
- I’m useless with money
- Relationships are always so painful
- I struggle to make new friends
- I’m not manager material
- I never have good luck with x/y/z
Stories can be positive, too. Think about those things that seem to come effortlessly to you. Some have struggle after struggle with money but sail through other parts of their lives. Others experience golden success in their careers but have limiting stories about relationships.
The point about our stories is that whether positive or negative, we’ll keep attracting things that reinforce them. Think about a little kid who believes he’s terrible at rugby. What would his mindset be like going into a game? What about his actions? How would that contrast with a kid who believes he plays pretty well?
And fast forward a few (or more) decades – why would it be any different for you, with the unconscious stories that drive your deep beliefs, mindset, and behaviour?
Can you identify at least one of yours? Your stories are more than likely things you actually believe about yourself, and would have a hard time being unconvinced of. That’s the whole point – you take these stories as truths. You’ve carried them for a very long time.
Recognising our default stories is half the battle. Then comes the hard work of choosing to reframe them. Coaching can really help with this. It’s not enough to simply keep reacting to or trying to change our external environment. If we want sustainable change, we also need to address what lies underneath our experiences in the external world: changing our internal world is the big game.