Follow your heart and all that crazy stuff


A mechanic is talking to a heart surgeon. “We do the same thing in our lines of work. You work on hearts; I work on engines, which is the heart of a car.”

The heart surgeon agrees. “So,” the mechanic asks, “why do you get paid so much more than me?” The heart surgeon laughs and says, “Well, when I operate, the engine is still running...” 

And this is the heart of the issue.

Have you come across the famous cry of many? “Just follow your heart.” Celebrities, talk show hosts, commencement and motivational speakers always say it. The phrase has even infected the corporate world, where managers, to motivate and encourage their people, would say, “Just follow your heart.”

I have to confess. I said the same thing when my kids were in their teens, but I added a little after that. I would say, “Follow your heart, but bring your brains along with you.”

Many modern-day career advice promote ideas that downplay the significance of self-discipline and thinking. Phrases like “follow your passion,” “be yourself,” and “always listen to your heart” encourage us to prioritize emotions over rational thinking. This advice seeks to diminish our inner critic and lessen the societal expectations that push us to compromise for others. It urges us to unwind, adopt a laissez-faire attitude and indulge ourselves without feeling ashamed or burdened by guilt. In other words, forget self-control but follow what your heart says.

Yet, empirical evidence and research have convincingly demonstrated the manifold advantages of self-control in both the professional and personal realms. Self-control entails resisting momentary temptations, and grit, characterized by persistent, resilient pursuit of long-term objectives, significantly contributes to individuals’ career advancements.

These findings align with numerous academic inquiries underscoring the pervasive positive influence of conscientiousness, a trait associated with heightened self-control, discipline and self-regulation, on educational and professional outcomes. Outside of professional settings, these qualities associated with a stoic, gritty, diligent demeanor and the ability to avoid counterproductive behaviors have been correlated with various desirable life outcomes, including romantic success, marital contentment, freedom from psychological and physical ailments and increased life expectancy.

Moreover, the advantages of self-control extend beyond the individual to benefit their peers, coworkers and society as a whole. Notably, teams led by conscientious, self-disciplined individuals tend to collaborate more effectively, surpass other teams in performance, and experience elevated morale and job satisfaction. Conversely, in groups or teams where levels of conscientiousness and self-control are lacking, there’s a notable increase in toxic, harmful and antisocial behaviors, which detrimentally affects everyone involved.

With determination and self-discipline, we can cultivate tolerance and rational compassion, allowing us to extend kindness and empathy even to those with whom we seemingly share little common ground—those with vastly different views and values.

However, self-control has limitations and is most effective when practiced in moderation. Our reservoir of self-control is finite and the more we strain this mental muscle, the more it diminishes.

For instance, if you exert considerable effort to resist consuming sugary foods and beverages, you’ll have less energy to curb impulses like online shopping or the urge to engage in heated arguments with troublesome colleagues, opting for politeness instead. The less self-control you exert in one aspect, the fewer reserves you’ll have to exercise elsewhere.

Notably, research indicates that excessive dispositional self-control can manifest in obsessive, controlling behaviors, negatively impacting both psychological and physical well-being while hindering the cultivation of positive social connections.

For instance, you may have encountered the excessively structured approach of a highly self-controlled boss, which may stifle creativity and innovation in the workplace. Alarmingly, hyper-conscientious tendencies taken to extremes can lead not only to excessive self-restraint but also to mindless conformity and obedience, potentially fueling the emergence of authoritarian regimes and personality cults.

Moderate self-control strikes a balance between discipline and adaptability, allowing individuals to pursue their goals while remaining open to life’s unpredictabilities and occasional indulgences. This, in turn, promotes psychological well-being. Extreme self-control may result in stress, burnout and a diminished capacity to savor life’s pleasures. It’s essential to approach personal and professional life as a delicate equilibrium between rational self-management and self-compassion.

We have to recognize that many things are beyond our control.

Robert Lee says, “I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.” James Allen says, “Self-control is strength. The right thought is mastery. Calmness is power.” Now you know why I am persuaded that we must follow our hearts but bring our brains with us, or else we will be in trouble.

(Mark your calendar for May 15, 2024, for Level Up Leadership—The Next Edge at Space, One Ayala, Makati. Explore personal development, business growth and adapting to disruption. Register now to secure your spot. Contact April at +63928-559-1798, Savee at 0917-533-6817, or visit www.levelupleadership.ph. Limited seats available).

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