Updated: November 28, 2020
You’re walking around the mall when you see a good-looking pair of jeans displayed in one of the stores. You go inside to take a closer look and noticed that it is on sale.
“Would you like to try it on?” asked the sales staff.
You nodded, asked for your size, went to the fitting room, and put on what seemed to be the perfect pair of jeans.
You turned around in front of the mirror, then saw how great it looked on you and how comfortable the fit was. Your heart started racing as you ask yourself if you should buy it now.
But before you could say “Yes” to yourself, you remembered that you just bought a new pair last month, and didn’t really need another one. More importantly, you know you can’t afford it at this time, even if it’s already selling at a discounted price.
“Buy it with your credit card,” the heart reminds. And suddenly, you start to justify the purchase and rationalize that you can just lessen your eating out so you can save up to pay for it next month when your bill arrives.
You paused, looked at yourself in the mirror in that fitting room, you felt the seconds ticking by, and realized that you must ultimately make a choice now.
If this was you, would you follow your heart and buy the pair of jeans, or would you follow your logical mind and walk out of the store empty-handed?
Heart vs Mind
First of all, the financially smart decision would be to follow your mind and walk away.
But why is making that decision so hard for most people?
The reason comes from the fact that we are bad intuitive statisticians. This means that when we try to remember events in the past, we tend to mostly recall only the pleasant experiences, while the bad memories slowly fade with time.
Scientific research on reminiscence gives proof that we’re programmed to follow our heart because we recall better all the times that it provided the right decision.
For example, you might recall how you impulsively bought that expensive pair of shoes last year, which became your favorite to wear for special occasions.
Another is that bag you bought when you were feeling depressed several months ago, which turned out to be very useful.
You will remember these two distinct memories, and how buying them didn’t really affect your finances that much. So you begin to rationalize that buying this pair of jeans may turn out to be not that bad likewise.
Unfortunately, you won’t recall all the times when you chose to follow your mind and your budget, which prevented you from going into uncontrollable credit card debt on many occasions, because there’s less to remember about that experience.
Indeed, studies have shown that our logical mind has a better track record but because this usually involves “not doing something for our own good” – it tends to be weaker in memory when compared to the happy experiences that following our heart and buying those stuff gave us.
But how about feeling regret for the things that we didn’t do?
Again, remember that we are poor at keeping score, so the times when we did not follow our heart and regretted the outcome are stronger as a memory than all those times when we followed our logical mind and avoided remorse.
Humans tend to create possible alternatives to life events that have already occurred. This habit of counterfactual thinking causes our minds to linger on our “what ifs”, and thus making it easier to access as a memory.
When we do something right, it’s uncommon for us to imagine the things that could have happened if we made the wrong choice. But when we make a mistake, we repeatedly play in our head the things that we could have done instead.
Too long, didn’t read? Here’s the summary.
Following your heart means going with your feelings and emotions; while following your mind means going with logic and reason.
When faced with conflicts between the heart and the mind, we often do what our heart tells us because our memory often shows us how it has served us well in the past.
However, if we really kept score and recorded all the times when we had to make such decisions, we’ll discover that following our mind leads to better outcomes in most cases.
This now leads us to the ultimate question…
Should you follow your heart or your mind?
The mind is not right all the time, only most of the time, thus there will be decisions when you should follow your heart.
And the best way to know which one to follow is to sort through all the factors and consider the pros and cons of following either. You’ll be surprised that sometimes, there’s a way to satisfy both.
The advice: take your time and think it through.
Give back the pair of jeans, leave the store, and check how much truth there is in your justifications for buying it earlier.
Can you really afford to cut back on your food budget to create the cash to pay for it next month in your credit card bill? How much do you trust yourself that you’ll be able to follow this plan? What’s the worst-case scenario?
With all things considered and your heart’s desire is still stronger than your mind’s logic, then take the risk and buy that pair of jeans the next day.
But be sure to write down about this in a journal, and start keeping score. So that the next time you’re faced with a similar dilemma, you can clearly recall this experience and let the outcome guide you with your next decision.