“There is no squabbling so violent as that between people who accepted an idea yesterday and those who will accept the same idea tomorrow.” ~Christopher Morley.

This article title is not a rhetorical question at all. In fact it might be one of the most important questions to ask and answer as we approach what some self-growth, human potential gurus suspect to be the dawn of a “new conscientious” in the on-going evolution of our civilization, at the important date of 2012. A completely rational and creative answer to this title question may be “both.” But is that really possible in the real world of not-so-rational possibilities? Consider the following head and heart dilemmas:

• John is just starting a long distance relationship with Mary that is quickly heating up and getting serious. He has very strong love feelings towards Mary and wants to marry her. But there are a few serious red flags getting redder in his mind—such as her flirting behavior, constant interruptions and seemingly lack of interest in what is going on in his life. John has tried to talk to Mary about these unhappy moments in an assertive, non-complaining way, but she isn’t communicating about the situation at all. Should John bail before his feelings for Mary go past the point of no return or should he just try to adapt to her “unhealthy” ways, being more tolerant and hoping for improvement over time?

• Bill and Sara have a son who has totally thrown away his good life, along with most of their savings, because of a serious addiction problem that the he refuses to acknowledge or deal with. Things are quickly going to hell in a hand basket. Sara is ready to call it quits, having tried all her solutions and exhausting her feelings, but Bill still has some shred of hope that he is desperately hanging onto. Of course Sara thinks Bill is just acting out of his own guilt and that they are all inevitably going down the drain with Drano. How can they possibly communicate past this deadly conflict?

• Ron just lost his high-paying financial consulting job with a respectable firm due to the recession and some difficult calls on his part. He wants to start his own business in helping people recover their losses from the dire economic crisis, but sees too many realistic obstacles. This is his true passion that his mind can’t seem to resolve no matter how hard he tries. What can Ron do?

• Rick and Jen have some good friends they met through work, where Rick was the boss. The enjoyed a good social and emotional friendship, which came to an abrupt end because the male friend was “canned” from work and Rick was worried about his own future if he or his wife continued the friendship away from work. The two friends wanted to continue the relationship because that is what true friends do, but Rick was still worried about his job if he continued the “off the record” friendship. Jen was very uncertain as to what to do, having all sorts of ambiguity about any independent choice she had in this situation. What is their best answer to this sticky dilemma?

Such head and heart conflicts are worsened by two realities:

1. Double approach-avoidance conflicts, such as the above examples, produce the most distress and painfully delay any possible win-win resolution. This is because John, Mary, Bill, Sara, Ron, Rick and Jen are all caught between a rock and hard place, being super-glued to a catch-22 situation, when trying to choose between two “impossible” alternatives, which both have pros and cons either way, and the outcomes can go either way, good or bad.

2. With such conflicts, it is impossible to get a clear reading as to what the head and heart really have to say about the situation at hand, because of the dynamic, pretzel-like interaction between rational thoughts, irrational feelings, and vague intuitions. It is hard to know when one stops and the other starts. In reality, any solution coming from the heart, will get carefully scrutinized, evaluated and contaminated by the thinking process. This is because we have a verbal and non-verbal system of communication, in which the verbal side thinks it can control the non-verbal side, which it can’t but still tries. Subsequently the mind is always convinced that it can predict likely consequences and outcomes of the choices we make, even in such apparent no-win, double approach-avoidance conflicts, and especially when they come form the heart via irrational feelings or intuitions.

Wow! How do these folks get unstuck from their situations and these dreadful realities? Should you listen to your head or heart? Yes, you should listen to both.

But the yes comes with an ultimate caveat about reality: Whether you follow your head or heart, it does no good to second guess your choice ahead of time, which just slows down the choice and continues the distress. The mind will never stop trying to analyze the information you think you need to know to make the best choice to get the best outcome (if there is one); and the heart will never be free of doubts about making the “right” choice, given the endless run of expectations generated by the mind and reinforced by emotions.

So, whether these folks or you listen to your head or heart, the only possible relief has to involve either: (a) letting go of the mental delusion of being able to predict and control the future ahead of time, (b) accepting the doubts that go along with heart-made choices, or (c) getting rid of rational expectations about heart-made choices by unwrapping the emotional package that holds them hostage, and waiting patiently for and then adapting positively to the consequences if, when and how they come.

Of course, the possible bottom line here is that choices from the heart, doubts and all, minus expectations ahead of time, may be the best way to improve the quality of the future. Admittedly the jury is still out on this one, but maybe we are all on the brink of finding out more about this transformation?

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA and also a business and personal success coach, sport psychologist, photographer and writer living in the mountains of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, The Prosperity Zone, Getting More By Doing Less, You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too, The Bow-Wow Secrets, Do What Matters Most, “P” Point Management, Reality Repair and Reality Repair Rx He can be contacted with comments or questions at 425 454-5011 or bcottringer@pssp.net