Should You Listen to Your Heart or Head? – What to Do When You’re Forced to Choose Between Work and Relationships

Choosing between love and money, or friends and success, is an age old problem and the catalyst for many famous works of fiction. In fiction, as in our real lives, there is often a conflict between what our heart wants and what our head thinks is best. This is all good and well when it’s on TV, but it plain sucks when we are forced to make the decision for real…

Some examples might include:

• Needing to stay late at work again even though you know it will upset your family who never get to see you

• Realising that your friends are preventing you from fulfilling your goals and thinking of getting new acquaintances

• Realising that your dog is costing you too much money/preventing you from going out and enjoying yourself

• Wanting to focus on your career, though it involves moving away from friends or family

• Being in a relationship that is holding you back at work and that you don’t really have time for

• Deciding whether to go out tonight on a date, or to stay in and work on your new business venture

• Having to schmooze with people you don’t like or don’t approve of/abandon your principles, in order to progress at work

These are all examples where your heart might be telling you one thing, but your head is telling you another. It’s difficult in any of these situations to know what to do for best and sometimes it can feel like whichever decision you make, you are going to end up unfulfilled. So the question is… which do you listen to?

Ways of Making a Decision

Of course this is a very broad question and it’s impossible to give a single answer that will be correct in every scenario. Really the best thing to do is to weigh up every situation for its own merits and to come to a decision based on that.

To do this you could come up with a pros and cons table in Excel, but weight it in order to score each point based on the emotional weight it holds. In other words you might say that focussing more on work will make you richer, but staying your current relationship will give you that sense of partnership and then score each for how happy they would make you.

Another option is to use something called ‘counterfactual simulation’. Here what you are going to do is visualise yourself in two alternative futures. In one future you are going to listen to your heart and in the other future you are going to listen to your head. Now you are going to imagine all the potential repercussions of that decision and how it will change your life. Your question at this point is then: is your life better or worse than the alternative?

Sometimes there is an easier way to make this choice – which is to disregard whichever option/person it is that’s making you choose. If ever you’re forced to choose between two people then it almost always makes most sense to choose the person who isn’t forcing you to make that decision. The type of person who forces you to choose between your friends is the kind of person who is going to do it again, and who doesn’t really care about what makes you happiest. Likewise if your work is constantly forcing you to make these kinds of decisions, then you should think about new employment as it’s only going to continue otherwise.

The Third Way

While these strategies can help you to make the ‘right choice’ when picking between the option your heart wants and the option your head wants, there is nevertheless a ‘third option’ in almost all cases that is generally the one I would recommend and aim for.

That option? Do both. In other words, don’t let circumstances change you: change your circumstances. Almost always there will be a ‘compromise’ solution, even if it means working harder, being smarter or rubbing some people up the wrong way.

For instance, if you are being forced to choose between working more or spending more time with your family, then perhaps it’s time you started working from home? Or working late nights while the family are sleeping? In reality it’s almost always possible to maintain a full-time job in any career and maintain a serious relationship, it’s simply a matter of wanting both those things badly enough.

Not sure whether to go out and do something fun or stay in and work? Just work faster and harder now to make the time. Unable to take up a job in your dream industry without giving up time spent with your friends and family? Then consider starting your own business.

Don’t let circumstances or situations push you around. Be stubborn, work harder, get smarter and make things happen the way you want them to.

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