He didn’t flinch. He didn’t look up. With his head down, heart full of hope, and metal detector in hand, he transitioned from the sand into the sea without a care.
I don’t know anything about metal detectors, beyond what I’ve learned from watching Detectorists. I just hoped, for his sake, that his was waterproof.
There was no way to tell whether or not he had realised that he was now knee deep in water.
His determination was a delight to behold. With headphones on, he carried an apparent obliviousness to the world around him.
I imagined the sensory bubble he was experiencing. Just him and his signal. Moving forwards. Following the pulse of his metal detector.
Also, (thankfully), blissfully unaware that I was stood there, staring with reverent awe at his focus. Oh and taking a cheeky photograph.
It was as if the detector was an extension of his mind and body. The decision maker. Pulling him towards its own destination.
It made me wonder, where does this end? How far into the ocean will it take him? How much risk is it willing to put him in? And will he know when to intervene and say ‘enough is enough’?
Where Does it End?
The idea of following your heart is an interesting one. We might talk about ‘just knowing’, having a hunch, and acting instinctively.
There are many memes and blog posts out there, telling us to follow our hearts. But what does that mean? And where does it take us?
‘Go After Your Dreams’
It’s easy to get carried away with ideas like this. They sound exciting and good. The recipe for freedom. Especially when pitted against the traditional foes…rules and dogma.
But I’m not so sure that we actually need to choose between the two.
Following your heart can be like following the signal on the metal detector without any structure or a plan. You keep moving with the belief that there is treasure somewhere. But you could end up anywhere.
You may end up in the sea without noticing. And you can’t stop looking because, what if you were to quit just before you made the big discovery of the Saxon hoard?
You follow the detector, believing that you’ll find something. Putting yourself in potential peril because you are so fixed on following the feeling that you’ve failed to notice the world around you. The tide coming in, the sun coming down, the people calling out to you from the shore.
You still need structure. And you need some knowledge of the right places to look for the things you want to find.
Following vs Listening
You might call that voice beneath the conscious surface intuition, gut feeling, or heart. And it has a very important role to play. But we must be clear on the difference between listening to something, and following it.
This is true with our hearts. We should listen to them, grapple with what they are saying, and hold that voice up to our values, principles, and intentions. And if it’s saying something which contradicts those preferables, then we can choose not to follow it.
For example, you might be someone who seems to fall in love easily. So you jump from one partner to the next, believing that each person is ‘the one’, only to get yourself in yet another messy situation.
Your heart might be crying out for you to fall in love. But you know deep down that it never works out well when you jump in too quickly.
You don’t have to follow it. Just listen. And make a decision.
Advertising and marketing experts are aware of our tendency to follow our hearts. They know that when we are emotionally moved by a story we are likely to connect with it, and act on that feeling.
So when you see an advert that stirs your heart, you feel connected to the brand, and plug into them as a familiar, thus making you likely to trust and buy from them.
There has been a lot of talk about engaging with politics at the level of the heart in recent years. We hear time and again, voters saying they made their decision, based on a feeling. Things like hope, anger, fear, or even apathy, drive our engagement.
Politicians know that the best way to get people on board is to encourage them to believe that they can trust their heart. And that their instinct is right.
Build Your Toolbox
You have heart. As well as the ability to think rationally and make choices based on hard evidence. You can build a picture if you listen, observe, ask questions etc.
Life is not a competition between the heart and the head. And you don’t have to choose between following your heart and following the rules. These are all important elements of your internal toolbox.
There will always be times when your heart (observing below your conscious level) tells you what you need to know. And it is right to respond to that intuitive gut instinct. But rather than blindly following it through life, hold it lightly, alongside your ability to objectively assess the merits and risks of listening to it.
It is those heart moments that lead to amazing discoveries and breakthroughs. And it is the heart moment that keeps the gambler sat at the roulette wheel, with the belief that they have a good feeling about Red 12.
It’s neither good or bad. But it’s a tool that we can put to amazing use if we remember that we are holding the metal detector. Not the other way round.