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Head vs Heart: The Power by which People Experience
Profound, Lasting Change from their Core, and
the Futility of Goal Setting & Rule Following

Dear Dr Matt,

I've been reading "Changing Your Stripes" and I love it! You talk a lot about the difference between Being in your Heart instead of your Head. I still do not understand why having a mental image of the goals I want to accomplish, is somehow, not the best approach. Would you please explain this to me?

Thank you for your time,

Haley R.
21 years old, single
Chicago, Illinois

Related Articles: Do I Really Have a Choice NOT to Be Stressed Out?
Why You Cannot Directly Think Yourself into Being Happy
As A Man Thinks So Is He: Clarifying A Commonly Misinterpreted Proverb

Hi Haley,

Visualizing good goals can be a good thing, depending upon how and when you do this. For example, taking personal time to plan for appointments, events, and things to do — visualizing how you might accomplish your goal — can be beneficial when done during private times. The intention of visualizing is to plan and prepare.

But once you are prepared, and you begin moving forward to accomplish your goals, it is vital to be in the moment with the people you come in contact. Your focus must be on hearing others and loving them, and not upon the achievement of goals. With the wrong mindset, you may be tempted to view each person in your immediate presence as merely a means to attaining your ends.

Here's a further explanation from one of my mentors, followed by additional commentary from me:

The Problem with Self-Improvement Goals
by C. Terry Warner 

Let us examine a little more closely the reasons why changing our heart cannot be a matter of goal-setting and rule-following.

When we begin by setting a goal, we project an image into the future of the kind of person we want to be. Then we guide our conduct by the image we have visualized, rather than hearkening to the summons of conscience that may come to us. We pay minimal attention to the hopes and needs of the people around us and concentrate on our project. We tend to see others as helping or hurting the project — we use others for our purposes and ignore their needs and desires. Thus we maintain an alienated "I-It" relationship with them, rather than "I-Thou" relationship.

There is a danger of this selfish blindness even if our stated goal is to help others — even if in our goal we visualize an image of them, and not just an image of ourselves. Our pursuit of the goal is still selfish and insensitive because it is our goal we are pursuing, even if we believe it is "for their own good." Having projected this goal, we help them in the way we envision rather than in the way they need. And inevitably they will sense this self-centeredness and feel misused. Here are some examples of how our goals of self-improvement actually block genuine improvement, specifically, a change of heart:

** A couple infatuated with the idea of falling in love — rather than loving each other genuinely

** Parents who imagine themselves having an orderly home with obedient, cheerful children — rather than simply being devoted to those children

** Managers enthralled with the idea of successful leadership — rather than concerned with helping others succeed

** Teachers, doctors, or attorneys embarking on a career in which they hope to be impressive, respected, or adored — rather than setting out to serve

All of these "self-improvement" goals are more preoccupied with the image of an ideal or impressive life-project than with hearkening to the hopes and needs of others; hence they are bound to fail in terms of meaningful improvement. Their goals are not to help the real people they will live and work with from day to day and hour by hour, but to make sure they become the heroes or heroines of their own stories. Inevitably, others will not play the roles these stories assign them, and they will be resented by the selfish-story-maker for their lack of cooperation.

Only a life-project committed to the happiness and success of other people will not turn bitter on the vine. There is, then, a vast difference between trying to change oneself, self-improvement, according to one's self-serving idea of what it is to be good, and actually being good.

Many self-betrayers rigidly, desperately, even fanatically pursue goals to ensure that their story will end in their favor, for them; they live with the stratagem of self-promotion and self-protection. Inevitably, they belong among those who live for themselves. But being good requires living for others, because only this way can we be authentic. This requires openness to others in the moment, and openness to the natural world around us; it requires listening and doing what love dictates — such leads to a change in self that matters, an authentic and lasting improvement.

For the only change that matters is a change of heart. Every other change alters us cosmetically but not fundamentally; modifies how we appear, what we do or what we say, but not who we are.

Perfect honesty and simplicity consists not in devoting attention to oneself,
even when one's aims are lofty, but in forgetting oneself and responding to others
in love, according to their needs. We are not oysters existing in shells — even though
that is how we may feel when we become self-involved. Instead, we are connected to each other, and especially to God, by spiritual sensitivities and obligations
profound as eternity. And just for that reason, we become most
ourselves when we are most true to God and to one another.
We become most right with ourselves when
we are most right with them.
- C. Terry Warner


by Matt Moody Ph.D.

When Warner uses the term "rule-following," he is not talking about "commandment-following." Rules, in his view, are "How-to-do's" and Commandments are "What-to-do's." And the two approaches exist worlds apart!

How-to-do's are technological recipes that supposedly guarantee a given result as specific step by step "rules" are followed. It is precisely these "rules" that clutter our minds, when we could be clearly tuned-in to the needs and concerns of people we might love and serve.

Sometimes we may choose to focus on the "rules" because we egocentrically hope to enlist others in the service of our SELFISH-improvement goals. But human beings are not machines that automatically deliver desired results according to manipulations and strategicaly calculated stimuli — to include the technological recipes geared to guarantee results.

Joyful Living means that we must often let go of desiring certain "results" — especially as those results are IN the direct control of other people, according to their prerogative and choosing. Here's how Mother Theresa expressed this pragmatic principle:

"We cannot do great things, only small things with great love. The success of love is in the loving —
it is not in the result of loving. Of course it is natural in love to want the best for the other person,
but whether it turns out that way or not does not determine the value of what we have done."

The book "Men are from Mars, and Women are from Venus" by John Gray, provides a typical example of rule-driven, self-improvement strategies. The following "rules" are given to facilitate (manipulate) the reaching of a stated goal:

          1. Remember anger comes from not understanding her point of view. 
          2. Remember that feelings don't always make sense right away.
          3. Remember that anger may come from not knowing what to do to make things better.
          4. Remember you don't have to agree to understand her point of view.
          5. Remember you don't have to understand her point of view to succeed in being a good listener.

Trying to follow rules like this, is a good example of the "rule-following" that, according to Warner, cannot lead to a "change of heart." This is because the rule-follower is failing to do the very thing that will open the way to a change of heart: Sincerely listening to the needs and concerns of another person in the moment.

Instead of being sensitive to others, instead of loving and serving others, and being in the moment for others, rule-followers get "in their heads" to busily remember rules 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5 in order to attain the goal that they selfishly envision.

In the very moment we are with a person in a potentially provoking situation, there is a superior way to "LISTEN WITHOUT GETTING ANGRY" -- compared to focusing mental energy upon rules 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5. The superior way is simply conceived, but requires Preparation prior to the provoking moment. The Bible points to this Preparation in the following verse:

"We sing praises of our Lord and Father, and with the same tongue invoke curses upon our
fellow-beings, who are made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praises and curses.
My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Does a fountain send forth from the same place
sweet water and bitter? Can a fig-tree yield olive berries, or a vine, figs?
So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh."
(James 3: 9-11)

How do we apply this True Principle to the aim of "LISTENING WITHOUT GETTING ANGRY"?

We become a Pure Fountain from which "fresh" water flows! We become the kind of person who is patient and not prone to angry reactions. I call the propensity to become emotionally provoked the Provoke-Ability Quotient, or P.Q.

Exactly how do we Change to become this new kind of creature who remains calm amid strife?

Haley, you and I cannot cause a profound Change from our Core through determined will power; rather, we are Changed through the exact opposite approach and attitude — we must yield our selfish wills, to His Will.

Everything we need to know in order to experience a change of heart,
we know already: it is a truth always available, a possession we have as
part of the human family. This means there are no experts. The secret of life is
everyone's possession. We do not need to go in search of it, only to stop resisting it.
No matter how much we are willing to spend, we cannot find it in any other way.
- C. Terry Warner.

We cannot cause such a profound Change to occur directly, but only indirectly. As we believe in Christ and choose to faithfully follow His Loving Ways, we are Changed — the Savior directly makes us Pure Fountains from which spontaneously flows Sweet Water.

"Old things pass away, and all things become new;
you become a new creature in Christ."
2 Corinthians 5:17

John Gray's List of 5 Rules is a Head Strategy that encourages you to invest mental attention into the Rules instead of the Person.

This kind of Head Strategy clouds empathic sensitivities; and as you are insensitive, the person in your presence will discern that you are In Your Head and not In the Moment — the person in your presence will sense that you are not hearing and responding to realities happening in the NOW.

Feeling ignored and unheard, ironically, Rule-Followers give the Ignored Person a reason to be provoked, which in turn invites and enables the very emotion that the Rules were designed to avoid — Anger! Paradoxically, John Gray's 5-Rules on "HOW TO LISTEN WITHOUT GETTING ANGRY" are a recipe for Anger.

Again, this is because Rule-Followers are busy visualizing the achievement of a Goal and the steps for attaining that Goal, instead of Hearing and Loving the Person.

Read More about becoming a Pure Fountain from which sweet waters flow.


Matt Moody, Ph.D.
Social Psychologist

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