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Head, Heart, Gut: Your Internal Advisory Committee

Head, Heart, Gut: Your Internal Advisory Committee

When it comes to country music, I am parve. You won’t catch me downloading any Willie Nelson, Carrie Underwood or "Country" Hootie songs on iTunes, but I also didn’t roll my eyes when my husband Michael happily happened upon our new minivan’s XM radio station playing all C&W, all the time. Yes, when it comes to country music, y’all could say I’m parve.

But when Michael and I were slow-dancing at a friend’s wedding, and Kenny Roger’s song, "Through the Years" came on, my reaction was anything but. As the first line of lyrics left Kenny’s lips, "I can’t remember when you weren’t there" – I suddenly wasn’t there. I had run from my husband’s embrace, dashed into the ladies’ room, and found myself weeping all over my green silk shantung gown. What the heck had just happened?

Sorry, Kenny. It isn’t you. It’s me.

Within a couple of minutes, I had it figured out. "Through the Years" had been my parents’ song together – and my parents had gotten divorced over 20 years ago. And while my head was struggling to make sense of why this song was still stinging me, my heart remembered it like it was yesterday, and my gut had told me to make a run for it before I made the dance floor a slippery mess.

And my confused husband, left alone on the dance floor while I was working through decades-old business in the bathroom, knew in his head, heart and gut that my departure was temporary. So he got himself a drink.

As I dried my eyes, I wondered: Aren’t I over a divorce that occurred when I was 15 years old? My head said, "Of course I am!" My heart offered, "Still working on it." My gut just growled, "Oy."

Head. Heart. Gut. I refer to these as the members of my Internal Advisory Committee. Each of these three helps us make decisions, set priorities, and make sense of the world around us. Most of us have learned over time to lean on one primary key advisor. For me, it’s my Head. When confronted with a problem, dilemma, or challenge, my initial line of attack is to "think my way out of it" with a systematic, logical approach. On my best days, my Head is nimble, methodical, questioning, and investigative. When I get stuck, however, I am trapped in my Head, cluttered with noise and ensnared in cyclical thinking.

According to Rabbi Eliezer, "Everything follows the head." If your favorite dance partners in life are Facts, Data, History, Details and Analysis, then he’s talking to you.

Of course, that’s only one perspective. A Yiddish proverb tells us, "The Heart sees better than the eye." Our Hearts clue us in to how we feel about the situation we face. Being in touch with our emotional responses provides us with another critical way of knowing and understanding what we want and what we need. But if we lead every dance with our Hearts alone, we are going to make major missteps as we try to navigate around the rest of the moves on the dance floor.

As "Heady" as Einstein was, he gives his vote to Gut: "The only real valuable thing is intuition." Gut, intuition, instinct – -whatever you call it — it represents what you know deep down in your body and soul. Gut speaks to us like a sullen teenager, deigning to chime in with snipped sound-bites: "Hate it.", "Yes! Finally!", "Won’t work." Our Gut clues us in to what we think and feel well before we put any time into deep consideration. Our Gut drives us to sprint — or stick – while our Head and Heart play catch-up.

Most of us have managed to make it through life, work, parenting and partnership by dancing with the one we came with. In other words, we have learned through experience and conditioning that one member of our Internal Advisory Committee is more reliable than the other two, or perhaps more readily accessible, or even more culturally accepted in our workplaces or families. But we grow dependant on just one source of counsel at our peril – especially when we’re faced with new or big decisions that require the input of our quieter advisors.

Using a Heart-Heart-Gut approach isn’t just for individual decision-making; it’s critical for organizational efficacy too. Jewish institutions are no exception. Far too often, well-meaning boards of directors lead with their hearts and their guts at the expense of their heads. Of course we want our Jewish institutions to represent and promote menschlichkeit (humanity), rachmanos (compassion), and chesed (loving kindness). It’s mission-critical. But in order to be mission-driven and mission-successful, Jewish institutions need to give equal weight to the analytical, investigative, practical, (yes, fiscal) considerations that undergird long-term sustainability and survival.

But sometimes survival isn’t institutional – it’s personal. In her hilarious and heartbreaking book, "Are You My Guru? How Medicine, Meditation and Madonna Saved My Life" author Wendy Shanker shares her painstaking journey pursuing a cure for a rare auto-immune disease that is slowly stealing her hearing, breathing, movement, and appearance.

When she learns that traditional medical treatments (read: Head) are not working, she feels that it’s time to consider alternative approaches to curing her (hello, Heart). Among the many healers, rabbis, yogis, gurus and shamans that Wendy visits, she finds an "intuitive therapist" who asks her to talk to her liver (Gut’s close neighbor, natch). As a result of these conversations with her liver, "Laverne", Wendy’s Gut, Heart and Head finally agree on one thing: She must stop taking the medicine that seems to be poisoning her system rather than bolstering it. Against the advice of her Head-y doctors, Wendy quits treatment – and finally finds herself in the remission that had eluded her for so many years.

God-willing, you won’t need your Head, Heart, and Gut to align to save your life like Wendy did. But you will need your Internal Advisory Committee members to contribute their unique, insightful and vital perspectives to help you live the fullest life possible, and lead your family, business or organization to long-term fulfillment and sustainability.

Which member do you need to learn to dance with?

Deborah Grayson Riegel is a certified coach, speaker and trainer who helps individuals, teams and organizations achieve personal and professional success through her high-energy workshops, presentations and one-on-one coaching. Visit her online at or

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