I’m not a huge sports fan, but as a Clevelander, I felt like LeBron James’ Sports Illustrated article was practically required reading. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t that I’d tear up. I can’t help it — it’s just what happens to me when I hear stories about people following their hearts and making their dreams come true.
LeBron felt a strong need to come back and play the game he loves in the city he loves, to be a leader and help his teammates reach their full potential, and to give back to his community and inspire others to do the same.
In other words, his heart pulled him back home.
But following your heart isn’t always an easy thing to do, even for those of us who aren’t in the public eye. We often let society’s expectations take priority over what we want for ourselves, assume others must be right about what we should do, or think we don’t deserve what we want or we’re not capable of making it happen.
The thing is, when you ignore what your heart wants, you’ll notice your body starts to feel anything from slightly uncomfortable to more twisted up than my earbud cords after a few days in my purse.
Why is that? Because our hearts use our bodies to communicate. If you’re having a hard time hearing what your heart’s telling you, try this exercise: Close your eyes and remember being in a situation you really didn’t want to be in. Use all your senses to get yourself into that moment. Once you’re there, notice how your body feels. Then open your eyes, shake off that feeling, take a deep breath, and repeat the process, this time reminiscing about a really happy experience.
I’m willing to bet that in the first scenario, your body was tense in at least one spot (its version of saying “no”), and in the second one, the tension was gone (i.e., “yes”). These specific physical responses are unique to each person and consistent regardless of the situation.
And now that you speak the language, you can check in with your body on anything from what to have for dinner to whether you should take a new job. But it doesn’t end there.
Just because you start listening to your heart more doesn’t mean following through will be easy. Many people still resist, procrastinate, and make excuses for why they can’t take action.
You can thank your brain for that.
Back when we were cavemen, our thoughts played a key part in our survival. For example, the thought, “This cave’s totally wrong for me, but moving’s a pain in the ass, plus what if there are lions already living in the next cave I want?” would’ve kept us someplace where we already knew the best spots for gathering resources and hiding from scary animals. (Okay, maybe the thought would’ve been closer to “No move. Stay here,” but you get the drift: skeptical, fear-based thoughts = better chance of living another day.)
We’ve come a long way since our cavemen ancestors, but the reptilian brain, the part of the brain responsible for those stay-safe thoughts, hasn’t evolved since then. It’s not trying to sabotage us or keep us stuck, it’s just being protective and doesn’t understand that staying comfortable isn’t always the best option these days. It’s also oblivious to advances like grocery stores, doors with deadbolts, and the internet.
That’s why we still think things like “I can’t move to a new city because I’ll be all alone, and if the new job doesn’t work out, I’ll end up broke and homeless.” The difference is that because other parts of our brains have evolved, we’re able to recognize these thoughts as clues that fear is keeping us from moving forward in our lives.
Thankfully, there are ways around those thoughts that hold us back. My favorite technique is The Work by Byron Katie. It involves asking whether a thought’s true or not, how it makes you feel, how you’d feel without the thought, and then examining opposite versions of the thought to see if they could possibly be true, too. It’s a deceptively simple yet profound tool that can make following your heart a much easier thing to do.
I don’t know what thoughts LeBron worked through, what discussions he had with people in his personal or professional lives, or how he dealt with all that pressure coming from the media and millions of fans. All I know is that his heart said to go back to Cleveland, and he followed it despite everything. You know what else I know? That if you listen to your heart and let go of those fear-based thoughts, you too can change your life in amazing ways. Okay, maybe not $29-million-a-year amazing, but, really, you can’t put a price on that absolutely blissful feeling you get when you finally arrive in that place your heart calls home.
It’s the 4th of July long weekend, and I’ve been thinking a lot about all the different types of freedom I have in my life. I spent the weekend doing exactly what I wanted, which meant time alone to relax, meditate, and catch up on some DVR’d shows, time with family to connect and enjoy great food and fireworks, time in nature to enjoy this absolutely perfect weather by hiking and (unfortunately) swatting away dive-bombing bugs who were playing a rousing game of who-can-get-closest-to-Katie’s-left-ear-without-going-in.
I’m so grateful I had the freedom to do all that and more over the last three days. And I was able to enjoy it because I had freedom from my thoughts, which, in the past might have told me things like “I should be cleaning, not meditating.” “I need to be working on my business, not watching an old episode of ‘Castle,’ even if I haven’t seen yet.” “I have to go to give my dog a bath, not lounge by the pool with my cousins.”
“Should be.” “Need to be.” “Have to.” The more I notice those thoughts, the more I can become free from them and do the stuff I feel compelled to do. And you know what happened by doing all those things that made me feel happy and recharged? I did all the other stuff, too, but without all the resistance I so often feel. I quickly and easily crossed off every item on my to-do list this weekend because I took the time to do so many things on my want-to-do list, too.
It’s weird how relaxing and having fun can help you get more done in the long run. I can’t explain why, only that over and over, I’ve found it to be true. So go ahead—give yourself the freedom to do what brings you joy.
After all, thanks to our forefathers, you have certain unalienable rights—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So go ahead—pursue the hell out of them all; you’ll be amazed at what happens.
Katie Baron: life coach, freelance writer, animal and nature lover, musician, relentless optimist