How to Follow Your Heart

Without touching any pulse points, sense your heartbeat. Internally identify the rhythm.

Got it? Now put a finger on your wrist to check your answer.

This is a standard way to measure self-awareness. If you correctly sensed your own heartbeat, you have strong intuition and are likely to be aware of gut feelings. This sense of self comes from the dorsal posterior insula, which allows us to feel emotions [1].

Now, there is a difference between having emotions and feeling emotions. An emotion is the collection of physiological changes triggered by the release of neurotransmitters in response to an object or event. All animals have emotions, in the scientific sense [2].

A feeling is the cerebral response to changes in the emotional state. It’s the conscious perception of an aching heart, which is actually caused by the anterior cingulate cortex increasing vagus nerve activity under stress. When the vagus nerve is overstimulated, it causes chest pain and nausea. And you feel heartbroken.


Not all animals have feelings. Not even all humans have feelings.

Feelings are the basis of intuition. Awareness of feelings gives us a database of prior emotional processing to draw from.

If you didn’t sense your correct heartbeat the first time, here’s a trick:
Go outside and pretend a velociraptor is chasing you. Sprint like you’re gonna get eaten. Run until your chest is about to explode.


Now it’s easy to sense your heartbeat. It’s probably jumping at your throat.

Follow this beat until it slows to a resting rate. If you’re in crap shape like me, it could take a while. Keep sensing the internal rhythm.

By the time you reach a resting rate, you’re no longer feeling a beat from the physical pulse in your chest. You’re receiving signals from every internal organ. This is how you invite intuition.

The next time you are faced with a difficult decision, listen to your heartbeat.


1. A.D. Craig. Interoception: the sense of the physiological condition of the body. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 13(4):500-505, 2003.

2. A. Bechara and A. Damasio. The somatic marker hypothesis: A neural theory of economic decision. Games and Economic Behavior, 52(2):336-372, 2005.


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