CHANGE AND AMBIVALENCE

by stresswinner on January 11, 2010

It’s not just at New Year,  but  any time  we seriously try a  significant life change, we may  be quite surprised by how quickly our motivation evaporates with time and with the  stresses and temptations we face.  It’s disappointing and confusing when we remember how keen we were at the start.
On the surface it seems  pretty simple. We know  we should make , and we want to make, a really important change which would make us feel  much better and live longer, so you would think we’d  make up our minds  and  just do it.
But  you would also think that a drunk driver who killed someone would quit drinking .   You’d think that the obese person who is worried about diabetes would lose weight and  that all smokers  would quit  after their  first heart attack. .
You’d  be wrong!
It’s  amazing how many of us  who really need and want to improve  our  way of living   don’t do it. We give it the occasional try  but basically carry on  as usual, while perhaps  feeling vaguely guilty.
But no matter how high  our initial  motivation,  at some point after we do make the change we  find ourselves  mysteriously pulled  in the opposite direction.  Sometimes the closer we get to our  goal the stronger becomes the attraction to go the other way! The good news is that  this situation is  quite normal and it’s called ambivalence, which means having  simultaneous, contradictory attitudes or feelings toward an object, person, or action. We fluctuate  between one habit  and its opposite, like  a kind of mental  tug-of-war.   On  the one hand we really want to lose weight or quit smoking, but on the other hand, we really miss our snacks or  after dinner smoke. Ambivalence is certainly normal, but with a bit of work and effort  we can  understand  and overcome it enough to reach our goal.
It can really help us to change for the better if we can accept our mixed feelings and then get more deeply in touch with  our true values.   One way of doing this is to make a ‘Decision Balance’  on a  sheet of paper.  Divide the sheet in two, on the left are the  ‘Pros’, or Positives – the reasons why  change is desirable.  On the right, the ‘Cons’, or  Negatives  –  the  reasons not to change.
On the ‘Pro’ side, first list  your concerns about not  changing – “I don’t want a stroke”.   Then list the benefits of changing : “It will be great when ………..)
On the  Con  side, first list the benefits of not changing  – “I really enjoy my desserts”,  then your concerns about changing      “All that effort and my  spouse probably won’t even notice….”.
Spend some time reviewing and adding to the lists, and try to give each point a  value, say from 1-10. It probably won’t take long for you to get a better picture of your true motivation, and to be aware of the things that need to happen for change to become a reality.
Whenever  we decide to change our life for the better, we must realize  that  ambivalence about change is normal and inevitable  But if we persist in getting  in touch with our true values,  make the positive side of the decision  balance  massively  more powerful than the  negative side, and never  give up -then success, too, is inevitable!

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