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The ambivalent mind is one that is caught in a trap of unknowing.


We often think of ambivalence as having no opinion on way or the other, of not really caring. When we talk about apathy we also think of ambivalence in the same way and although ambivalence can certainly lead to apathy, they are not the same thing.


Ambivalence is when there co-exists both positive and negative feelings towards the same choice, person, object or action. We are simultaneously drawn in two different directions. This makes it very hard for the brain to come to a decision.


Apathy is when we lack interest, enthusiasm or concern, there is indifference and detachment involved. If Apathy is detachment, ambivalence is over attachment.


It makes sense then that when we are ambivalent we need to detach, to come away from the feelings towards a choice for a while and to consciously examine in an objective way, what is going on.


Ambivalence is caused by both uncertainty and the fact that life is never black and white. Life, by its nature is unpredictable and uncertain and we try to make sense of this by attempting to get guarantees for our decisions, to make them final and binding so that we can feel more secure.


We have contracts at work and in business – we make our agreements final and binding so that we can feel certain enough to proceed.


We have marriage contracts, divorce certificates, birth certificates, death certificates. Everything is documented, signed, sealed, certain. We have an innate need for certainty in an uncertain world.


Of course, even the most binding of contracts cannot protect us fully. A marriage can still fall apart, a financial agreement can be breeched, people can go bankrupt, disappear, fake their feelings, fake their identity, steal, lie and cheat. We can wrap things up and neatly and as tightly as we want but it still only minimizes risk, it does not eliminate it.


In some ways, you can see how people would end up trying to break away from the rules and regulations that we have put in place to make our world more certain, it may create a sense of safety but it can also be the cage we try to escape from, the ties that bind and stop us from growing, innovating and discovering the new and different.


“Now, more than ever, we need something enduring to hold close, something that won’t wash away in the furious tides of change”. Walter Cooper

Dealing with ambivalence is about knowing that certainty is not possible but what is certain is that standing still cannot last forever. Even if you stood still forever things would still change. Your skin and body would still age, your muscles would waste away from lack of use, the world around you and beneath your feet would change, the place you were stood could be built upon and redeveloped many times in your life around you. Even if you stand still, you cannot avoid change and it matters very little in the end whether one decision works out or not, the point is to keep moving forwards.


I am going to share a question that I ask my clients, which I have named the Constant Question. Once they understand their values and their goals this question keeps them on track and helps them avoid ambivalence.


“Does this thought, this action, this behaviour, take you towards where you say you want to go or away from it?” 


Asking this question keeps decision making easy. If you go to that networking event even when you don’t really want to, will it take you towards where you say you want to go or further away from it? If you send that email, worded as it is, will it take you towards where you say you want to go? It keeps your day to day actions and thoughts inline with a bigger picture, a longer term view that can help you remember what you want to do next and why.



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