(am-biv-uh-luhns) Uncertainty or fluctuation, especially when caused by an inability to make a choice or by a simultaneous desire to say or do two opposite or conflicting things.

As we embrace the New Year 2010, we often begin to think about those things around us that need to be changed. The ever popular New Year’s resolutions such as losing weight or overcoming a smoking habit may to come to mind. We may often recall years past when we attempted such New Year’s resolutions and begin to wonder about our unsuccessful attempts to change.

Sometimes the guilt and/or shame that accompany this reflection may cause us to begin to question whether weight or smoking is really an issue. On the one hand, we may have been told by the doctor that we should consider watching what we eat and cut down on the cigarettes due to the health risks. We may even have family or friends voicing similar concerns. On the other hand, we might feel perfectly healthy right now and think it might be really hard to either lose weight or quit smoking. We wonder if the stress of making the change may actually create more health problems for us. We are experiencing ambivalence towards making change in our life.

When making change, especially major life change that involves several areas of our life, it is very normal to experience ambivalence. The degree or level of ambivalence can fluctuate as well. For instance, one day we may really want to stop smoking and go the entire day without a cigarette. The next day, we may decide that quitting really wasn’t the goal, but maybe not smoking during work breaks will be enough of a change.

So how do you work through ambivalence to actually create change? One way to begin working through ambivalence is to identify the concerns. There may be concerns of failure, of not having access to the right resources or not having enough support. Whatever the concerns, make a list so they become more clear. This is a great jumpstart to then creating a pro/con list. This list can be made of two columns. One side lists the advantages, benefits, and positive things change would bring. The other side is just the opposite: what potential disadvantages, costs, or negative things may be associated with the change. When you are finished with this, you have really just mapped all the ambivalence you have been experiencing and may have a better idea as to which concern or disadvantage has been keeping you from moving forward.

The next step is to educate yourself. Learn about the available options for making the change. Bring in the necessary support that you need such as a friend or a support group. Through educating yourself with materials about weight loss, you may realize that your list of disadvantages has actually been cut in half. Another important consideration is to learn about what and how others have reached a similar goal. Talking directly to those who have achieved what you are setting out to do, or to someone who is educated about those who have completed similar goals can provide a lot of information and understanding about the ambivalence others have experienced and managed effectively in order to attain the goal. Finally, take initiative to learn more about the risks and effects of maintaining the current state. Understanding what you may have to lose may assist you in building on the advantage side of the list.

In summary, don’t let ambivalence deter you from your New Year’s resolution. Understand that it is a normal process in making lasting change and try some of these suggestions as you create your own New Year’s resolutions.

I, myself, am considering taking on what may be a ‘new’ New Year’s resolution for many others as well. It is limiting the amount of time that consumes me in texting, emailing, and online chatting. I, however, am still ambivalent about making a change to decrease the time involved in these various activities. On the one hand, I am sure if I were to ‘cut back’, I might find more time for the most important things in my life, such as family. On the other hand, I find my phone and computer as very useful tools for communication and efficiency. Now to begin working on my lists of concerns and advantages versus disadvantages!




  • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
    Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner

  • Jody Johnson, LICSW, LIMHP, began working at Wholeness Healing Center as a therapist in 2007. Jody graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha with her Masters in Social Work.  She received her bachelor degree in Social Work from the University of Nebraska at Kearney.


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