Many years ago when I was knee high to a grass hopper, my grandparents often talked about moving from their semidetached council house on the dreary outskirts of London and buying a post office in rural Dorset. It was their life-long dream, and reflected the modest ambitions of the age. They even got as far as driving down and viewing a village post office just outside of Dorchester somewhere. The talking and planning went on for years while I was growing up until a time when they became too old and the opportunity of changing their lives and making their dreams come true passed them by. I often wonder what stopped them, why they never made it happen, and how many of us live with this same gnawing feeling, that one day, we will make our dreams come true. So what is it that’s really stopping us?
It’s an interesting idea that the only thing holding us back is ourselves. Let’s for a moment pretend that it’s true; that the only thing holding us back from realizing our dreams is ourselves; that we can actually go ahead and live the life we have always dreamed of, make the changes that we have always wanted, but somehow, and perhaps quite unconsciously, always stop ourselves at the last minute, we retreat, and end up plodding our way back through our old familiar and not so perfect life. It’s a real bummer, and like my dear grandparents, it can easily go on for a lifetime.
So, what’s really stopping us?
Let’s put that moment of retreat under the microscope, the moment when you turn back from your dreams and drive back to the dreary suburbs of London from a picturesque and perfect village post office outside of Dorchester. What’s going on? What’s going through your mind as you retreat from the lifestyle of your dreams? Thankfully I don’t know exactly as that would be distinctly creepy, but I do know that for all of us, for me, you and my grandparents, what’s preventing us from changing is a tortuous process of ambivalence. It’s ambivalence which stops us, the painful spaghetti junction of conflicting thoughts and feelings; shall I shan’t I, can I afford it, do I stay safe in a less than ideal life or do I break out and risk everything, is this what I really want, what happens if it doesn’t work out, will my life really be better, to be or not to be, shall I stay or shall I go and so on. Sound familiar?
Before we go any further I should just clarify that ambivalence means when we feel at least two different ways about something, and not, as many people believe, just not caring.
Ambivalence is the arch enemy of change. It is the Moriarty to our Sherlock Holmes. It prevents us from moving forwards, we become paralysed, trapped in an endless cycle of self-questioning and uncertainty. In a shuffling, dead end dance with the devil we take two steps forward and then take two steps back. The longer we dance the harder it is to stop, until exhausted and spent, and having proved to ourselves that we will never be able to change we drop to the floor and simply give up. Not to be too dramatic about it or anything.
Anyhoo, dramatics aside, and to be perfectly clear and to cut a long story short, the reason we don’t change is because we often feel, either consciously, or unconsciously, deeply ambivalent. So the next question is how do we resolve ambivalence?
After spending the past 30 years working as a counsellor I have come to see more and more clearly that good counselling is really nothing more than helping to resolve ambivalence. It’s at the very heart of things, the very heart of good counselling, relationship therapy and motivational therapy. So much that happens in a counselling session is about ambivalence in one form or another, even if the starting point is somewhere else, it won’t be too long before our old arch enemy raises his head.
The way that ambivalence is resolved is, as you may imagine, to say the least, a tricky business. I have spent a decent amount of an entire life time working towards understanding how it all works and how to help people move forward. In the words of my mentor and friend Dr Bill Miller, “ambivalence is okay to pass through but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
A useful way to start working on your ambivalence is to break it down into two parts, how important we feel something is and secondly how confident we are that we are able to make the change that we are dreaming of. For many people the next steps are about finding ways to increase importance and also, and also to increase confidence. To make it slightly easier give yourself a score out of ten on both scales; how important is making your dreams come true and how confident are you? Think about what would increase those scores.
These are the first steps in moving forward, realizing your dreams and making sure that your ambivalence is pushed, with a hearty shove, over the Reichenbach Falls.
Many thanks for reading, and if we can be of any help to you please have a look at our current online counselling programmes just here: https://thelifechangepeople.com/online-counselling/
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