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  • Writer's pictureDr. Francis Battisti & Dr. Helen Battisti

The Zone - Volume 85

At different points in our lives we find ourselves at crossroads. These crossroads represent choices that we need or want to make if we are going to move forward. However, making the decision regarding which road we will take can, at times, be very difficult. We may find ourselves repeatedly saying, “Yes but.” Our “Yes but” response usually indicates that there is a degree of ambivalence embedded in our decision making.

The Stages of Change, which is a component of the Transtheoretical Model, is a theoretic look at how we make decisions to initiate change. Change is sometimes easy, like deciding if we are going to not only wake up but also get up when our alarm clock goes off. We weigh the odds and make our decision to either get up or stay in bed. At other times, deciding to initiate change can be difficult, like deciding if now is a good time to make a job change. We may find ourselves repeatedly going back and forth between the pros and cons and continually saying, “Yes but.”

There are six Stages of Change and the second stage is known as, Contemplation. Contemplation is defined as acknowledging that there is a choice to be made but not yet ready or sure of wanting to make the change. This contemplation stage can leave us stuck in a state of ambivalence. Ambivalence can keep us chasing our tails and repeatedly saying, “Yes but.”

Ambivalence can be difficult to move through and we frequently need more information to move us towards a choice we need to make. Without the needed information, we may remain motionless in our decision making and experience high levels of anxiety.

While ambivalence is frequently seen as something negative and to avoid, Professor Mark Fenton O’Creevy, in a recent Blog, reframes ambivalence into something that we can learn and move forward from. He calls this Constructive Ambivalence. Professor O’Creevy suggests that the ways we can make decisions are a result of social factors such as our environment, language, shared stories about the world, logics, and formal models. He goes on to suggest that “we develop everyday expertise in understanding and negotiating the problems we face in the contexts with which we are familiar that draws deeply on these socially shared stories and tools.”

If you have ever been on a teeter totter you know that when one person goes up, the other person goes down. In some ways, being on a teeter totter is similar to being ambivalent. We stay in place and repeatedly go up and down. Should the other person remove themselves from the teeter totter, hopefully we have time to brace ourselves to come down but if not, we hit the ground hard. A key point in this example is that if the two individuals work together and balance themselves, they systematically balance the two. If we honor each other, or competing issues within ourselves, our ambivalence can act as a way of keeping our options open in an ever-changing world. We are continually looking at options, evaluating them based on the best knowledge and insights available and open ourselves to other competing ideas. If we think that the only way to ride a teeter totter is to choose to be either up or down, then we will always be in a continual state of inertia and not getting anywhere.

Professor O’Creevy suggests accepting the state of ambivalence and begin to look for new ways to resolve it. In the case of the teeter totter, instead of staying on your end of the board, if we move ourselves closer to the middle, we begin to see new ways to change how the teeter totter works. This is true when trying to decide between choices we need or want to make. If we move away from what we believe is the only way to ride a teeter totter, we find there are other ways. The same is true in our decision making, based on our life’s experiences. We will be able to see new solutions and not just two. While standing at the crossroads, staring at the two roads, we will fail to see the road less traveled just beyond the bushes.

Key Takeaways

  • There are both positive and negative aspects of ambivalence.

  • Constructive ambivalence allows for greater opportunities to become apparent.

  • Polarized thinking can keep us stuck in limited thinking.

Best Practices

  • Move to the center of the Teeter Totter.

  • Listen to contrasting views.

  • Look for commonalities rather than differences in choices presented.

Things to Limit

  • Polarizing thoughts.

  • Thinking that there are only good and bad choices.

  • Thinking the future is set and not created as a result of our choices.


Quote of the Week

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

~Robert Frost


Having a sense of respect for Constructive Ambivalence allows us to be open to options and possible solutions that can develop from our openness.Holding on to rigid points of view limits us and may be based on fear rather than courage to see the possible.

Be well,

The paraDocs

Check our Welcome Greeting on YouTube

The paraDocs are Dr. Francis L. Battisti, PhD, Psychotherapist, Distinguished Psychology Professor and former Executive V.P and Chief Academic Officer and Dr. Helen E. Battisti PhD, RDN, CDN, Chief Nutrition Officer, at SpNOD, Health Promotion Specialist, Research and Clinical Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and former Assistant Professor.

We have developed "The ZONE", because that is exactly where you want to be during this pandemic. A place of focused attention to doing exactly what needs to be done to get you to where you need to be. The purpose of The Zone is to provide a nationally distributed weekly mental-health and nutrition tip-sheet during times of change.

If you would like to get copies of The ZONE that you may have missed or if you know someone that would like to start receiving The ZONE, please signup today... It's free and you can unsubscribe anytime.

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