You’re Ambivalent About Making Your Life Better, And That’s Okay

Odds are, you want your life to be better.

If that’s true, then I can predict with 95% accuracy that you also feel some ambivalence about making your life better.

I’m here to tell you that it’s completely okay.

The truth is, just about everyone feels ambivalence about changing or improving their life.

Humans are designed to hover around a comfortable status quo . . . even if that status quo is occasionally miserable.

We all want to change. . . and we all want to stay the same. We see reasons to change . . . and reasons to keep things as they are. It’s a perfectly normal place to be.

Given that I work as a change agent in people’s lives, a lot of what I do is explore the ambivalence in conversation. I listen to people voice arguments for — and against — personal change.

People say, “I know I want to be healthier. I want to run 3 times a week and do kettlebells.” They are even motivated to get up early and study or meditate or whatever personal change item we are working on.

But they also say, “It’s just really hard to get up some mornings. I’ve tried it before and I’m just not a morning person. And once I start the day I know there’s no way I’m going to work out.”

When I hear this, I smile. My job is not to tell people what to do (thank goodness). Most people already know A) What they ought to do, including, very often, B) What the available science on their issue says they ought to do (the Internet is a wonderful thing.)

But science in particular and information more generally do not a changed life make. (If it were that simple, we’d all be millionaires with six-pack abs.)

Actually changing requires an internal shift. It requires a process of uncovering and getting acquainted with your own motivation. It is a slow process.

Sometimes we sit in our ambivalence for a long time before we shift out of it. Often, we get really uncomfortable in our own ambivalence. That can force us into making a bad decision just for the sake of escaping that uncomfortable feeling.

That’s why I write articles like this, that tell you what to expect as you try to change your life: and why I re-iterate these same concepts when I take on a new client — part of my job is to tell you what’s normal and set expectations for the change process, so you can become more comfortable with the ambivalence and ambiguity that is inevitable.

(By the way, some of the most stable and healthy people that I’ve ever met have the most comfort with ambivalence and ambiguity.)

A lot of the people I work with 1-on-1 come to me just after a big life event happens, like:

  • breaking off a relationship or starting a new relationship
  • getting engaged or married
  • scoring a new job or getting fired from an old job
  • graduating college or starting college
  • having a kid
  • moving to a new place
  • switching careers

When life gets our attention like this, we get really sure it’s time to change. In that moment, we have all the motivation we need, and we take some big initial steps. (We may even meet with some initial success.)

Then we backslide. (I call this “the false summit” and I’ve written about it extensively, in case you’re interested). And the ambivalence comes rushing right back in. Who do I think I am? Why did I think I could do this?

This, too, is part of the process. After we fall down, we get back on the horse, and the journey continues.

And so it goes. It’s a messy process — but you don’t have to do it alone.

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Originally published at FG.