The Zone of Ambivalence

In the past six months I have been experimenting with eliminating “shoulds” as a basis for decision making. I decided to do this because the concept of “should” is heavily loaded with unexamined feelings and beliefs that can misdirect my thinking and lead to bad decisions.

In place of “shoulds” I try to evaluate options for action on the basis of two criteria, whether I want to do it, and whether I need to do it. In this system, needs trumps wants. By this I mean there are some things that we may not feel like doing, or enjoy, but we understand that they are essential.  Taking out the garbage, going to the dentist, and some employment situations fall into this category. If it really is a necessity, you just have to do it.

I was making a difficult decision recently and despite all this fabulous theory, I was having a lot of trouble deciding what to do. I did a little diagram of all the options, and realised that the most difficult place to be is where both feeling and necessity are mixed or unclear. I call this the Zone of Ambivalence.


I find the zone of ambivalence extremely uncomfortable. Although I am fairly good at staying out of it in my personal life, I do sometimes get caught up in ambivalence when it comes to decisions about money or work, where there stakes are quite high.

Usually there is a driver to do something for financial reasons, which make sense logically, but I am not sure if its what I really want to do. This can trigger a “head and heart” battle. “I really should but I don’t want to.”

My solution for handling the Zone of Ambivalence is to just hang out there until something shifts. Either I am going to feel that the action is necessary or advantageous enough to outweigh my reservations, or I am going to decide that its not essential enough to warrant going against my feelings.

Hanging out in the Zone of Ambivalence can be difficult time because it is ripe with uncertainty. However it can also be rich in learning as I try to untangle the forces pulling me in different directions. It’s a time for talking to people, trying out options and thinking about priorities. I try to stay open and avoid jumping to a rash and unsatisfactory decision. When I stay open to the process of working it through, something usually shifts.

If feels almost magical when something changes and a stuck situation resolves into a decision. It might be that the advantage of a situation becomes clearer, and that makes me want to do it, so I let go of my resistance. Or it may be that the basis of my reservations become clearer, and I am able to let go of the perceived advantages and say no. Either way, its great to be released from the holding pattern of an unmade decision with a sense of resolution.


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