Because You Want To And You Don’t Want To (How To Work out What You Really Want)

A friend of mine was facing a tough decision recently. She was offered a great job with good money and the chance to live in a hot, sunny country. Easy, right? No so for my friend. She’s just started in counselling and has realised her default way of coping is to leave (or in her words ‘run away’).

She’s been moving round the country and most of Europe as long as I’ve known her. This seemed like a fun part of her personality back in her 20s. Now she’s reflecting on life and realising she’s never stuck at anything; relationships, job, other projects. When things get tough she moves on.

Part of her wants to go and its not just the old pattern, it is a good opportunity. But the other part wants to stay and see if she can deal with life head-on. She has two fears 1) She’ll miss a great opportunity 2) She’ll get there, it’ll be great at first, things’ll get tough and she’ll move on… Back to square 1.

If you’re feeling equally conflicted about something in your life, this blog reveals the ways I help clients (and myself!) work out what they really want. But first…

Dont Know What To Do? Its Normal!

My friends facing something common. I call it the “I want to but I don’t want tos”. The psychological name for it is ambivalence and it can show up whenever we want to change or do anything.

So it might be you’re trying to get over your social anxiety. You want to get out there and meet people but there’s a huge pull to stay home and stay safe. Or maybe you’re trying to give something up. You start well for a few days then you’re reaching for the food, cigarettes, alcohol, online shopping (fill in the blank _____).

When I was counselling for my local Alcohol and Drug Team I came across ‘Motivational Interviewing’. It helps us look at ambivalence in a new way and this great quote always reassures me in when I’m in my own ambivalence:-

“Feeling in two ways about something or someone is a common enough experience. Indeed, a person who feels no ambivalence about anything is hard to imagine. Feeling 100% clear about something that is important is probably more exceptional that normal(1)”

So we can all breathe a sigh of relief! Now you know that, let’s look at how you can deal with it. For the following exercise you’ll need to create a space of about 20 to 30 minutes but take more time if you need to.

STEP 1) Talk to Yourself

Talking to yourself isn’t crazy, in fact, in can help us keep our sanity. Here, I want you to give free reign to ‘both sides’: the part that wants to and the part that doesn’t want to.

Take a few deep breaths and bring to mind your dilemma. First, tune into the part that wants to do the thing you’re thinking of. Then, reverse it and tune into the part that doesn’t want to. Information (possibly new information) will come up for you and the next step shows you how to receive it.

STEP 2) Listen To Yourself

I want you to listen to all the parts of your experience, not just the thoughts but the feelings too. Even if they don’t make sense. Notice if any memories come up from similar times you felt like this, even memories that feel unrelated. Write down everything that comes up and give it the space (and respect it deserves).

So it might be that you think you want to take that new job, it sounds like a great opportunity and you’ve been wanting a change for ages. But part of you’s pulling back. Is it fear based on memories of other times you wanted something but were disappointed, or something you tried in the past but feel that you failed at? If so, these old memories are holding you back. Or it might be the job sounds great on paper, but deeper down there’s a feeling it’s not right for you. Perhaps it’ll take more of your time than you’re willing to give (work/life balance) or you really want a complete change and that job will hook you in further (climbing the career ladder only to find out you’re on the wrong ladder).

If you follow these steps you’ll be clearer on how you’re feeling on both sides. If you’re still unsure, project yourself into the future – 6 to 12 months should do it. Think about how you’ll feel and where you’ll be if you do (or don’t) take this opportunity or make this change.

When you weigh it up, the answer may be clear or a compromise might be needed. What are you willing to give up and what, for you, is non-negotiable?

When you’ve reflected on these questions, move onto the last, essential step.

3) Take Action To Commit or Quit

This step is vital so do it right away. You’ve created momentum through the insight of this exercise so act on it now. Write out your next step (or steps). In our example, if you’re going to apply for the job then do it now. If it’s not for you, take a step to working out what you’ll do instead – researching a new career, talking to someone for help or advice etc and follow it up.

I hope that helps! If you’re still feeling stuck and confused in your own ambivalence (and need a friendly push!) then do get in touch.


Quote from Motivational Interviewing. Preparing People for change 2nd Ed. Miler And Rollnic

Photo byVincent van ZalingeonUnsplash

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *