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Ambivalence is having two minds about a change, with reasons for and against it. Understanding and exploring ambivalence is a key part of the MiiWrap process, as ambivalence is a normal part of change.

MiiWrap is all about understanding how to support people to make a case for their own change. When people feel ownership over their own decisions, and when they can articulate their reasons for making them, lasting change is more likely. Therefore, it is important to understand how change comes about. Ambivalence is an important part of the change process Learning to identify and resolve it is key to successful change.


What is ambivalence?

Ambivalence is having reasons to make a change – and reasons not to make a change. It’s a normal state and occurs for most people who are considering or making almost any behavior change.

Ambivalence, like resistance, is not a personality trait. People aren’t always or never ambivalent. It is a phenomenon specific to individual changes. Some changes are easier than others. No brainers. People likely feel little to no ambivalence about those. Complex changes related to behaviors we don’t want to or are fearful of changing likely bring about a lot of ambivalence. Quitting smoking, changing jobs. But even some simple changes, like where to eat lunch, can cause a lot of ambivalence.


Ambivalence is a positive thing

If people are squarely on the side of not wanting to make a change, fostering ambivalence about the change is a change to change their mind. It’s much better to have ambivalence than outright refusal to consider change. Ambivalence is a process of thinking – and that’s a good thing. People who are ambivalent already have some of their own reasons for making change. The MiiWrap process guides them to understand these, and ultimately identify more positive than negative reasons for change.

The process of identifying and resolving ambivalence is a key to guiding the person in the direction of behavioral change. MiiWrap staff would notice ambivalence if someone offered a positive feeling about a change (“I would like to eat healthier”), and then a negative (“but vegetables always go bad in my fridge”). To resolve the ambivalence, staff would explore each part of the statement, aiming to bolster the positive and minimize the negative. They may say, “I understand you want to eat healthier, why is this important to you?” And follow up with, “What do you imagine would need to be different for you to reduce the amount of food that goes bad before you eat it?” People often offer insightful answers to these reflections and questions.

In many ways, ambivalence is at the heart of changing behavior. And it is a primary source of fluctuating levels of motivation. MiiWrap staff can assist the person by helping them get “unstuck.” MiiWrap staff identify specific strategies they can use to identify and resolve ambivalence towards the direction of positive change.


How do you identify ambivalence?

People facing a change are not always aware of their ambivalence. But active listening can identify ambivalence, and reflections can help people to see it themselves. MiiWrap staff who actively listen will hear positive and negative cases for change. These comments on change may be distributed unevenly through the conversation, at once positively, and then negatively. Once identified, MiiWrap staff use reflections to summarize all of their feelings on the change. This skill illuminates ambivalence, which can then be addressed.

Wanting to eat healthier is likely a common sentiment laced with ambivalence. Some other examples include:

“I don’t want to take parenting classes, but I want to keep my kids with me.”


“I want to quit drinking, but most of my friends drink and I don’t want to lose my friends.”


How to create change from ambivalence

While people may not be aware that they’re ambivalent, staff can help them verbalize their thoughts and move towards a decision. Being ambivalent is hard emotional work, so people often resolve is by not thinking about one side of it. MiiWrap staff use strategies and skills to identify, talk through, and deliberately resolve ambivalence. Leading to a decision about change that is well considered. Strengthening change talk and softening sustain talk helps resolve ambivalence about behavior change.


Identifying ambivalence is an integral skill in MiiWrap, but it will also serve you well in your own thoughts about change. Having positive and negative feelings about change is normal. How we identify and address them, in ourselves and in those we serve, can positively impact the change process. Excuse me while I turn my morning snooze into a morning walk. 

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