Resolving ambivalence about your drinking goals
I purposely did this webinar after procrastination last week as I feel they are related. Ambivalence is a great way to procrastinate! What is it and how do you go about resolving ambivalence?
It is also an issue that is difficult for us at Club Soda, as we don’t want to tell you what to do. This is your journey and you know yourself and your circumstances best. But every now and again someone posts ‘I have done 7 days without alcohol and I think I may moderate’, or switches to another goal if they are finding things too hard, and we panic on your behalf. This is ambivalence!
Ambivalence is a massive trigger as it is often rooted in some very strong personal logic, allowing you to have a rational conversation and come to ‘give in’ to your internal saboteur – without guilt!
So today we are going to look at what it is, and how we can deal with, or resolve ambivalence.
What is ambivalence?
It is quite common for people to hold two opposing views about changing their behaviour. This is ambivalence. For instance, even people who really do believe it would be positive, healthy, and necessary to quit drinking, are also likely to hold other views: that it is difficult to be social without a drink, sometimes you deserve it, and to be ‘alcohol-free’ would involve denying themselves things they like, would take a long time, be a lot of effort… And so on.
“The problem with making a choice for one option is that you have to give up every other possibility — that is, you have to limit yourself to the one thing you’ve chosen and renounce all the others.”
We have a hard time deciding between different options because, on some level, we don’t want to have to choose. And that choosing change takes work and, even though we know if we put it off the task will get harder, we would rather put that decision off for the future us.
It may also be because society sees drinking alcohol as ‘normal’, and the change we are about to make is seen as abnormal, may even rat us out to others as having a problem! This is undesirable, and it may fuel our ambivalence about change.
Benefits of a sober sprint
It is why we are big fans of taking a sober sprint, a prolonged period of time off booze, so you can begin to see some of the benefits of not drinking, and be able to weigh up objectively the decision you are making.
However, it does not matter how long you have been at your current moderation goals or alcohol-free. Ambivalence can still sneak in. You may:
- not have seen as many personal gains as you had hoped
- be struggling with an emotionally difficult time
- feel that now you have done so long you can ease up a little, that you just naturally won’t want to drink so much
- want to test the hypothesis that you could drink moderately.
You may not be ambivalent about the goal, but instead about the ways in which the goal can be achieved. For example, you experience a range of problems because of excessive drinking. You want the problems to end, but you do not want to stop drinking. There is no ambivalence about the final goal, just about how it will be achieved.
You may even feel you don’t need Club Soda any more (sob…) – feeling resentful or ashamed that you are unable to deal with your problems yourself. You may have ambivalent feelings towards Club Soda and members: “Everyone is doing better” or “You don’t take moderators seriously.”
Our motivation to engage in a course of action is often driven by complicated and competing needs. Ambivalence can arise at any time in your journey, after 5 days or even 5 years.
It often happens when we are finding it hard to continually choose the longer term goal over the short term fix.
6 different types of ambivalence
Before we get to resolving ambivalence, it is helpful to consider different types of ambivalence.
1. Perception ambivalence is about your feelings and reflections related to your perception of being at risk or how bad you really are.
- “I don’t drink as much as ABC”
- after a period without alcohol you think your drinking was not that bad
- after a while of being successful you think you now have it under control and the risk has diminished
- some reports say a glass of wine is healthy – so when is it unhealthy and when is it not?
- how do I convince myself about the fact that I should act preventively, when I feel well today?
- I continually have conflicting feelings and thoughts fill my head and it is hard work.
These thoughts (and they are thoughts people, not orders!) not only affects your feelings about the problem as a whole but also about the process. You feel stupid, posting on the Facebook group confirms what you already know and think, and, even so, you are unable to act, because you are filled with conflicting feelings about changing your lifestyle. Because we are all clever people and we are angry that we have ended up here and we should be able to sort it out – right?
2. Contemplation ambivalence. The contemplation stage of change is filled with ambivalence. You are being pulled in two opposite directions – your wish to change and your fear of changing.
Fear about change can take many forms. Some people fear the prospect of failing. Some fear the prospect of doing something new. And some fear that the changes they make won’t be accepted by their close friends and family.
Even though you know you want or need to change a problem behaviour, it is still scary to change. All of your fears are real, and you should take a considerable amount of time to contemplate your fears during this stage. But be careful. Your fear could overtake you, and you could become stuck in this stage of considering changing, and never make the decision to change.
Doing the Decision Balance Sheet exercise can help.
3. Demand ambivalence. Personal feelings of stress, which are rooted in and arise from the many and conflicting demands from our working life, family or other illnesses or mental health issues. These can affect our confidence and ability to implement lifestyle changes.
Demand ambivalence and feelings of stress can result in conflicting choices between a stressed life with much result-oriented activity versus an unstressed life – particularly when alcohol has been a usual response to stress and emotions and reward.
You can justify diluting your goals because of stress, work demands … then your drinking and/or concerns about your drinking escalate, which in turn makes it difficult for you to stop/moderate again, becoming more stressed and more passive about your goal. It becomes a vicious circle.
4. Information ambivalence. You can be uncertain about how much information you get and from whom. Which is particularly an issue with drinking as we are all different, and if a piece of advice does not fit with your values, lifestyle or experience, it is easy to discount and create a conflict in our head: “But I am different!”
For example, if someone in the group shares information or advice that you don’t feel is relevant to you, or what you want to hear, you may treat it with ambivalence. Equally we may tell you something that makes sense but you want to understand more or know how to apply it to you and you feel short changed.
5. Priority ambivalence is where you assign this change in your life priorities. In relation to working life, health, family and own life and resources. With lots of things pulling on your time you have a lower commitment or inclination to prioritise your health.
Unlike other health changes, removing alcohol from your life has few physical barriers (you won’t die without it, you can avoid it, you can even get rid of it from your house), but there are often high psychological barriers.
We associate alcohol with our internal moods and states – happiness, celebration, stress, emotion and important external events such as your social life and family. All need planning to deal with.
You may use work, family or social networks and the associated stresses as a reason not to change, and fill conflicted about prioritising your needs and health – giving them a higher priority than your sobriety.
6. Treatment ambivalence. You want it sorted now! Instead of engaging with the journey ahead and sticking to the rules we have laid out, you want there to be medication and/or rehab to fix you.
It is common to hope that we can be locked away and sorted out rather than go through the discomfort. Although you know that these solutions on their own won’t provide the result you want (as we know from people that have relapsed).
“People are generally better persuaded by the reasons they have themselves discovered than by those that enter the minds of others…“ Blaise Pascal, Mathematician & Theologian (1623-1662)
Understanding the implications of change or staying the same
Accept that ambivalence is natural, but recognise that if it remains unresolved it can be a barrier to change. So instead of us trying to convince you that change is possible and desirable, we try and ‘roll with resistance’, encouraging you to explore both sides of your ambivalence. One way is by doing a Decision Balance Sheet. It will help you look at the advantages of change and the risk of not changing.
Doing a WOOP or revisiting your WOOP
A WOOP – Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan – helps you develop commitment and confidence in your intention to change and really helps you focus on the outcomes of success.
Make this an actual inventory by incorporating the responses to the following questions into your WOOP.
What is your wish? See if you can get it down to 3-6 words!
What is the best possible outcome for you of achieving this wish?
- If you achieved your wish what would: Your new life be like? Your life be like five years from now? Happen if things stayed the same?
- If you could make this change immediately, by magic, how might things be better for you?
- What encourages you to think that you can change if you want to?
- How important is this to you?
- How much do you want to do this?
Go to town and list all of the conflicts that have been coming up in your head, every last excuse you have. You may also ask yourself:
- What are your greatest fears about changing?
- What is the hardest circumstance you think you will face?
- From other experiences of trying to change habits what do you think are the weaknesses you need to overcome?
These are your IFs …
Now plan how you will make this happen! IF [this obstacle] happens THEN I will …..[plan]. Ask yourself:
- What personal strengths do you have that will help you succeed?
- What would you be willing to try?
- When in your life have you made significant changes like this before? How did you do it?
Ambivalence after a period of success
If you begin to see that the importance of your goal and your confidence begin to slip, you may be coming up to a patch of ambivalence.
Revisit the Decision Balance Sheet and add some questions into your WOOP.
- What has improved since you made the change?
- What difficult situations have you encountered and conquered?
- Where is your drinking goal in your life priorities?
- Is it true you think you can moderate/no longer plan your moderation?
- If you still want to test this how can you do this in a controlled way?
- When will you know if it is working or not?
I hope this helps in resolving ambivalence for you when you face it – as most of us inevitably will at some point in changing our drinking habits.