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By Joe Cooke

RISMEDIA, July 2008-In a recent interview, Strong Paulson, a business and lifestyle coach, made a comment that stopped my pen in mid-stroke.

“The only thing standing between people and success is ambivalence,” he said. “If you weren’t ambivalent about what you wanted, you would already have the change you seek.”

I had to think about this for a moment, because it seemed too simple to be true.

“You mean to say,” I mused, “that if I was not ambivalent about, say, financial success, that I would already be as successful as I want to be?”

He nodded, so I took it one step further. “Does that mean that if someone could understand that ambivalence, and then get rid of it, that the change would manifest immediately?”

He nodded again and added, “The change would already be there.”

Strong has coached real estate agents and other professionals in all aspects of their careers, most notably taking them from five-figure to six-figure incomes in a relatively short period of time. But, he doesn’t just focus on business. He also promotes balance and a healthy lifestyle, such as nutrition, relaxation and physical health. So, I decided to find out more about ambivalence.


I looked up the definition of ambivalence and found that it was slightly different than I thought it was. My impression of ambivalence was that it was kind of a neutral feeling about things, but actually it means simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings toward an object, person, or action and/or a continual fluctuation (as between one thing and its opposite). It also means uncertainty as to which approach to follow, which is a natural outcropping of the first two definitions; contradictory feelings toward a goal plus fluctuations equals uncertainty. And uncertainty then leads to more fluctuations and oscillations, moving toward your goal and then away again. All of this can lead to exhaustion, depletion and a sense of hopelessness. In other words, the feeling of failure.


My conversations with Strong Paulson tied in to a book by Robert Fritz, called The Path of Least Resistance. Fritz postulates that we often get stuck in an “oscillation” that occurs between fear and longing. We have a goal, we approach it, but then we are drawn back again by our fears. He likens this to the effect of having two large rubber bands wrapped around us, one tied to our goals and one to our fears. The closer we get to our goals, the more our fears pull at us. Eventually, our fears pull us back beyond our comfort point, into a period of failure. Then, our goals and dreams pull us forward again, only to increase the strain on our fears. So there we stay, stuck in the middle. Sometimes we get so tired we just give up and resign ourselves to that middle ground.

Fritz’s model seems to accurately represent the effect of ambivalence.

Fear of Success

Often, people will tell us that we may be suffering from fear of success, but intuitively that doesn’t make sense. More likely, it is our fear of failure that keeps drawing us back from our goals. Achieving success means taking risks, taking risks means possible failure. The fear of failure is a powerful opposing force to your goals. Using Fritz’s model, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We succumb to fear, using our old habits of coping with stress and tension, and fear pulls us away from our vision of success.

A Solution

Fritz and Paulson both suggest a solution for overcoming the negative effects of ambivalence. The key is to create a structure that over-rides the old oscillating structure. That means that the goal you are trying to achieve has to be attractive enough to overcome the pull of fear, and that you have to be committed to holding the tension between current reality and the goal you are trying to achieve. It also means that you may have to develop some new coping strategies to be able to hold that tension gracefully.

Fritz defines the over-riding structure as a creative one-the same kind of mental attitude that you would use to create a painting, build a shed or bake a cake. Create the vision, hold the vision and work steadily toward the goal, facing your doubts but never succumbing to them. Of course, for most of us, the fear of failure inherent in baking a cake is significantly less severe than it is in building our business, but if you can capture the creative mind-set, you can get the feeling of what it takes to extrapolate that success formula to large endeavors, like your real estate business.

Another approach to solving the ambivalence problem is to overcome the powerful effects of fear.

Embracing Fear

In his book Embracing Fear, Thom Rutledge gives some solid suggestions on overcoming the negative effects of fear. Not necessarily by eliminating fear, but rather by facing it, examining it, accepting it and then responding to it.

Facing your fear means letting it come to the surface, rather than repressing it, and that leads to examining it-drilling down through the fear, finding the root cause, such as fear of being lonely, fear of being broke, fear of loss. It’s easier to accept that fear if you can realize that we all suffer from fear. You are not terminally unique. Even the happiest person knows fear. The toughest part of fear may be in finding a way to respond to it. Paulson says, “For the most part, fear doesn’t exist.”

“If fear doesn’t exist, what is that feeling?” I asked him. “Fear seems real enough to me.” I was recalling that kick-in-the-gut feeling I get sometimes, restless nights spent staring at the clock, clutching my pillow, listening to the wind whip around the house as I worried about deadlines, money, relationships and a host of other ghostly things.

“The feeling is real; the basis isn’t,” Strong replied. “We’re mostly afraid of the future, which doesn’t exist. If you’ve ever been in a situation that really warranted fear, such as an impending accident, you can tell the difference. Most of the feeling we call fear is anxiety about something that is really not here-it may or may not come to pass. ”

Strong also notes that, “Those good at creating future scenarios are also unfortunately sometimes plagued with unpleasant creations of the mind, which they then respond to emotionally. I suspect that siphons off a lot of energy, as well as distracts us from the tasks at hand.”

In summary, if you are having trouble getting to your goals, take a look at both the attractive energy of those goals and the attractive energy of your fears. Remember that ambivalence is the combined effects of your dreams and fears working against each other, creating contradictory feelings and fluctuations. The only way to overcome the resulting oscillation is to dive in and explore it. Treat it as you would a troublesome closing-with persistence and a positive attitude.

One final note: Fritz does not recommend trying to eliminate the old oscillating structure. He does recommend creating a new, more powerful structure that both incorporates and over-rides the old oscillating structure. Success takes a strong vision, facing your fears and holding the tension between current reality and your goals. Eliminate as much ambivalence as you can from your life, and reap the rewards.

Sources and Suggested Reading

The Path of Least Resistance: Learning to Become the Creative Force in Your Own Life, Robert Fritz (Fawcett Columbine, NY:1989)
Embracing Fear: and Finding the Courage to Live Your Life, Thom Rutledge (Harper Collins, NY: 2002)
Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion, Pema Chödrön (Shambala, Boston: 2003)

Joe Cooke is an author, speaker and entertainer with over 25 years of experience in real estate and business training.

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