On Second Thought
How Ambivalence Shapes Your Life
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December 28, 2021
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The rich inner world of a human being is far more complex than either/or. You can love and hate, want to go and want to stay, feel both joy and sadness. Psychologist William Miller—one of the world's leading experts on the science of change—offers a fresh perspective on ambivalence and its transformative potential in this revealing book. Rather than trying to overcome indecision by force of will, Dr. Miller explores what happens when people allow opposing arguments from their “inner committee members” to converse freely with each other. Learning to tolerate and even welcome feelings of ambivalence can help you get unstuck from unwanted habits, clarify your desires and values, explore the pros and cons of tough decisions, and open doorways to change. Vivid examples from everyday life, literature, and history illustrate why we are so often “of two minds,” and how to work through it.
“This is the definitive read on mixed feelings: why we have them, how to change them, and when to accept them. Dr. Miller is a trailblazer in psychology—he combines a scientist’s expertise with a therapist’s empathy, and I have no ambivalence about recommending his book. His wisdom will stay with you long after you’ve finished the last page.”—Adam Grant, PhD, author of Think Again
“I love the way Dr. Miller uses personal stories to show that ambivalence isn't just an abstract phenomenon; it is essential to decision making. Anyone who reads this remarkable book will quickly begin to apply its content to their own life, from pivotal turning points at different junctures in their past to choices they need to make today.”—Don Kuhl, MS, Founder, The Change Companies
“Dr. Miller skillfully integrates psychological knowledge about ambivalence with delightful examples from literature, theater, history, business, and more. This book offers evidence-based tools for how to examine ambivalence, whether your own or someone else's. Dr. Miller demystifies ambivalence in order to help you make decisions aligned with your values and interests, and move forward with desired changes in your life.”—Naomi B. Rothman, PhD, Department of Management, Lehigh University
“Reflecting Dr. Miller's expertise and his passion for understanding the human condition, this book takes a deep dive into human decision making. When our choices are loaded with implications, ambivalence can be stressful or even paralyzing. But we can also learn from it. Dr. Miller explains that ambivalence is a virtue, and invites us to think about it in productive new ways.”—Molly Magill, LICSW, PhD, Brown University School of Public Health
“This is the first book to dive deeply into ambivalence, a basic human condition that every helping professional must learn to address. The book provides concrete examples of what different types of ambivalence look like, so that providers can learn to lean into ambivalence with exploration instead of overlooking it until behavior change is stymied. Miller's unique approach is transtheoretical and practical, providing a useful guide for clinical practice in many domains and contexts. I highly recommend this book for all practitioners hoping to maximize their clients' (and their own) human potential.”—Sylvie Naar, PhD, Distinguished Endowed Professor, Department of Behavioral Sciences and Social Medicine, College of Medicine, and Director, Center for Translational Behavioral Science, Florida State University
Table of ContentsI. The Nature of Ambivalence
1. I Want It and I Don’t
2. Four Flavors of Ambivalence
3. The Language of Ambivalence
II. How It Works
4. Sources of Ambivalence
5. Social Influences
6. Out of the Depths
7. Consequences of Ambivalence
8. Individual Differences
9. Responding to Ambivalence
III. Working Through Ambivalence
10. Getting Clear on Your Values
11. Getting the Big Picture
12. Getting Out of the Woods
13. Embracing Ambivalence
About the AuthorWilliam R. Miller
, PhD, is Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of New Mexico. Fundamentally interested in the psychology of change, he is a cofounder of motivational interviewing and has focused particularly on developing and testing more effective treatments for people with alcohol and drug problems. Dr. Miller has published over 400 scientific articles and chapters and 50 books, including the groundbreaking work for professionals Motivational Interviewing, Third Edition
. He is a recipient of the international Jellinek Memorial Award, two career achievement awards from the American Psychological Association, and an Innovators in Combating Substance Abuse Award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, among many other honors. The Institute for Scientific Information has listed him as one of the world’s most highly cited researchers.
General readers interested in psychology and personal growth.