Children's Series: Approach-Approach Conflict


Have you ever been in a situation in which you can’t decide between two desirable (or even really awesome) things? For example: chocolate or vanilla? Or decisions of a more impactful nature such as: do I take an incredible job (one I’ve always wanted) or stay home to raise my child full time (what I’ve also always wanted).

In the last month, our daughter, a/k/a Sweetly Six has been faced with multiple circumstances in which she was pulled between equally wonderful things, people and opportunities. Usually a decisive child, I noticed that during this period she took much longer to make decisions or even became frustrated and anxious over the (seemingly) simplest of choices.

The explanation for her frustration and indecision is because the pull (even though toward equally great things) is inherently stressful and has the potential to create an unstable equilibrium.  In 1931, psychologist Kurt Lewin identified this type of inner turmoil as “approach-approach conflict”.

When my patience was tested during this period (especially at the ice cream counter when she was pulled toward both vanilla AND chocolate!), I gently reminded myself that she was contending with approach-approach conflict that was resulting in very real frustration and anxiety. The Silver Lining, however is that there are great ways to work through this approach-approach conflict:

  • Acknowledge (even silently) that the inner conflict is real. I acknowledged it by being the most patient and encouraging Momma that I could be.
  • The optimal outcome is when the decision being made comes from the individual faced with the choice (e.g., I snapped myself out of my own frustration/impatience by saying: “SELF, it’s Christmas vacation. We have nowhere to be, so chill out and acknowledge what is going on with Sweetly Six!”)
  • Talk over or write down the alternatives in question. This helped us a lot.
  • Set a “decision time.” This may momentarily increase the inner turmoil but ultimately get the individual “off the fence”. This worked really well for Sweetly Six (and for me, I might add!).

A Silver Lining of the approach-approach conflict (and its resolution) is that it is often easier to resolve than the other types of conflicts and serves as a foundation for building valuable, lifelong skills.


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