Got goals? As you get after them, get ready for the Emotional Cycle of Change. It’s the mental and emotional roadmap for each stage of the journey, from starting line to celebrating success. 

It doesn’t matter if your goal is to drop 50 pounds, build financial freedom from your home-based business, become debt-free, foster the world’s greatest marriage, or something else that could change your life. You will walk through a myriad of emotions, from excitement and confidence to pessimism and doubt.

The good news is, everyone who pursues something significant walks through the Emotional Cycle of Change. Your goal might be unique, but the mental journey is the same.

Like any adventure or road trip, you’ll be more likely to stick with it and succeed if you know what’s in store.

You, like everyone else, will walk through the five stages of the Emotional Cycle of Change.

Those who see it through to the end, and experience success, get far more than the goal itself. They become better versions of themselves, and more influential to those around them.

The Emotional Cycle of Change

I learned of the Emotional Cycle of Change through reading The 12-Week Year by Brian Moran

In the span of a few pages, I understood where and why so many people throw in the towel on their goals, or become consumed by excuses, even though they have what it takes to succeed.

As I reflected back on the clients I’d trained, and the goals I’d personally pursued, I could see the Emotional Cycle of Change play out in my own life, as well as those I’d worked with.

Note: If you are a fitness professional, coach, or mentor, I hope you can use the Emotional Cycle of Change to lead and guide your clients, students, and mentees through their cycles of change.

Success rates in a gym, network marketing business, debt reduction program, and almost any other personal or professional growth opportunity are very similar. And they are very low.

It’s not that the gym is a scam, the business is flawed, the program doesn’t work, or that personal growth is a hoax.

The issue is, people give up! It’s not because they’re incapable, have bad luck, or have a more difficult life than anyone else. They give up for a variety of reasons (excuses), but the simple fact is, they give up.

The Emotional Cycle of Change helps you understand where in the journey, and why, you’re tempted to give up. As you consider the different stages, it will empower you to push through them yourself, as well as pull others from one to the next, and onto their goals.

The Emotional Cycle of Change involves five mental and emotional stages. Everyone goes through each step, in order, whether they realize it or not.

I hope that by sharing the Emotional Cycle of Change, you’ll know what’s to come, emotionally as you build a business, shed body fat, get rid of debt, improve your relationships, or build the fittest body you’ve ever had.

Stage I: Uninformed Optimism

Uninformed Optimism is the starting line. Some people don’t even make it to the starting line, so if you make it here, kudos to you. Of course, it’s just the start…

If Stage 1 were a physical location, I imagine it being in a beautiful park with a lake nearby. The sun shines bright and feels warm on your skin. The crowd around you is just big enough to make you feel like you’re not alone, but not so crowded that it becomes intimidating.

Stage 1 is 100% excitement, 0% effort.

You come up with new ideas, write out your goals, attend motivational seminars, read encouraging books, take training courses, make dream boards, tell friends what you’re going to do, sign up for a gym membership, or consult with a coach or fitness professional.

You feel excited about the possibilities. You imagine the achievement. You daydream about your destiny.

You can picture yourself succeeding, but you haven’t yet stepped forward to make any progress.

Some research shows that your brain gets as much dopamine from visualizing an accomplishment as from actually accomplishing it. This physiological effect makes Stage 1 addictive for some people.

Emotionally, you get most of the benefits of achieving your goals, but you don’t have to do any work for it.

Perhaps you know someone who always talks about starting something new. They’re always excited about the next “big thing.” They live in a state of euphoria but never seem to make an effort to accomplish something.

They get so much of a high from imagining the achievement that they never take initiative to accomplish it.

The way to get started is to stop talking and begin doing.
—Walt Disney

Some people get hooked on motivational courses and goal-setting seminars. Through these programs, they live in the daydreams of what they’re “going to do,” but they don’t wake up to do the work. 

That’s good for those who sell the seminars. Not so good for those if you set your goals and then stay stuck behind the starting line.

You picture yourself 50 pounds lighter but don’t consider the effort you’ll expend and time you’ll invest in the gym, or how you’ll have to modify what you eat.

You picture yourself at the highest ranks in your home-based business but think nothing of the people you’ll need to talk to, the friends who will tell you “no,” and the stuff you’ll have to give up in the short-term to make time to build your business.

You imagine a life free of debt, but haven’t yet faced the idea of giving up cable TV, or saying “no” to some friends when they want to go out for dinner.

You picture the leanest, strongest, fittest version of yourself in the mirror, but have no idea how many sets of lunges and squats it’ll take, or how many mornings you’ll wake up early, wishing you could just sleep in for another hour.

You want an epic marriage, and imagine having sex multiple times each month, your spouse jumping into your arms each night when you come home from work, and pure joy filling your home. Yet, you have no clue how much work goes into staying close and intimate as the years go on.

Stage I is critical for lighting the spark, but you can’t stay there long or you won’t make strides toward a better life. 

Where Stage I is filled with dreaming, and goal setting, but includes little actual work, Stage II is a reality check, as well as a focus on getting things done.

Stage II: Informed Pessimism

Stage II is the first part of your journey.

You walk down the trail. Little by little, the terrain changes. Initially, you walk through open meadows, where you’re surrounded by birds singing and squirrels dancing. The sun is warm, but the breeze keeps you cool.

As you move further down the path, the woods get thicker. You rub up against thorn bushes. You slip on loose rocks. The trail is there, but it isn’t as clear or well-worn. The hills get bigger and the obstacles come at you more frequently.

You know that sinking feeling you experience as you transition from the high of a fabulous, relaxing vacation, to the reality of going back to work the Monday after?

That’s a little like the change in feeling from Stage I to Stage II.

In Stage II, you face the effort required to accomplish the goal.

Just as the name of this stage suggests, you can get a little pessimistic. No matter how much you WANT your goal, you have to WORK for it, and the work required is often more than you initially expect. It’s not fun anymore.

“You mean you want me to stop drinking Frappuccinos for breakfast each day? Like that’s something I need to do if I want to drop my body fat? That’s no fun.”

“I have to invite people to classes, parties, or seminars to introduce them to my products?! I can’t just post graphics on Facebook? I don’t know if I’ll like that.”

“I need to invest more time with my spouse, rather than working, hunting, or fishing all the time? That’s not who I am.”

“You want me to exercise four days a week, even when it’s inconvenient, or when I don’t feel motivated? That might be more than I bargained for.”

We just finished our first week of the Vigor Online Training Program. The first week of a new program is often pretty painful. 

The days leading up to the first workout are exciting. You anticipate the program and the effect it’ll have on your body.

Like most new training programs, by the middle of the week, you’re sore everywhere. You feel like you got hit by a truck. It’s at this point that people start second-guessing whether the program will be worth it. 

A lot of people give up at that point, not realizing that the longer they stick with it, the less soreness they experience, even though their workouts get harder every week. 

In Stage II, you look around, hoping there is a different, easier trail to take. Eventually you realize that you’re on the only path that will take you where you want to go, but you start to doubt whether the effort will be worth the benefit. 

You keep walking, but voices in your head start to justify why it might be better to go back to where you came from.

Maybe you’re not cut out for this…What if it’s hard for you because you it isn’t your calling?…Plus, you’re just so busy…and you’re not really trained…and your significant other isn’t a huge supporter…and your friends don’t seem to have confidence you can do it…you could always come back and start over when the timing is better…maybe there’s something out there that’s easier and just as effective…

You keep trudging forward, but with less and less pep in your step. The voices get louder and more doubtful. Eventually, you arrive at The Valley of Despair.

Read More: 5 Ways Your Feelings Fail You

Stage III: Valley of Despair

The Valley of Despair is a dark, cold place.

It is here that you stop and decide whether you really want to go after this goal. You’ve come up with all sorts of excuses. You could easily justify it to your friends and family if you give up.

Your enthusiasm is gone. All you can see is the work that lies ahead, and you carry a feeling of uncertainty about whether you can actually accomplish the goal you set out to achieve.

I envision the Valley of Despair as a graveyard in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by dead trees, and covered in barren ground. Standing there, you sense a chilling stillness that makes you feel like you’re all alone.

Gravestones litter the ground. But these gravestones aren’t engraved with people’s names, dates of birth and dates of death. Instead, the stones bear their names, dreams, and the dates they gave up on them. If you look long enough, you might even see some of the dreams you gave up on in the past. Maybe you’d find some of mine.

You turn around and look back at where you came from. You can make out the brightness, the sun, the lush green fields where you felt happy, secure, and excited.

You turn around again and face forward. You you see a large, dark, scary hill that seems to go on and on, into the darkness, and have no idea what lies on the other side. The trail up the hill isn’t as well-traveled as the trail has been so far.

Once in The Valley of Despair, you have three options.

First, you could lay your dreams down in one of the open graves, and make your way back to the starting line. You’ll have plenty of time during your walk back to justify why you gave up and come up with all sorts of creative excuses to explain your return to your friends and family.

I attribute my success to this – I never gave or took any excuse.
—Florence Nightingale

That’s what most people do. They go back to the beginning and set a new goal, where they walk a similar path to the Valley of Despair.

Each time, they get to the point where things get hard, and then they give up, lay down their goal in one of the graves, and go back to the beginning.

Your second option in The Valley of Despair is to set up camp. You could find others to join you and have a Pity Party. If you can get enough people together, you could turn it into a Commiserating Convention. 

The more people you commiserate with, the more you get used to living in the Valley of Despair. Eventually, the darkness of the Valley seeps into other areas of your life, and everything turns dark.

Your third option is the one the fewest people choose. You could keep going, no matter how you feel. No matter how tired or discouraged or scared you feel, keep walking. Hold onto your purpose. Ask for help if you need it.

Step-by-step, climb that hill. The closer you get to the top, the steeper it gets.

That’s the way it works with your goals. The closer you get to them, the more resistance you experience. You’re constantly tested to see how bad you want it. Don’t stop moving until you get to the top.

So, the choice is yours. You can come up with excuses about why you couldn’t keep going, leave your goals and dreams in The Valley of Despair and go back to the beginning. Or, you can set up camp and stay in The Valley. Or, you can be different, Lady or Man Up, and keep moving forward, in spite of your feelings, and move onto Stage IV.

Read More: 5 Habits that Build Suckituptitude

Stage IV: Informed Optimism

You reach the top of the hill at the Valley of Despair. When you look back, far into the distance, you can see the green, lush, comfortable life you started with. Just behind you, you see the Valley of Despair you just made it through.

In front of you, at the edge of the horizon, you can see your goal. Between it, and where you stand, you see the path zigging and zagging. You see hills and valleys. You see rivers to cross and small mountains to climb.

But you can see your goal. It’s a long ways out, but it’s there! And you can see almost everything you have to do to achieve it.

You know your goal is possible. It’s going to take take a lot of work. You’ll have to sharpen your skills, work harder than you ever have, and eliminate the people and distractions that would take you off course. But you know you can do it!

With renewed energy and determination, you move forward. You face obstacles and deal with setbacks. You get stronger with every step.

Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.
—John Quincy Adams

Some days the path takes you straight toward your goals. On other days, the path goes sideways, or even backward. But no matter what direction the path takes you in the short-term, it will eventually get you there. You just have to do the work.

You’re moving forward with Informed Optimism.

Read More: Vigor: 5 Habits for Better Men’s Health

Stage V: Success & Fulfillment

Then, one day, possibly weeks, and perhaps years later, you get there. You achieve your goal.

And you realize that even though it feels great to have accomplished your goal, the best part is that you are a new person, with a new perspective on life and your role in it.

You posses new insights and experiences you can use to help others. Even though your goal was for you, the real gift is the experience you can share with others.

After the excitement settles down and your emotions return to normal, you wake up one morning with a new goal warming your heart and filling your soul.

The more you think about it, the more excited you get.

You write it down. You share it with a few close friends of family members. And you realize you’re back at Stage 1 again.

You don’t have all the facts, but you know you’re called to accomplish something even bigger and better than before.

So, you take your first step toward your goal, and slowly enter Stage 2, Informed Pessimism.

Though you feel a little loss of enthusiasm, you grin. You realize you’ve been here before. You know what to expect. You have an idea of what lies ahead, and look forward to the challenges you’ll face along the way. You know you’ll reach the Valley of Despair, long before this trip is over. But, it won’t have the same impact on you the second time around.

As you walk, you wonder what kind of new person you’ll become by the end of this journey through the Emotional Cycle of Change.

Read More: 5 Lessons From 15 Years in Fitness

Are you willing to do what other are not?

The world needs more people who accept responsibility, deal with adversity, and act on their callings.

The pursuit of a worthy goal isn’t easy. It’s rarely glorious. Sometimes, it sucks (that’s when suckituptitude is helpful). But you don’t accomplish something amazing without putting forth an enormous amount of consistent effort.

Everyone goes through the Emotional Cycle of Change. Your adversity isn’t special. Your fears and doubts aren’t unique. The path is similar, though the circumstances vary.

But what is special, unique, and life-changing, is the person you’ll become, and the impact you’ll have on others after you achieve your goal.

Whatever your goal is, you’ve got five stages to walk through to accomplish it. Do the work, consistently, and go get your goal.

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