Weight loss. Getting out of debt. Running a marathon. Building a business. Getting a Master’s degree. Learning a new skill.
Each is a goal that requires new patterns, skills or habits to accomplish.
Pursuit of goals like these, and many others, finds many people giving up somewhere between setting and achieving the goal.
Why is that? Why do people start a weight loss program every year, rather than sticking to it the first time and finding success?
Why do so many people try a new skill, only to give up shortly after they begin?
Why do countless people give up on their network marketing business, even though the steps to success are so simple, especially if they have an incredible product to offer?
The most common reason why we don’t follow through to the end, is we get stuck in a phase called the Valley of Despair.
There are five unavoidable phases on the path of success — Uninformed Optimism, Informed Pessimism, The Valley of Despair, Informed Optimism and finally Success & Fulfillment.
We all go through them.
I first came across this concept in the book The 12-Week Year, but it’s been described in other ways since the 1970s.
My hope is that if you understand that everyone goes through these five phases, and you can identify where you are in relation to your goal, you’ll be prepared to work through the next phase until you fully realize your goal.
I’m confident that if you expect to go through each of these five phases, you’ll be far more likely to achieve your goals, no matter how small or large they may be.
Phase I: Uninformed Optimism
The first stage is the most exciting.
In this stage, we feel, see, possibly even taste, our goals. The more clearly we see ourselves accomplishing them, the more excited we become.
We see all of the benefits of accomplishing something, but are often unaware or in denial of the effort we need to put in, and the obstacles we’ll face along the way.
You could even say this stage is “fun,” which is why some people love to spend hours or days creating their dream boards, rewriting their goals and fantasizing about what they hope to accomplish.
They love telling others about what’s in store, even though they haven’t yet really made progress toward their goal.
They can “live” in this stage of possibility without putting in effort, convincing themselves that they’ll start on Monday, start next month, or find some other time they think will be more convenient, than starting now.
Phase II: Informed Pessimism
Once we start moving forward toward our goal, our state of Uninformed Optimism starts to fade.
It gets replaced by a state called Informed Pessimism. It’s not that we suddenly get a negative attitude about our goals, but we just realize that the process won’t be as rosy as we thought it would be.
There’s work involved.
We realize we may need to change some things about ourselves.
My clients who wanted to lose weight realized they might need to get out of certain relationships that were sabotaging their goals.
People building a business realize they might need to give up watching some of their favorite TV shows or wasting time on Facebook, so they can use that time for work.
Those pursuing a Master’s degree realize they have to suffer through a course or professor they hate.
This is a very necessary stage, as we fully come to grips with what it will take to achieve our goals, which leads to the third phase.
Phase III: The Valley of Despair
This is the pivotal moment that can determine one’s likelihood of success.
We fully realize the effort, the personal changes and habits we must adopt, or the adjustments to our lifestyle we might need to make.
Being human, we also start to fill our heads with excuses or try to justify why this goal might not be such a good idea after all.
Many people stop here and go back to phase I. They like the idea of setting a new goal. They convince themselves that the goal was the issue. Maybe it was too ambitious. Maybe it was too short of a timeline. Maybe it didn’t fit right with their personality.
We can be very creative in coming up with justifications for why the goal was all wrong.
A smaller percentage of people see the temptation in going back to the beginning, but refuse to do so. They accept what will be required and keep moving forward.
When you read of people’s success stories, the climax of the story often occurs shortly after landing in The Valley of Despair.
They face the challenges. They accept the challenges. And they keep moving forward towards them.
The key in this phase is realizing that we always have a choice. We decide whether to move forward or give up. There may be times when it’s appropriate to turn back and start over.
But we often turn back because it’s more comfortable than moving forward. Not because it’s the right thing to do. If we’re aware of the choice we’re making, it may strengthen our resolve to keep moving forward.
Phase IV: Informed Optimism
It’s in this phase where people truly gain momentum toward their long-term goals. They’re no longer wallowing in the negative feelings surrounding what’s required. They’ve accepted the challenge, the obstacles, the effort.
They’ve adjusted their lifestyle, gotten out of the wrong relationships, stopped buying the problem foods or committed time every day to studying or building their business.
In my experience with personal training clients, I could often see a change in someone’s eyes. You could see the passion, enthusiasm and commitment, even in the face of their challenges.
More recently, I’ve seen this in up-and-coming leaders on our Healthy Living With Essential Oils team, who’ve made the adjustments in their lifestyle and accepted the challenges and effort they face on their path toward an exciting and fulfilling career.
Phase V: Success & Fulfillment
Of course, over time, with the right behaviors and attitudes, we accomplish that goal.
The scale shows a number we dreamed of on day one.
We can hang a degree on the wall.
We get a check in the mail that provides the income we’d set as a goal.
We stand on a stage and get recognized for the rank or promotion we’d written down on our vision board.
After accomplishing something so exciting, many of us set new and even greater goals to pursue next. And will again go through these five phases on our path towards success.
If you are ready to start on the path toward something great, remember these five phases. Expect them. When you know they’re coming, you’ll be less likely to get sidetracked along the way, or give up in the Valley of Despair.
No matter one’s talent or past history of success, each of us goes through these five phases on the path toward something noble and worthwhile.