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Breaking the Cycle: 6 Essential Steps to Long-Lasting Change & Achieving Your Goals

"And so the adventure begins" written on white paper with black pen and green marker, indicating the beginning of change
Photo Courtesy of Nik on Unsplash

Here we are again. It's the new year and that means time for reflection, celebration, and kicking the year off in the best way possible.

For many, that's a whole host of New Year's resolutions, or for the naysayers out there, setting new goals for the year. We see increases in gym memberships, subscriptions to meal plans, purchases of annual planners, and more. We all start the year with the best intentions to have "the best year yet".

But then what happens?

These resolutions or goals quickly fall by the wayside and we are back to where we started, repeating our habits and behaviors from the year (or years) prior.

Data tells us that approximately 70% of people write annual goals or resolutions. Data also tells us that on average, only 8% of people actually achieve said goals and resolutions.

Reasons for this significant drop off include:

  • Lack of buy-in to the goal

  • Fear of failure (or success)

  • Taking on too much at once

  • Unclear pathway to achieve the goal

  • Etc.

Regardless of the reason, the difference between goal setters and goal achievers is not just a drop-off, that's a cliff dive into a nasty cycle of attempted change. According to psychologists Don Kelly and Darrel Connor, when we attempt to change (or grow), we go through a cycle of emotions. [And while emotions are only one part of the puzzle (e.g. emotions, thoughts, and actions), they are a powerful part of that puzzle.] When we are not fully prepared, the cycle of change will look something like this:

First half of the emotional cycle of change starting at uninformed optimism and ending at valley of despair
Source: Gennaro Cuofano, Don Kelly, and Darrel Connor

Not sure about you, but I don't want to be spending time in the Valley of Despair! And it makes perfect sense that when we hit that valley, it's pretty hard to get out of it and into a better place. Despair means that we don't see a way out...we are overwhelmed...experiencing emotions like helplessness, worthlessness, feeling lost, and more. No wonder more people don't achieve their goals!

But there is hope! With the right preparation, the emotional cycle of change can actually look like this:

Graph of the emotional cycle of change starting at uninformed optimism and ending at success and fulfillment
Source: Gennaro Cuofano, Don Kelly, and Darrel Connor

According to Gennaro Cuofano, the Phases of the Cycle are this:

  • Uninformed Optimism (Honeymoon Period): This is the initial exciting phase where individuals see the possibilities and potential of the change. They often envision best-case scenarios due to the absence of obstacles.

  • Informed Pessimism (Reality Check): As individuals gain more experience, they realize the challenges and obstacles ahead. This leads to a decrease in positivity and may prompt questioning of the feasibility of success.

  • Valley of Despair (Critical Juncture): Often considered a breaking point, this phase involves feeling overwhelmed and contemplating giving up. Some authors label it “hopeful realism” since pushing through can bring rewards.

  • Informed Pessimism (Positive Turn): Positivity gradually returns as individuals start believing in the possibility of success. Hope, determination, and small wins contribute to building momentum.

  • Success and Fulfillment: The final phase marks the achievement of the change goal. This could be launching a new product or attaining a significant milestone. Positive emotions like gratitude and contentment emerge.

So how do we move from the starting point of Uniformed Optimism to Success and Fulfillment? And especially, how do we move from the breaking point for most, the Valley of Despair, to Success and Fulfillment?

  • Make them Visible: once you determine your goals (including all of the SMART components) put them somewhere you can see them regularly. Whether it's creating a vision board, using a post-it note by your computer, making them your desktop graphic, etc., it is important to keep them top of mind so that you consciously, and subconsciously, keep them front and center. The more you see them, the more they become ingrained in your actions, thoughts, and feelings.

  • Feel Them: speaking of feelings, a powerful tool for goal success is understanding what it will feel like for you when the goal is achieved. Close your eyes and envision that moment when you can celebrate that it is completed. How do you feel? How does your life feel different because of that achievement? The more you can connect to that end state, the more you'll be motivated to keep moving forward.

  • Understand Them: not just what they are, but WHY you have them. Why did you set this goal (or these goals)? Why are they important to you? What is your true motivation for setting and desiring this change? The "why" will be your guiding light, especially when the "valley of despair" starts to sneak in.

  • Take Action: my favorite quote is "a goal without a plan is just a wish" - meaning that if you don't know how to get from point A to point Z, you will only get there if you are really lucky. Having a plan of attack, including minute steps along the way, will set you up for success. And as you have that developed, then it truly is one foot in front of the other. This approach makes change less daunting as it's one mini-goal after another, instead of one ginormous goal in front of you.

  • Share Them: by stating your goals out loud and putting them into the universe, you make them real. They are no longer ideas in your mind, but something that is bigger than you alone. By sharing them with trusted friends, family, peers, bosses, etc. you gain accountability partners, cheerleaders, and a support network to ensure your success. Lean on those around you to create this change in your life.

  • Celebrate Them: my favorite part. Relish the victory. Celebrate the win. But not just for the achievement at the it all along the way too. Celebrate those small steps and milestones to get you to that end goal achievement and creation of change. It can be a small pat on the back, an acknowledgment of the step, a toast when out with your accountability partner, etc. By celebrating these small steps along the way, we create motivation and energy to keep going. The end feels less daunting and more achievable. And every small win gets you one step closer to the big win.

Each of these steps can help you quickly move from Uninformed Optimism, into Informed Optimism and achievement of Success and Fulfillment. The more you know, are aligned to, and are prepared for, the easier and more possible the reality of your goals.

So here's to you! I know that you can create changes and shifts in your life. I know you are going to have the best year yet and I am in your corner. If you need a little help getting started, consider our Starting Fresh eBook or Path to Clarity and Success download as tools to guide you. Or better yet, schedule time with me or any one of the WeInspireWe coaches for a free session to get your goals going.


Tami Chapek, CEO and Founder, WeInspireWe
Tami Chapek, CEO and Founder, WeInspireWe

Tami Chapek is the CEO, Founder and Head Coach at WeInspireWe. Tami believes in community and positive change and has dedicated her life to bringing these concepts together. By empowering one, we empower many - and she believes that answer starts within.

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