How to Navigate the Emotional Roller-Coaster of Change

Ever heard of the Emotional Cycle of Change?

I’m deeply familiar with it – and I bet you are too.

I first came across the concept while reading Brian Moran & Michael Lennington’s book, The 12 Week Year, in which they outline five phases people commonly experience when changing things up or starting something new in their life.

The five phases within the Emotional Cycle of Change (as developed by psychologists Don Kelley and Daryl Connor) are:

1. Uninformed Optimism:

In which you decide to act on an idea and are all pumped and excited about it.

2. Informed Pessimism:

The point when you realise that these changes are going to cost you something, and you wonder what you’ve got yourself into. You start to question the worth of your new endeavour.

3. Valley of Despair:

Where the rubber really hits the road and you walk the knife-edge of quitting or continuing. This is where you feel all the costs, but none of the benefits… yet.

4. Informed Optimism:

The light appears at the end of the tunnel as you push through and continue with the changes you originally decided upon and the end results seem more achievable.

5. Success and Fulfillment:

Hooray – you did it! You pushed through and changed habits or achieved the goal you were working towards. You may still be aware of what it cost you, but it’s all worth it, in light of the change you’ve managed to implement successfully.

The book even had a helpful diagram with a bell curve graph to outline the plunging emotional roller coaster that is the Emotional Cycle of Change. 

Diagram adapted from Brian Moran & Michael Lennington’s book, The 12 Week Year .

Studying this graph was an exercise in de-ja-vu for me, as I re-lived the countless times I have embarked upon new projects – only to see them live a half-trod life before being abandoned in that ‘Valley of Despair’.

What REALLY struck me though, was how often I feel this succession of emotions every time I create a painting. EVERY TIME.

The bell curve isn’t always so steep, or so wide, but as a general rule I need to go through each of these five emotions to truly arrive at the end of a painting. (‘The Valley’ and I are pretty tight these days.)

Case in point: I’m currently stuck about two-thirds of the way through a painting and oh, how I want to curse like a sailor and throw in the towel. Then maybe replace the towel with a glass of self-pity that tastes a lot like a Sauvignon Blanc.

All I am prepared to show you from my case-study painting

All I am prepared to show you from my case-study painting

But I won’t – because the more often I tread that valley, the more often I am reminded of how most paintings look like a dog’s breakfast when I’m in the middle of them.

Sometimes, all it takes to shift a piece back on track is not leaving them unfinished. Very occasionally, things only come together when the last of the highlights go in. So, it’s onward and upward my friends!

Which I guess sees me shifting ever so slightly forward toward ‘Informed Optimism’.

Feel free to SHARE this post with someone you know who is currently trying something new or who may be toughing it out in the Valley of Despair.

Just knowing about the Emotional Cycle of Change and understanding where you currently sit on that roller-coaster bell curve can be a real game changer in the way you tackle and persevere with changes in life.

– To Success & Fulfillment!


PS: This post is an updated adaptation of a longer post I wrote a while ago. You can read that post here.