How do you handle the emotional roller coaster of change? In the same way as everyone else
As a life coach, I'm used to walking alongside my mum-clients as they navigate a pathway through bringing about the change they desire. I've noticed a regular pattern in my clients. In session 1 we start by setting a new vision and articulating the changes they want to make. After the first session, they are really enthusiastic about what they are looking to achieve. The second session is also inspiring, as we get down to planning how they are going to get from where they are now, to where they want to be.
After two to three months, at around session three or four, I've noticed that with some clients, their enthusiasm and commitment becomes harder to maintain. Early on I used to think ‘oh no, coaching isn’t working for them’ but now I've realised that it’s just the natural cycle of emotions experienced when bringing about change.
Moving through life is closely connected to change. Nothing stays the same forever. We all desire some form of change in varying degrees, and we all have to cope when change ‘happens’ to us. What is change? Change is uncomfortable. Whenever we decide to make change in our lives, we experience an emotional roller coaster to some degree.
Having a life coach to accompany you on this journey of change really helps to keep you on track and focused on your goal.
Psychologists, Don Kelley and Daryl Connor, describe this in a paper called ‘The Emotional Cycle of Change’. The paper describes five stages of emotions we experience during change. Regardless of the type of change you are seeking to implement, you are likely to experience this cycle.
There are five stages that people move through emotionally when changing their behaviour. Understanding these stages can help you to push on through when the going gets tough. These stages are:
- Uninformed optimism.
- Informed pessimism.
- Valley of despair.
- Informed optimism.
- Success and fulfilment.
The first stage is often exciting, as we can picture all the benefits of the change and have not yet experienced any of the costs. Our emotions are driven by uninformed optimism which is a positive emotion. This stage is fun. You are brainstorming ideas and working out how you might create the new level of results you desire.
Unfortunately, uninformed optimism is often short-lived. As you learn more about the reality of what it takes to change, positive emotions become tested.
The second stage of change, informed pessimism, is demonstrated by a shift to a negative emotional state. At this point, the benefits don’t seem as real, important or immediate and the costs of the change become evident. You start to question if the change is really worth the effort and begin to look for reasons to abandon the change. Although that’s bad, things get worse!
The third stage is valley of despair which is when most people give up. All of the pain of change is experienced and the benefits seem far away or less important. The fast and easy way to end the pain is going back to the way you used to do things. After all, you rationalise that it wasn’t so bad before.
If you quit on change when you are in the valley of despair, you go back to the first stage, uniformed optimism which is a whole lot more fun than being in the valley.
During the valley of despair, having a compelling vision is critical. Wanting passionately to reach your vision, combined with commitment and the tools needed is the way through the valley to the next stage of change.
The fourth stage is informed optimism. At this stage your likelihood of success is much higher. You are back in the positive emotional area of the cycle. The benefits of your actions are starting to show and the cost of change are lessened because your new thoughts and actions are becoming more routine. The key at this stage is not to stop!
The final stage is success and fulfilment. Here the benefits of your new behaviours are fully experienced and the costs of change are virtually gone. The actions which, at the start were difficult and uncomfortable have now become routine. Every time you complete the cycle you build, not only your capacity, but also your confidence. At this point when you next want to implement change you have a greater assurance of success.
Being aware of this cycle means you are less likely to be derailed by negative emotions and are able to manage change more effectively.
Having walked with many mum-clients through a period of change, I have seen the life-changing transformation which life coaching can bring. That is what inspires me in what I do, enabling mums to reach their full potential.
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