The emotional cycle of change was developed in 1979 by psychologists Don Kelly and Darrell Connor. The cycle outlines some of the common emotions an individual will feel as they experience, react to, and navigate change.
Understanding the emotional cycle of change
The emotional cycle of change describes the emotions most of us experience during the change process.
While the cycle has distinct phases, not everyone will experience the same emotions or in the same order.
What’s important is that the individual uses the cycle to better anticipate their emotional journey as they encounter new experiences.
The emotional cycle of change is relevant to almost any personal or professional context provided the individual is seeking out the change themselves.
This is the sort of experience that starts with unbridled optimism which transitions to realism, pessimism, and self-doubt.
The five stages of the emotional cycle of change
The emotional cycle of change has five phases. Let’s describe the process from the perspective of an entrepreneur who has just started a new business.
1 – Uninformed optimism
Also known as the honeymoon period, this is the most exciting phase where the entrepreneur imagines the possibilities and potential of the new enterprise.
The individual can only imagine best-case scenarios since any obstacles or setbacks have not yet been experienced.
Emotions: excitement, joy, anticipation.
2 – Informed pessimism
In the second phase, the entrepreneur has been working long enough to realize how much there is to do or learn.
Given these obstacles, they feel less positive about their chances of success and may question whether the endeavor is worth it.
Emotions: frustration, fear, anger, anxiety.
3 – Valley of despair
The third phase is the valley of despair, a critical juncture where most become overwhelmed and admit defeat.
While this point represents rock bottom, those who push forward may be rewarded for their perseverance.
The valley of despair was named by authors and business partners Brian Moran and Michael Lennington.
Kelly and Connor were more optimistic, calling it “hopeful realism”.
Many entrepreneurs find themselves moving between the first three phases as they try something new, realize it’s too hard, and rationalize that doing something else would be easier.
Emotions: despair, shame, hopelessness.
4 – Informed pessimism
Positive emotions start to return in the fourth phase as the entrepreneur starts to believe that success is at least possible if not likely.
Hope and faith drive the entrepreneur closer to their objective through hard work and determination. Small wins build critical momentum.
Emotions: hope, optimism, humility, happiness.
5 – Success and fulfillment
In the final phase, the entrepreneur has launched a new product or seen their company reach unicorn status. In other words, they see and experience the results of change.
Emotions: gratitude, contentment, pride.
- The emotional cycle of change describes the emotions most of us experience during the change process.
- While the cycle has distinct phases, not everyone will experience the same emotions or in the same order. What’s important is that the individual uses the cycle to better anticipate and navigate their emotional journey as they encounter new experiences.
- The five phases of the emotional cycle of change include uninformed optimism, informed pessimism, the valley of despair (hopeful realism), informed pessimism, and success and fulfillment.
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