The Cycle That Helped Me Conquer a Mountain


It was the fourth time I fell on the second day of my initiation into skiing that really knocked me.

My knee twisted and my head throbbing, I wondered to myself as I looked up at the blue sky “Is this what a concussion feels like?”

My vision of taking up skiing hadn’t looked like this.

Just 24 hours earlier I was with our ski instructor, decked out in my brand new ski apparel at the base of the mountain. I was optimistic and fully prepared to ski for the first time at age 50. I was ready for my breakthrough. It was going to be huge. I’d be skiing down the mountain like those 3-years-olds fearlessly flying by me in no time.

That was the first of five phases of what psychologists Don Kelley and Daryl Connor describe as “The Emotional Cycle of Change.” (ECOC). I was in the stage of Uninformed Optimism. It occurs initially when we are excited about our goal and have our eye on the prize.

That afternoon when our instructor asked me if it was okay that she move the family onto a steeper run even though I hadn’t mastered the one we were on, my positive emotional state started to wane. I felt a hint of negativity in the air.

It was becoming apparent to me what it would take to ski “Morningstar” – the trail that I’d identified I’d conquer before the trip was over. It was still not impossible and I wasn’t giving up, but the mountain looked bigger at this stage.

After lunch, things got worse.

I took that fall I mentioned above. With my head hurting and my knee sore, I then erred and followed my husband down a run I describe as nothing short of death-defying. I was going so fast, that fear took over, and I decided to take myself out.

Now I was soured. It was only day two. I’d entered into the emotional cycle Kelley and Connor aptly call Informed Pessimism.

I was acutely aware of the pain and potential cost of my goal. I wanted out of the discomfort – this Valley of Despair. I walked back to the lodge.

At that moment, my husband and eldest daughter looked at me as tears began to sting my eyes.

My daughter stood up and put her arm around me. She led me back out to the mountain. “Mom, you got to end today on a good note,” she said.

And I did. I finished without an injury that would take me out for good. It was a small win.

I woke up the third day feeling more positive. I decided to take my first run of the day alone. I noticed a small improvement and became hopeful. My consistent and committed actions were bearing fruit. I had entered the third stage: Hopeful Realism.

By the end of the day, my likelihood of success seemed much brighter. I was entering Kelly and Connor’s fourth stage of the emotional cycle of change called: Informed Optimism.

In the afternoon on our fourth and last day, I called the family together and said it was time for us to head up to Morningstar.

I recall the chair lift seeming to go on forever. I thought we’d never reach the top. We got off and took a family picture before we headed down. I chuckled. “This is good for posterity in case I don’t make it,” I thought to myself.

Next thing you know, I was doing it! The actions that just three days earlier were difficult and uncomfortable felt more natural and automatic.

I was experiencing my breakthrough — the moment a limitation shifts and the impossible becomes possible. I had entered the fifth and final stage: Completion.

Now I know the life and business breakthroughs you desire this year may not occur within four days. But I share this story and the Emotional Cycle Of Change (ECOC) to prepare you so that when you enter into the Valley of Despair you don’t quit – instead you manage your emotions effectively.

When we realize that every breakthrough we have is going to go through these five emotional stages, it removes the uncertainty that causes our brain to get in our way and halt us.

When we are aware of the cycle, we know the next phase is coming and are less likely to get derailed by any negative emotions.

The good news is that every time we have a breakthrough it not only builds our capabilities but also our confidence! The problem is we tend to forget all of the breakthroughs we’ve had before and too often stop ourselves when we reach the Valley of Despair.

One way to avoid quitting when the struggle gets intense is to have a compelling vision. One you want so badly that you feel the joy of the outcome. Not the how and when; but the laughter, high-fives, and wows when you succeed!

These last two years have set the stage for change and breakthroughs in many of us. Maybe you’re feeling that it’s time for a breakthrough for you.

In Episode 88 of my podcast, Playing Full Out, I show you how to declare your breakthrough for 2022. I invite you to identify yours and remember that if you find yourself in the Valley of Despair to keep moving through it. It means you’re on track and halfway there!

Congratulations on making it this far! I am with you and rooting for you in 2022!


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