We can change our circumstances by changing our attitudes of mind - William James

Goal Setting and the Emotional Cycle of Change

A family home evening lesson describing some of the barriers and emotions from change standing in the way of our goals.

In earlier posts we’ve shared why we set goals, how we set goals, and ways to encourage goal setting by celebrating our progress. We focus on setting goals three times each year. Marvin J. Ashton suggested four important steps in making change a valuable tool in our lives:

  1. We must understand the need for change.
  2. We need to know how, what, where, and why to change. The facts must be authentic.
  3. We must establish a system for change.
  4. We must totally commit to our plan for change.

This lesson helps us understand some of the barriers and emotions of change and identifies a system for developing a stronger commitment to our goals.


Place a half filled glass of water on the table and ask “Describe what you see on the table.” Encourage many responses, but make sure to describe the glass is both half full and half empty.

What we see in the glass says a lot about how we view the world. Do we see what is in the glass or do we see what is missing? These different viewpoints describe optimism and pessimism. Heavenly Father is teaching us to become optimists. He wants us to see the good and seek after it. Optimism is easy to identify as a principle of hope.

Ensure everyone understands the words optimism and pessimism because they are important to describe the Emotional Cycle of Change.

Change is a difficult process to go through. Change is scary. We have to learn new things and be in uncomfortable situations. Change brings a level of stress and stress encourages a fight or flight response. But change is an important part of life. It often brings improvements. Our whole purpose for being in this mortal body is to experience change throughout our lives and become more like our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

The idea of goal setting is closely related to change because when we set a goal, we are committing to change something in our lives. It is important we learn how to successfully process or deal with change to be more successful in all our goals. Marvin J Ashton shared in a General Conference address:

As opportunity for change reaches into our lives, as it always will, we must ask,

  • Where do I need development?
  • What do I want out of life?
  • Where do I want to go?
  • How can I get there?

As a family, discuss several changes you’ve experienced in life. A few of our examples included moving, joining the Church, and setting goals to complete 5k races.

Emotional Cycle of Change

Emotional Cycle of Change

(Click image to open printable PDF version)

The Emotional Cycle of Change is something I learned about recently while reading The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months. The cycle is modified from the ideas of Don Kelley and Daryl Conner and describes the most common emotions and mindsets people experience while thinking about changes they want to make. Here is a description of the cycle.

1. Uniformed Optimism

At first we view changes we want to make with a positive outlook. The old saying goes “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”. During this first step, we dream about the positive aspects of change. This step may last seconds or a considerable amount of time, but the next step is quickly met when we start thinking about taking action.

2. Informed Pessimism

When we start thinking about taking action, we start to recognize the sacrifices required to bring about change. If I want to complete a 5k race, I need to get outside and run. It means getting up earlier, even when it is cold outside. It also means at least one hour less time to do other things I like to do.

3. Valley of Despair

At some point, we have nearly accounted for all the sacrifices required to embrace change. This list often feels like a weighty matter and now the change seems hard. We have experienced a loss of hope. At this point, many people will give up and go back to dreaming about something else.

The recognition of the need [or desire] to change has to be a greater force than the luxury of staying the same. – Marvin J. Ashton

As a family, we talked about some experiences where we’ve given up on a dream or idea. This is where understanding the Emotional Cycle of Change is so important. By training our brains to recognize this cycle, we can take steps to restore hope. We can remind ourselves of our desire for the change and choose the sacrifices we are willing to make. If we take action, we will move towards the next step.

4. Informed Optimism

We start to benefit from restored hope in this phase. We take actions. We learn best practices. A wise person will seek knowledge from people who have already successfully completed the change. A simple visit to the internet or the library will open up a treasure trove of knowledge to help you win. You begin to believe it is possible and continue to take action.

5. Success and Fulfillment

Through our taking action, we will experience success. We will see the fruit of our labors. We will receive a testimony of the change we have made. Even if we fall a little short of our goal, we will recognize the progress we’ve made.

Set Better Goals with the Emotional Cycle of Change

So now comes the important part. How can I apply this Emotional Cycle of Change to goal setting?

Understanding the cycle will help us move forward and reach success and fulfillment more often. After setting goals and developing a plan to reach them, start to identify the sacrifices necessary to experience success. During the process, you may recognize some conflicts of interest. Some sacrifices may seem small compared to the benefit of reaching the goal, but some sacrifices may cause you to adapt your plans to accommodate the conflict and restore hope. Using this process will force you to move quickly through the emotional cycle of change, make informed decisions, and feel more confident about taking action.


As a family, discuss a current goal and walk through the Emotional Cycle of Change to identify the sacrifices. Use the information to come up with a better plan for the goal. We used these steps:

  1. What is my goal? Quickly review Marvin J. Ashton’s questions: Where do I need development? What do I want out of life? Where do I want to go? How can I get there?
  2. What is my plan to accomplish my goal? (narrow down the most important required actions)
  3. What will I have to sacrifice to accomplish my goal? Am I willing to make the sacrifice?
  4. Adjust my goal and plan if necessary.

I’ve been asked several times for book recommendations related to goal setting. Most of our influence and ideas came from single chapters of various books, so it was hard to identify one source. After reading The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months it clearly stands out as a complete resource incorporating many of the best goal setting ideas in one book. This is my new recommendation for a comprehensive understanding of goal setting.

Share your ideas or how you used ours