Even at your best as a leader, at times you struggle with overwhelm. Instead of grabbing the next shiny object to help solve a problem that’s plagued you, tap into the power of the emotional cycle of change.


Change can be as easy or as difficult as you make it.

Yes, you are responsible for your experience as you move from one state of being to another.

And truthfully, the cycle of shiny object syndrome (SOS) is one of the most difficult patterns to escape.

Always looking for the next solution because the one you are in active pursuit of hasn’t worked yet is a symptom of something much deeper than lack of stick-to-it-ive-ness.

It’s actually about the valley of despair. 


Don Kelley and Daryl Conner defined the human cycle of change in relation to emotions over time. They first published their work in the 1979 Annual Handbook For Group Facilitators. 

Essentially, there are five stages of change people go through to reach success. They are:

  • Uninformed Optimism
  • Informed Pessimism
  • Valley of Despair
  • Informed Optimism
  • Completion (also known as Success, Fulfillment, or Breakthrough)

And each stage corresponds to a specified time during the change cycle.


Even if math isn’t a natural talent for you, certainly you’ve heard of the bell curve. It starts at the intersection of the X-axis (horizontal) and the Y-axis (vertical) of a standard two-dimensional graph.

The line goes up vertically and to the right horizontally then back down and to the right to form the shape of a bell. It’s the standard most schools use to assign student grades depending on what area of the curve they fall into.

The emotional change cycle is shaped the same way, just upside down.

So, the “change” starting point is high on the Y-axis, which is defined as feelings at time zero, with time being the X-axis.


That first point on the change cycle is called uninformed optimism. In the beginning, everything seems possible to you. You have high conviction that you’ll make it to the change goal you set.  

You’ve done your research. You’re inspired to act. Nothing is going to stand in your way.

Then, as you progress a little to the right, or spend some time working on the change, your feelings drop down a bit. 

Some of the steps you’re taking aren’t as easy as you first thought. You lose a little momentum because the challenges are now making themselves known to you. This point on the curve is informed pessimism.

Keep traveling to the right, spending more time working towards your goal, and feelings fall substantially. At this point, you’re at the bottom of the inverted bell curve. This is called the valley of despair. 

If you’re really struggling, this point will land on the X-axis, meaning you have nothing but pessimistic thoughts as you consider working through to the end to achieve the change you’re seeking.

Everything is difficult, an extreme challenge. You may feel anxious, depressed –  as if it’s just not worth it to continue.

And this is the point where SOS kicks in for you if you’re caught in the gravitational pull of its cycle. More on that in a second…

Should you make it out of the valley of despair with a little more time spent, when you start to see results, you’ll climb up the Y-axis again to learned optimism. 

This is when you see the light at the end of the tunnel as you close in on your final point on the curve, completion.


In the valley of despair, you have two choices. Persist or quit.

At this point, your inner critic is busily chastising you for making the decision to pursue this solution. You beat yourself up, decide you don’t know how to make it through and walk away.

When you quit, as any dedicated leader does, you brush yourself off and pursue another solution.

Once you find one you’re excited enough to take action on, you leap into the abyss again. Repeating the same cycle down from uninformed optimism, to learned pessimism, to the valley of despair.

Quit again, and, as you can see, the cycle repeats on autoloop.

Full-on SOS is not so much about a lack of attention or capability. It’s more about giving up too soon, generally right before the big breakthrough moment that will get you climbing back up the curve to learned optimism. 

It’s not an argument of “too hard.” It’s an argument of “too soon.” 


Clearly you can see how the “quitters never prosper” comes into play here. How this endless loop of giving up before the breakthrough keeps you stuck in overwhelm and extreme frustration.

So, how do you end the cycle and leave SOS in your rearview mirror for good?

These three tips will help…

First, be aware of how the emotional cycle of change affects every goal, solution, or transformation you go in pursuit of.

With awareness, once you hit the deep dark night of the valley of despair, you can recognize it is the temporary scenario you find yourself in. Keep taking the small steps forward and you will emerge over time. 

This leads to the second critical point for you to understand.

While you may have a timeline in your head about how soon you should expect to receive results, remember, that’s a judgment you’re making based on your filters and previous experiences.

If this is a solution that’s new to you, leave your “shoulds” out of it and respect the pace it takes. Just understand if you quit because it’s “too hard” to go looking for another option, you’ll be back into despair soon enough.

Finally, to keep the valley of despair from getting so low on the feelings scale that quitting feels like the only choice to keep you sane, find someone to help you shortcut your change.

In other words, find a mentor or coach who can support you and hold you accountable at the times when change feels the hardest. Someone who is intimately familiar with the challenges you’re facing and has an effective solution to deliver the outcome you’re after.


While you undoubtedly feel a sense of accomplishment, if you don’t stay aware, you may fall back into the SOS habit.

Because once you complete a goal, another layer of the change you seek that’s related to the goal you just reach will likely show itself.

Let it come. Go for further elevation or improvement.

Just don’t let it lull you into the belief that you’re fine where you are once you hit the valley of despair again in pursuit of the “next level” you’re after.


To stop SOS in its tracks, the only way out is awareness and forging ahead when it feels so much easier to just pivot.

Pivoting only makes sense if you reach a dead-end on the way to your destination. It’s not the choice that will end overwhelm if you continue to choose pivots over progress.

If you find yourself at a point of too many pivots with too little progress and too much stress, schedule a free strategy session with me to get some clarity on how to stay the course