The Five Phases of Achieving a Goal [Goal Setting Series – HMHE Ep 15]

Published on 20 Dec, 2022

Show Notes – Ep 015: The Five Phases of Achieving a Goal [Goal Setting Series]

There are five phases that we all go through when working toward achieving a goal. Whether you can persist and move through each of these stages will determine whether or not you’ll successfully reach your goal.

If we want to be successful it’s important that we are aware of what phase we’re in and how to move through it. This helps us continue following through even when we lack motivation and things feel difficult.

So, in today’s episode of the Happy Me Happy Earth podcast I’m talking through each of these phases. I share how to identify what phase you’re in, what to focus on in each phase, and how to move through it.

This is the third episode of my three-part goal-setting series:

Below is a brief outline of the episode. You can listen to the full episode above or wherever you get your podcasts!

This picture is of a cup of coffee and the planner of someone working toward achieving a goal. Goals are written on the side of the page.

The Emotional Cycle of Change

These five phases of achieving a goal are loosely based on Kelly and Conner’s Emotional Cycle of Change which was published in the 1970s. They proposed that whenever we decide to make a change in our life, we all go through five emotional phases:

    1. Uninformed Optimism
    2. Informed Pessimism
    3. Hopeful Realism
    4. Informed Optimism
    5. Completion

I’ve combined the Emotional Cycle of Change, my personal experience, and my experience helping clients to reach their goals to identify the five phases that we all go through. We set goals in order to create lasting change in our lives, so in pursuing them we go through this full Emotional Cycle of Change.

The Five Phases of Achieving a Goal

    1. Goal setting high (uninformed optimism)
    2. The dip (informed pessimism)
    3. The grind (informed pessimism continued)
    4. It’s working (hopeful realism + informed optimism)
    5. Success (completion)

Let’s dive into each phase.

Phase 1: The Goal Setting High

How to know you’re in the Goal Setting High:

This phase feels awesome! Our body releases dopamine (a feel-good chemical) when we set goals. You’re feeling super motivated, optimistic, and excited to work towards your goal. You know what you want and why you want it. You’re filled with purpose and getting all your ducks in a row to set yourself up for success.

What to look out for during the Goal Setting High:

Often we completely focus on the outcome that we want to achieve and forget to create the systems and habits that we need to get us there. We incorrectly assume that we’ll stay this motivated forever!

Also, notice if you don’t want to tell others about your goal during this phase. That desire to hide your goal or not fully commit might be a sign of low self-trust.

What to focus on to move through the Goal Setting High:

You’ll probably move through this phase without much effort. Be sure you’ve created a plan to achieve your goal (Ep 14) and that you troubleshoot possible issues or obstacles that might pop up along the way (Ep 13).

Know that this goal-setting high won’t last forever, and that’s okay.

Phase 2: The Dip

How to know you’re in The Dip:

Things are starting to feel hard. Goal-oriented tasks that were once fun are now getting boring. You’re starting to realize just how much work it’s going to take to get to your goal. Your motivation is fading fast and you’re starting to lose sight of why you set this goal in the first place. A lot of people give up during this phase.

What to look out for during The Dip:

As things start to feel hard and tedious, it’s common to want to procrastinate. You may also start second-guessing yourself and your decision to pursue this goal.

What to focus on to move through The Dip:

Know that this dip in motivation is absolutely normal. You’re not doing anything wrong. Focus on developing the self-image that you need to become the person that achieves this goal by sticking to the habits and systems that you planned in phase one. It might be good to bring in external accountability during this phase. Ask a friend or coach to hold you accountable for following through on your goals. Lastly, know that things are going to get harder before they get easier.

Phase 3: The Grind

How to know you’re in The Grind:

This is the hardest part of the journey toward achieving a goal. You’re not really seeing any results yet in spite of all the effort you’ve put in. And you may be debating whether or not to quit, and feeling shame and guilt because of that desire to quit. All motivation is gone and you regret setting this goal in the first place. Life wasn’t so bad before, was it?

Most people don’t make it through this phase.

What to look out for in The Grind:

During The Grind, it’s easy to feel entitled to success because you’ve been putting in the effort. Notice if you’re feeling impatient or like you should be further along. You might also forget your goal, either consciously or unconsciously. It’s easy to slip into an all-or-nothing mindset when you stop working towards your goal for a day or a week. As your journey gets more monotonous you may be tempted to jump to the next shiny thing. Lastly, some people get stuck in this phase because it’s in their comfort zone. Does success feel scary to you? If so, you might subconsciously sabotage yourself so that you stay in The Grind phase.

What to focus on to move through The Grind:

Remember that even if you don’t work towards your goal for a day or a week you can resume your journey with the next decision. You don’t need to scrap everything and start all over again or wait until Monday (or next year) to get back on track.

It’s very important that you approach this phase with self-compassion. It’s okay that things are hard and you’re feeling unmotivated. Remember why this goal is important to you and practice patience. Give yourself the time you need to succeed. Also, double down on your self-identity work and practice process praise to help yourself stay in the growth mindset.

Lastly, know that things will get better soon!

Phase 4: It’s Working!

How to know you’re in Phase 4:

You’ll know you’ve entered this phase when you’re starting to see the benefits of your handwork. Things are looking up and you’re starting to feel optimistic and full of purpose once again. But this informed optimism is different from what you experienced in the Goal Setting High phase. It comes from the wisdom that you’ve gained along the journey of achieving a goal. Your self-image has transformed. Now you are someone who perseveres and reaches your goals!

What to look out for in Phase 4:

Our brain has a funny way of normalizing and minimizing the new benefits that we are experiencing as a result of striving toward our goals. And when this happens we don’t feel a sense of achievement from our little wins and our motivation drops. It can also be tempting to relax and decide that although you haven’t fully reached your goal part way is good enough. Instead of pushing through and putting in the final effort needed to reach your goal you may be tempted to jump to the next shiny thing or set a new goal.

What to focus on to move through Phase 4:

Keep your goal top of mind, practice process praise, and be sure to acknowledge and celebrate any new benefits or results that you’re experiencing. Big or small, celebrate it all!

Phase 5: Success!

How to know you’ve achieved a goal:

You’ve reached the specific outcome that you set out to achieve. You now have a solid new identity around this goal. You are confident and competent in this area.

What to look out for once you’ve achieved a goal:

As I mentioned before, it might be tempting to minimize your achievement if you’re not comfortable experiencing success.

Be sure to keep an eye out for upper-limit problems. This concept, put forth by Gay Hendricks in his book The Big Leap, points out our limited tolerance for feeling good. Basically, we have a tendency to subconsciously or consciously sabotage ourselves when things are going well because we find success uncomfortable.

What to focus on once you’ve succeeded:

By taking time to reflect with either a weekly or quarterly review we can take note of our achievements. Lastly, set aside regular time to acknowledge your wins and celebrate yourself. By doing this you can build your tolerance for success.


Whatever stage you’re in on your journey toward achieving a goal, I hope that this podcast episode was helpful for you! By bringing some awareness to these phases you’ll be able to move through them, persist, and achieve your goals.

Come back and listen to this episode whenever you’re feeling unmotivated and need to refocus and recommit to your goal!

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Featured image: Photo by kike vega on Unsplash Podcast music: “Bounce” by Coma-Media on Pixbay
This is a picture of Eva Peterson. She is the host of the Happy Me Happy Earth podcast and a life coach for changemakers and aspiring activists.

Welcome! I'm Eva, host of the Happy Me Happy Earth podcast and blog. This is a place for changemakers, advocates, and aspiring activists to learn, heal, and get inspired. As a certified Life Coach, Ayurvedic Health Counselor, and follow activist I'm here to support you in expanding your impact while thoroughly enjoying your life!

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