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If you’re in the valley of despair, keep going!

Posted on 4 m read

Change is hard. As we start making changes in our business or life we pass through a number of stages (and associated emotions). Knowing what these stages are, and where you are in relation to them, can keep you from throwing in the towel when the going gets tough.

Back when I was working in health clubs I ran a weight-loss course. Almost more than being a weight-loss course though it was a behaviour change programme. Most of us know what we need to do to lose weight (ie eat less crap and move a bit more) but knowing and putting that knowledge into action are entirely different things!

Coaching people through the course was more about challenging ingrained habits, thoughts and beliefs than educating them on radical nutrition advice. I want to tell you about one of the behaviour change models we used that might help you recognise which stage you’re at. If you’re feeling overwhelmed it can be helpful to remember it won’t always be that way and there are options to help and get you moving forward faster.


Stage 1 – Unconscious Incompetence

You’re in blissful ignorance – you don’t know what you don’t know. You’re excited by your new business or the choice to venture online and excited about what you’re going to achieve. Your big hairy audacious goals are thrilling and you’ve no doubt that you’re going to achieve them! You’ve heard about the fancy online software that can do all of the things and you can see how it will help make your life easier and your business grow. You see the end result clearly and everything’s possible. You have a compelling vision of how life will be and set about creating it.

Stage 2 Conscious Incompetence

After a while of setting everything up and putting in the work, it suddenly dawns on you that you’ve only scratched the surface and you see what a gaping chasm there is between where you are now and where you want to be. I’ve heard this stage referred to as the valley of despair as you realise what a steep learning curve is ahead of you and how much work you’re going to have to put in to reach those goals.

For example, you suddenly realise you haven’t a clue which of the software options you need to go for or how they fit together. You’ve been posting on social media but not yet getting the traction you want. Coming up with compelling copy for your emails is harder than you thought and you can’t get your web pages to look how you want.

The only thing to do is keep going so you reach the next stage. If you give up now you’ll go back to the beginning and have to start all over again.

Having some kind of mentor to support you through the valley of despair can be a good way of keeping on track and not getting so disheartened that you give up and bounce back to your previous ways. Depending on who you work with they can also speed up your journey through this stage if they provide practical know-how for the bits you’re stumbling on.

Peer support can work too. Having mastermind partners could help keep you on track and encourage you to continue taking action and building momentum.

Stage 3 Conscious Competence

This is where you’re getting a handle on all the new stuff but it’s taking focus. It’s not coming easily to you and everything requires a real conscious effort.

You know how to use the software better now but you have to concentrate to go through the process; emails are easier but you still have to think hard about them; some days the amount of effort required feels more than is worth it.

But you need to keep that conscious effort going until you reach stage 4 and the new behaviours become second nature…

Stage 4 Unconscious Competence

You’re in this stage when you know what to do and you do it effortlessly. You’ve successfully changed your behaviours or learnt the processes and now they’re just a part of your life. It’s just part of what you do and your audience is responding.

Your vision from stage one has to be strong enough to keep you going through the tough times. When you feel like throwing your computer out the window, cancelling all the various software and never posting on social media again your vision of where you want to go needs to be big enough and exciting enough for you to decide it’s worth carrying on.

Steps for successful change:

  • Have a strong, compelling vision to keep guiding you through. (YOUR goal of what YOU want, not what you think you should want or what someone else wants for you.)
  • Do what you need to keep that vision front of mind. Write it on post-it notes and leave them round the house, have a vision board somewhere that you can look at it meaningfully every day, keep a note of it in your pocket to look at regularly.
  • Have a mentor/consultant/coach or mastermind partner to give you perspective, encouragement and accountability.
  • Outsource where you can to move towards your end goal with more ease.
  • Don’t dig up in doubt what you planted in faith.

Need a hand?

If you feel yourself lost in the valley of despair with your online business let’s have a chat and see how I could help you.


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