4 Parts of Goal Setting Theory that You Don’t Know

Part of achieving SMART objectives are the steps to success through the emotional stages of change.Here, Program on Persuasion provides a SMART goals template.

Even when we know how to set goals successfully, we still fail at achieving them. In order to succeed, goal setting theory tells us that we not only need to set SMART objectives, but we also need to account for our own psychological behavior.

The Emotional Cycle of Change as developed by Don Kelley and Daryl Conner consists of five emotional stages that people move through when changing their behavior. These are the stages each sales person moves through in their SMART goals template:

  1.             Uninformed Optimism
  2.             Informed Pessimism
  3.             Valley of Despair
  4.             Informed Optimism
  5.             Success and Fulfillment.

How to Set Goals According to Goal Setting Theory

The first stage of change, Uninformed Optimism is usually the most exciting because we imagine all of the benefits of our SMART objective, but we haven’t yet experienced any of the costs. Our emotions are driven by uninformed optimism, which is in the positive emotional area of the graph. This stage is fun because we are brainstorming ideas and strategizing how we might create the new level of results that we desire. Unfortunately, this stage doesn’t last long.

As you learn more about the reality of the effort it takes to change, positive emotions can quickly turn. This stage, Informed Pessimism, is characterized by a shift to negative emotions because the costs of the change have become apparent, and the benefits no longer seem as real, important, or immediate. It’s at this stage that we begin to consider abandoning the effort.

Things can get even worse: we call the third stage the Valley of Despair. This is when most people give up. Here, they feel the pain of change and the benefits seem far away or less important. The easy way to end it is to revert to the old way of doing things. It’s at this stage that having a compelling vision is critical in the steps to success.

Wanting passionately to reach your vision and combining commitment with the tools and events of process control is the way through the Valley of Despair. The want, commitment, and control will get you to the next stage of change.

Click here to learn the method for goal setting for Program on Persuasion’s corporate sales training.

The fourth stage of the Emotional Cycle of Change is Informed Optimism. At this stage, your likelihood of success is much higher because you’ve pushed through the valley and you’re back in the positive emotional area of the cycle. In addition, your labors are starting to become benefits, and the costs of change are lessened because your new thoughts and actions are becoming routine. The key to passing successfully through this stage is to not stop.

The fifth and final stage of emotional change is Success and Fulfillment. This is when the benefits of your new behaviors are fully experienced, and the costs of change are basically gone. The new actions, which at the beginning of the cycle were difficult and uncomfortable, have now become routine.

Each time you complete the cycle, you not only build your capacity but also your confidence. You can move on through the steps to success with great assurance. By being aware of the Emotional Cycle of Change, negative emotions are less likely to derail you because you can better anticipate them, and thereby expect and manage any of your own negativity.

SMART Goal Setting Template: Exercise

Start with your long-term aspirations: Where do you want to be ten years from now? Next, take some time to think about what you would be willing to attempt if you knew you could not fail.

Next, chunk down that time period. What would you need to accomplish in the next year to be on track for your ten-year goal? What would you need to accomplish in the next twelve weeks? Take a moment to write down what you should accomplish in the next quarter to be on track for your long, long-term goal.

Goals should be written in the following format:

From X to Y, by Z.

You now have your SMART goal setting template. In order to achieve the goal after you set it, you need a plan of your steps to success that will pull you through the most difficult steps of the Emotional Cycle of Change.

List here the type of key metric you will use (i.e. close rate; average deal stage; # of appointments created with targets) & the actual 12- week goal:

Example: I will improve my average deal stage, with target accounts, from 1.2 to 3.5 within the next 12 weeks.


In order to achieve the SMART objectives salespeople set for themselves, they must have a plan—steps to success—for pulling through the more difficult psychological stages of change. Program on Persuasion’s corporate sales training teaches exactly how to set and achieve SMART goals.

Photo by Ben White.