What’s it look like to make a change in your life, one of significance? How does the process unfold? Think back over some of the accomplishments in your life as well as some of the failures. What was it that made the difference between success and failure? What if there was a way to predict with 100% accuracy whether that first step was going to lead to success or to failure before ever starting down the path? Would you still have made the same choices? What would be different in your life today if you were able to know what the whole path looked like before you began?

That’s a lot to chew on, and I wish I could give you the secret to knowing for sure, before you ever start, that your efforts to change will be fruitful. I can’t do that, but I know I can do the next best thing for you – show you exactly what the process of change will look like all the way to completion before you make that first move down the road. Keep reading, and I’ll give you a map of the terrain, the challenges, and even the smooth roads you’ll cross on your way to achieving the change your chasing in your life, regardless of what that change is.

Knowing that there is a standard process that all significant life changes follow will increase the belief you have in yourself to take that first step as well as drastically increase your ability to persevere to the end. After all, if you don’t believe you can finish something, you’ll likely never start.

So here they are – four landmarks you’ll cross on your path to change… every time.

1. A Beautiful View

So here you begin, maybe sitting down on your couch one day mulling over your life, and a wild thought crosses your mind. “Things can be different,” you think to yourself, and soon the picture of what could… of what will be…comes flooding into your mind, and it’s beautiful! All of the sudden you allow a dream to occupy space in your mind: “My relationship with my spouse can be so much better,” or, “My career can be much further along,” or maybe even, “I can live a life free from this emotional and physical abuse… I deserve better.” Dreaming of what can be is a beautiful thing of itself; but the hard truth at this moment is that, while you’re very optimistic, maybe even euphoric, you’re also considerably uninformed. Thankfully, your lack of details on what it will actually require from you to achieve your dream is the very thing that allows you to reach the next landmark. You blissfully proceed.

2. The Cliff

The view of your goal was beautiful from a distance, but as you take your first steps forward, you’ll very quickly approach some terrain that is less than inviting. The good news is that you won’t be at this landmark for long; because it’s at this point you’ll come to a realization: this isn’t going to be easy. All of the sudden the detail of what is required to travel forward becomes very evident to you; and more likely than not, you’re ill-equipped to handle it on your own. This landmark is all about making a decision. Will you reach out to someone who has navigated this terrain before successfully, or will you turn your view away from the goal and concede that it’s not worth moving forward. And here’s an important point – not every destination is worth facing the challenges it will take to get there.

It’s absolutely essential to know what you want, why you want it, and what you’re willing to face to get it

When you find a goal that’s worth it, partnering with a coach or counselor who has travelled the path successfully is vital. To stick with the analogy, your coach will act as a Sherpa of sorts – someone who knows the path well and can guide you along the way. So you’ve decided to descend the cliff…the difficult part is still ahead.

3. The Valley of Despair

You’ve found your guide, and you’ve scaled the cliff, but now you find yourself lost in a valley. Climbing out of the valley will be by far the most difficult part of your journey – each step you take, each direction you follow will seem to lead nowhere. Results can seem so far out of reach. In fact, in the valley, that beautiful view you saw before you started your trip is hidden by all of the obstacles immediately in front of you. It’s very likely that you’ll become so entrenched in the valley that you’ll start to forget what that goal, that change you’re chasing, even looks like. “I can’t see it anymore…Is it even real?” It’s at this point that you’ll be fighting the urge to quit. “It’ll be easier to turn back,” you tell yourself, “At least I know what’s back there.”

Don’t make life-altering decisions when you’re in the valley

Remember, you’re not alone. Trusting in your guide during this stage is essential to reaching the next landmark. Your coach knows that if you just keep forging ahead, even though it feels so futile, that you will climb out of the valley. The change you’re after is still there, it never went away. If you not only trust in the experience of your guide, but actively take each step they suggest, you’ll find that the next landmark is closer than you think. You choose to trust, and you press on.

4. The Pinnacle

You’ve made it!! You’re standing right in the middle of that destination you were dreaming of only a short while ago. It was tough, and looking back, you’re glad it was. Would you have felt so accomplished if it were easy?

No significant life change is ever accomplished apart from significant challenges

The best part of standing on the mountain top is the clarity of vision it brings you, the new view that’s opened up to you. You can probably see where I’m going with this. Accomplishing one goal will most likely not make you a perfect individual; but now you’ve grown, and with your growth there comes a renewed belief that you can grow more! So while the mountain top should surely be viewed a great accomplishment, more importantly it provides the opportunity to set another goal, to have another beautiful view.

Dream of change, find a coach, and go get it!

Dan Belcher is the owner of Thriveworks Counseling Charlottesville