Surviving the Valley of Disappointment | Atomic Habits

Surviving the Valley of Disappointment

90% of businesses fail within the first 5 years. Starting a business is tough, a total of 34,503 business entities seized operation in the first half year of 2022. So why are people still taking the risk of knowing the danger of losing money from starting one? Reading the book Atomic Habits, it tell us the reason why most businesses fail to reach the level of success they desire. How every business is affected by the Valley of Disappointment. And what every business startup need to do in order to survive the valley of disappointment.

What is it and Why it matters?

man in black suit holding a notebook and pen

The Valley of Disappointment is a stage that all businesses and anyone starting something new have to face in the early stage. When starting a business, there can be a lot of things to learn in order to start one. Apart from learning to start a business, managing the business is another completely different ball game. During this stage, the business would reach its operation-ready status and most startups believe at this stage they are able to get customers instantly. Let’s look at some of the reasons why?

Things don’t go as plan

Oftentimes, businesses are faced with new and mysterious challenges that need to be tackled all the time. For example, a clothing business would need to be able to solve online transactional processes, a blogging business would need to solve their webpage crash or a product design model needs to be reconfigure to be more ergonomic. Most businesses don’t go through smoothly, there will always be a bumpy road along the way.

Changes don’t happen overnight

Opening a business doesn’t bring you, customers, overnight. Most business startups fail during this stage because they assume there would be a high demand for their services. The quote for all business startups to remember is “ Rome wasn’t built in a day.” This quote is an adage attesting to the need for time to create great things.

The secret to overcoming the valley of disappointment is perseverance


One of James Clears important lessons to take back is to improve 1% at a time. Creating positive habits that improve the business by even just 1% is able to compound into significant results. While making small bad habits can slowly destroy what you have worked for.

The success story of making positive 1% changes that made an athlete win a championship was British cyclist coach Brailsford. Back in the 2000s, top bike manufacturers were afraid to sell their bikes to the British because they were afraid their losses would affect their business. In order to win the Olympics and Tour de France, Brailford constantly made minor changes to increase the performance of his cyclist. From testing various fabrics in a wind tunnel to create light more dynamic clothing to painting the inside of their van white to make sure there was not any dust that may affect the performance of the bikes. In just 5 years, the British cyclist team was able to dominate the 2008 Olympic games and win the Tour de France a few years later.

The key takeaway from this success story was that the Brailford cyclist team did not win overnight, it was the consistent minor changes to improve themselves that overall made an impact on them clinching the medals.

What progress really looks like

Valley of Death 1

Oftentimes, people assume that their business grows in a linear motion. Because of that, they were not able to see the growth or small successes in their business. Like bamboo, the sprout takes 5 years to mature and does not break out of the surface. After five years, once it breaks through the ground, it will grow 90 feet tall in five weeks!

Business successes may take a long time, many businesses which think that their business should grow linearly will never be able to see the significant result in the beginning. This creates what’s called the Plateau of Latent Potential or the Valley of Disappointment.

How to break through the Valley of Disappointment?

curious isolated young woman looking away through metal bars of fence with hope at entrance of modern building

Learning to break through the valley of disappointment takes minor habit changes to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the business. Let’s look at what can be done to get out of this trap!

Create Positive Habits

I can’t stress how important it is to keep a positive habit when working. Every now and then we will face our toughest times in the business, but treating it as a learning experience or having boxes of sweets to keep ourselves motivated to work can be really helpful.

Forget about goals, focus on the system instead

Once people have reached their goals, they often slack off in their business. This shouldn’t be the case as working in a business is a lifelong process. Building a positive system for your business can work in your favor tremendously. Let’s look at how to improve the system of the business.

Winner and losers have the same goal

Winner and losers all chase after the same dream, everyone is chasing after the top in class or sports. So what can you do to come up on top? The factor that determines a winner and loser oftentimes is not how much work they have put in, it is how much positive improvement one made to learn faster or better. For example, an athlete that doesn’t win often copies another training regime to improve themselves. A winning athelete on the other hand works to improve his/her weakness or create a technique that can cover his/her weaknesses.

Achieving a goal is only a momentary change

Remember your parent asking you to clean your room? Did you immediately clean the room? Or did you wait until you are being told again? The reason we do not aim to achieve this goal is that we do not see it as a priority. And even when we are done cleaning, the room will become a mess soon enough. That’s is why it’s best not to try to achieve goals for momentary changes. Instead, we need to look at building a system that can help us achieve our goals better. Such as having a bin nearby in your room, a portable vacuum beside you at all times, or a wet wipe in case the room gets dusty.

Goals restrict your happiness

“I want to be rich starting this business” or “i want to be a millionaire before 30”. Setting goals can be really tough on your mind as all you would be working on is trying to achieve the goal. To reach the goal better, breaking it down to smaller more manageable pieces can help pace your workflow so that you are less stress.

Goals are at odds with long-term progress

Goals are tied down typically with the timeline. When was the last time you told yourself you would go for a run and actually do it? This is why it is paramount to create a system to notify us daily what things we need to do short term to reach our long-term goals.


If you found this helpful or informative, then do check out the book Atomic Habits

Leave a Reply