Since it’s January, I’m assuming that you (like I) are inundated with “New Year, New Me!” emails, articles, and tips and tricks. Every new year, we look at our lives and hope that this year will be THE YEAR.

  • The year we finally get our name out there, sharing our expertise with a broader audience.
  • The year we finally write our book, or launch our podcast.
  • The year we finally figure out how to be ambitious without sacrificing our health and happiness.
  • The year we finally do the Great Work* that we set down every year in our New Year Resolutions.

Actually, we always feel this pull towards our best selves and our Great Work, but for lots of us it’s this time each year that we dare to hope things will be different. 

Well, here’s what I want you to know:

This year can be different!

Especially if you are willing to do a few things differently.

Understand: you are asking yourself to change your behavior. Not your thoughts… your actions.

If we could think, or worry, or intend our way into these things, we’d have done them already.

And if we could worry our way into them? Done and done!

Sadly, real change– change that opens doors to our best lives and our happiest days (regardless of what’s happening out there in the world)– comes to us through changing how we spend the days, hours, and minutes of our real lives. It requires that we change our behavior.

“But change them how?” you ask.

Great question!

To a certain extent, what you need to change depends on what you, specifically, are trying to accomplish.

Related: For a personalized discussion about your particular goals, schedule a conversation with me here

Nonetheless, there are nine universal steps that are baked into every difficult change we try to make in our lives.

Here are the nine steps to finally doing what you resolve to do.

It’s not an easy process, but I can promise you this: it’s entirely doable.

Step 1: Know Why

There are two kinds of reasons that can describe why we want something to be different. One of these comes from inside of you (intrinsic motivation), based on your interests, sparked by curiosity, and connected to your long-term hopes and dreams. These kinds of resolutions have a strong chance of success!

The other comes from outside of you. You think you should want it, you feel like others expect it of you, or you believe you’ll finally be “enough” when you’ve done it. These resolutions fail year after year because they are based on fear, anchored into the ever-shifting sands of expectation.

If you are resolving to do something for reasons that are largely outside of yourself, you will struggle to make progress. To combat this, spend some time developing intrinsic motivation. Find the interesting part, intentionally stoke your curiosity and figure out how your resolutions support who you want to become.

(Or, if you are striving to be “enough,” let me give you the biggest shortcut of them all. Replace your resolution with this one: Close your eyes and say “I do enough. I love enough. I AM enough.” every morning before you start your work. Try to feel it in your bones before you move on. And cultivate a self-focused gratitude practice every evening)

Step 2: Get Started ASAP

Let’s agree on this fact: You aren’t going to be ready before you begin.

No one is ever ready for the roller coaster that is Great Work!

Thus, the goal is not to wait until the stars align, the resources appear, and you’re invited.

When the work you want to do is important, felt in your heart, and tied to the contribution you were put on this planet to make, your goal is to start!

Preferably today.

Step 3: Manage Defensive Failure

Defensive failure is the failure we accomplish by doing nothing. Honestly, most New Year Resolutions fall prey to defensive failure!

As we do our strategic annual reviews, tap into our intuition, or make that vision board, we are presented, again, with our Great Work. There we are: starting or growing our business, sharing our expertise with the people who desperately need it, and standing on that stage.

“Hello, old friend.” We say. “Could this be my year?” We wonder.

We decide to give it a real shot. We set the New Year’s Resolution, maybe we write it on wish paper and set it on fire, and perhaps we even tell a friend.

And then… Nothing.

THIS is defensive failure. It pops up right at the beginning of any vulnerable project to “save you” from productive failure (failure where you do it, but badly). Overcoming it takes courage, but is entirely doable.

To learn more about how to overcome defensive failure, take a look at my TedX Talk, 3 Reasons You Aren’t Doing What You Said You Would Do.

Step 4: Chip Away at it, Every Week and Every Day

Great Work is not accomplished in one day. A great book isn’t written in a day. A successful business isn’t built, a following isn’t gathered, and a lifetime of beautiful artwork isn’t curated all at once.

Great Work is ACCUMULATED. It emerges from thousands of choices made over thousands of moments. We do something today, so we can do some more tomorrow. We strive this week so we can soar next year.

I suggest that you use one of the Great Work Journals to help you keep your Great Work top of mind. In it, you’ll set 90-day goals, weekly tasks, and daily to-dos, all aligned with your Great Work.

Did you know that there are THREE Great Work Journals, now? The general life journal, the business journal, and the student journal. Something for everyone in pursuit of Great Work!

Before you know it (and LONG before you reach that pinnacle of success you’re in such a hurry for) you’ll feel alive, excited, and IN IT.

This is its own reward… so why wait?

There’s not a good reason.

Let’s do this.

Step 5: Get To Know Your Challenges, Setbacks, and Struggles

It’s not a question of whether you will have challenges, setbacks, and struggles.

It’s really only a matter of which ones will be yours.

  • Maybe you never worry that you are enough, but you feel pathologically disorganized and behind.
  • Maybe you are very confident in your abilities but feel guilty for every. single. thing. you do for yourself.
  • Maybe you feel excited about doing Great Work in general… but you aren’t at all sure what that Great Work is.

Whatever you are feeling is entirely fine… it’s more than fine!

In fact, as you get into the flow, doing your Great Work, you’ll be kind of glad to see them, because it means you are on the right path!

We don’t feel stuck, worried, hurried, nervous, or anxious about things that don’t matter. If you’re feeling all spun up, you’re doing it right.

Get to know your particular challenges. You’ll discover that they are very, very predictable.

When you feel worried, it means this.

When you feel like you are racing against the great clock of life, it means that.

When you find your energy drop like a rock, suddenly exhausted and dragging, it means this other thing.

Don’t resist the struggle!

Instead, ask it, “Why are you here? What are you pointing out?”

Sometimes it feels like if we admit our worries, they win. But, that couldn’t be further from the truth. When we can name our worries, and respond to them in a matter-of-fact way, we win. And by win, I mean we are able to keep going during the hard parts, which is the #1 (by far) predictor of success.

Step 6: Be Open To Shifting Strategies

Persisting in the face of setbacks is the only option when you are doing Great Work.

But it’s worth a closer look: What exactly are we persisting in?

We are committed to persisting in our Great Work, NOT the strategy.

Let’s say that you want to share your ideas more broadly. You decide on the strategy of a daily blog. It starts out OK, but as time passes and life gets busier, you begin to feel crazed and behind every minute of every day.

When you begin to get the message that “this isn’t working” it’s easy to mistake that for “you don’t have what it takes to do your Great Work.”

This is a massive misunderstanding.

Instead, consider that you might need to shift your strategy. Maybe a weekly, or monthly blog? Or a daily microblog on social media? Or perhaps you hate blogging and would prefer to take your time on a series of quarterly guides.

Any of these would work if your goal is to share your ideas more broadly!

Now, devotees of Seth Godin might very well be committed to doing a daily blog. They actually don’t much care whether lots of people read it, their commitment is to the practice because Seth says it’s life changing. For this Seth disciple, I would encourage a bunch of experimentation around their blog process (try outlining, try batching, try breaking up big blogs into little blogs, etc).

But that’s not the case for our hypothetical example! This person’s commitment is to sharing their ideas more broadly, and maybe a daily blog isn’t right for them. It’s FINE.

Great Work, once it’s underway, requires a nuanced understanding of what it means to “do what you say you will do.” We have to have both total dedication to our goal, and incredible flexibility in the “how.”

Step 7: Take Breaks

Did you get a little tired in that last example?

Me too.

You think you’re making progress, then things shift. You try something new and it works, sort of, but not the way you thought it would.

And on and on it goes.

Great Work takes it out of you.

And pretending that it doesn’t, will slow your progress significantly.

The most efficient way to do your most important work is to reserve significant time for rest, health, relaxation, and laughter. You need to refill your resilience every single day, so you can stay in the flow of your most important work.

For me, there are very few deadlines worth putting off my downtime.

I simply don’t have time to get maxed out. I have too much Great Work to do.

Does that mean we don’t have to work hard, push through, and double down once in a while? Of course not. But the grind needs to be the exception, not the rule.

Your Great Work flows from your resilience, not your hustle.

Step 8: Banish Perfectionism

When we care about what we are doing, it’s easy to get carried away. Maybe you’ve been working on an important writing project (whether that’s a resumé, an article, a blog or even an email), and you finished it about an hour ago. And then you finished it again, 25 minutes ago. And a third time roughly 10 minutes ago.

But wait! There’s one more thing to add, one more piece of context to explain, one more, just one more.

This, my friends, is perfectionism, and it’s a powerful force for standing still.

Perfectionism is continuing to hammer away at your project long after you are seeing meaningful improvement. It usually involves things like wordsmithing perfectly good text, and obsessing between two very similar options instead of just picking one.

It’s not long before you trade “better” for “different,” and it’s official: You’re being a perfectionist. 

When this happens (which it will), you need to exert some willpower and hit send.

You did it.

Let it go.

Step 9: Get Help

Great Work– the work that matters the most to you– is important. It’s critical to your happiness, creates your legacy, and makes you feel like you are meeting your potential.

This makes it both invigorating and terrifying.

We worry that we’ll do it wrong, that we aren’t ready, that we don’t have what it takes.

Or, it can be as simple as just not knowing what to do.

When I work with people, we focus on both of these.

I’m my client’s thought partner and cheerleader. I keep them in action and point out when they need to take a break.

And because I work with accidental entrepreneurs, I also guide them through the process of sharing their ideas, marketing their businesses, and getting themselves organized enough to benefit from the incredible effort they are putting into their work.

I have two spots coming up in my small cadre of coaching clients, and I’m happy to discuss it with you.

You can schedule a 45-minute Breakthrough Call, here.

During this time we’ll discuss what you’re up to, and I guarantee you’ll walk away with a powerful insight even if you decide not to move forward with coaching.

And if we do decide to work together, you’ll have the support you need to be wildly successful. I help my clients get more clients, make more money, and share their ideas with bigger and bigger audiences.

If you are interested in these things, schedule a call now!

Working with Amanda was by far the best business decision I have ever made! She is an *AMAZING* coach who is truly dedicated to helping her clients grow their practices. She is thoughtful, creative, supportive, and KNOWS HER STUFF. Amanda helped me understand how to strategically restructure my service lines in ways that enabled me to better serve my clients AND have confidence in consistently bringing in leads and closing new business.

Amanda is so well versed on a wide variety of topics, be it sales strategy, service offerings, social media optimization, or building influence in your market. I have more focus and confidence than ever in my business approach. If you’re considering working with a coach to help you grow your business, Amanda is the one!!!

– Chrissy Macken, Founder and Owner, Blueprintgreen Consulting

About the author

Dr. Amanda Crowell is a cognitive psychologist and business coach who helps accidental entrepreneurs get more clients and have a bigger impact. She is the author of Great Work, the host of the Unleashing Your Great Work podcast, and the creator of the Great Work Journals. Amanda's TEDx talk has received almost two million views and has been featured on TED's Ideas blog and Ted Shorts. Her ideas have also been featured on NPR, Al Jazeera, The Wall Street Journal, Quartz, and Thrive Global.