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Beginnings and endings by Jeremy Marchant

Jeremy Marchant

New Year’s Resolutions. Just going through the motions or using the idea as a motivator?

I think that people whose New Year’s resolutions fail wanted to carry them out, but they didn’t prepare themselves for the process well enough. After all, if you could do something differently – and successfully – so that your business, or your work in general, benefited, wouldn’t you do it?

Why not make a resolution now to do something differently or better or new in the New Year? Something which is within your ability (even if it is a bit of a stretch). If it requires resources you don’t have, you may be setting yourself up to fail. On the other hand, if it requires resources that you can reasonably call on (including money, your time and the support of other people), make sure they’re all set up before you start.

It should be something which you can express positively. Don’t resolve to have a less cluttered office, say. Resolve to have a tidier one. It is difficult to not do something: simply by thinking of the thing you want to stop doing, you bring it to the forefront of your mind.

Make it something which you can describe, which you can imagine yourself doing. If you can’t define it for yourself, it’s likely you won’t really know what it is you’re trying to do differently. Also, unless you can describe it, you’re unlikely to know when it has happened, so you need to be able to define the criteria for success, too (don’t be too demanding of yourself!)

And, of course, whatever it is you resolve to do, it shouldn’t be at the expense of other people.

Now, once you have ensured that your resolution satisfies all the above criteria, that will go a long way to success. Here are the things that guarantee success. Firstly, have someone you can be accountable to. It can be a business colleague, a relative or friend: but it has to be someone who is committed to helping you – if only for ten minutes a month. It might even be a business coach! Being accountable to yourself is possible (indeed it is desirable) but the flesh is weak, even though the spirit is willing, and not having someone else to be accountable to can be a subtle way of setting yourself up to fail.

Secondly, and this might only need to be considered if you find yourself faltering, ask yourself why it would suit you not to do this thing. For example, the person who resolves to start networking might find that there are too many pressing needs in the office to let him go to the networking lunch. This is a plausible reason – it might even be true – but it is not a good enough reason, if the business really does need them to start networking. It is what psychologists call an excuse. In truth, the person is fearful of entering a crowded room full of people they don’t know, going up to someone, and then talking to them. As it is apparently unacceptable to admit that that is the fear, their ego constructs a nice little plausible businesslike reason why they shouldn’t do it.

It is important to recognise that the ego is not intentionally sabotaging the person, in this case, though that is the outcome. The ego’s motive is to protect you and, correctly at one level, it sees the networking event as a threat. So it creates the excuse. The important thing is to understand what is going on.

Ask yourself how comes it suits you not to go networking (or whatever your resolution is). See if you can surface the real reason – often listening to the first thing that comes into your head, rather than censoring it, is the best technique – and then, calmly without irony or being patronising, speak to your ego inside your head saying something like “Thank you for your help and concern. I realise you are doing this from the best of intentions, but I am confident I can handle the situation”. Say it repeatedly, with conviction, if necessary. Of course, if you think you’ll feel a fool saying something like that silently to yourself, and so you won’t do it, that is just the ego playing up again, so you need be aware of that, too.

This is why you need someone to be accountable to. So you can discuss with them the reasons why you might not be being as successful in your resolution as you want to be. They only have to be a sounding board, they don’t have to know this emotional intelligence stuff. But you might need to apply it if you are mysteriously not as successful in your resolve as you’d like to be. After all, if you have previously established that the resolution is desirable for the business, within your capabilities and all the rest, why wouldn’t you do it?

And, having a useful attitude to the resolution is helpful too. Here I can do no better than my Russian master at school used to do and quote the witches’ advice to Macbeth in act 4 of the play: “Be bloody, bold and resolute!”

Jeremy Marchant helps business people—and others—to be more successful by working with other people better. He is passionate about applying emotional intelligence in a useful and constructive way and is currently working with organisations as diverse as an international mining and engineering firm and the NHS, a sole trader and a website development house.

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