It’s the fifth and final Monday of January, the end of the first month of 2024. Time to reflect on the status of your New Year’s resolutions. Lots of us make them. Few keep them. Every man hath two birthdays, proclaimed Charles Lamb, His personal one and New Year’s Day. It is that from which all date their time. The turn of the year is a prompt to look ahead.
This one-two of retrospection and encroaching mortality often leads to self-reproach, for hours wasted, love undeclared and careless omission of promises we made to ourselves, our vows for the future to squeeze life dry and have another beer – but then again, the heroine of Bridget Jones’s Diary resolved to drink less and stop talking total nonsense to strangers. She struggled on both counts.
Sceptics might think we make too much of January 1st. After all, the hinge between two calendar years is a fleeting and arbitrary punctuation in time, no more meaningful than any other moment. Then again, in context, it is as good an opportunity as any to glance back, peer forward and make notes to self for improving. One of my simple resolutions was to keep my sock drawer in good order this year (see photo) and so far, all is neat and tidy. Not the most ambitious shout for 2024 you may say, but previously I’ve just gone freestyle and not paired my socks, so this is a big move.
New year’s resolutions can be ill-advised. It may be a natural time to assess your life, but it can be febrile and maudlin. The results can be foolish and unrealistic, whether they are can-do, mind-over-matter aspirations to do more, or plans to go easy on yourself and do less. This last type of resolution has a logical flaw. If you are the sort of disciplined person who makes them in earnest, a promise to put your feet up may be hard to honour.
As 2024 unfolds, the fog of unpredictability is playing havoc with the clear skies of planning. I was on a webinar this week on the current challenges in startup funding and one of the presenters called out the acronym V.U.C.A, which apparently stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity – so what’s the point of setting down resolutions with so much turbulence around us?
What was amusing was that they told us they’d made resolutions to build ai unicorns, having obviously fallen into the hype-cycle: ai is so disruptive that it may end up disrupting disruption itself. Yes, that’s what they said. If you are struggling to make sense of that sentence, don’t worry, a week on, I’m still scratching my head. We need to get our arms around ai, or we risk reaping a whirlwind of chickens coming home to roost. Sorry, those are my words, excuse the flippancy.
I know that this level of uncertainty can be disorientating, but if we do not think outside the box for our resolutions, we will never be able to capture lightning in a bottle, so to speak. Although sometimes I think inside the box, and other times I can’t find the box at all. Anyway, four weeks in, here are my (refined) ten resolutions for 2024, which I hope may resonate with your own.
1. Stop fearing the worst, do not trade in future anxieties.
Social media is jammed with pointless washed-out advice from folks who don’t really have the soap box to broadcast, and sometimes just amplify the absurd, compelling us to join the jamboree of the futile dance of sameness.
The weather doesn’t help, and my melancholy has returned slightly. We’ve moved away from drinking tea and reading outdoors to avoiding the storms. Right now, I’m looking out on the gloomscape that makes you wonder whether it’s even worth opening the curtains. My sock drawer is giving me some sense of achievement. I’ve made a mushroom risotto to cheer myself up.
My wife calls me a poet of apprehension, but I’m really a glass half-full person and when I do empty it, there is another Brew Dog can in the fridge to top it up.
2. Live by your core values
It is easy to start off with strong convictions and determination to be the best version of yourself, but it is difficult to live up to these good intentions once you get into the reality of wash-rinse-repeat of everyday. Beliefs and values are meaningless unless you embody them. Simply saying something – without meaning it – isn’t enough. Live by your core values and deliver on them without compromise. I promise it will make a difference.
3. Address something you’ve been avoiding – improve a specific soft skill
This is not for the faint hearted. However, it will help you deal with an issue you’ve been procrastinating on for maybe several months or even years. What have you been avoiding? You probably have an idea as to what it is. Hire a coach, read books, listen to podcasts, or sign up for a course. Do whatever you can to improve, and you’ll see changes in yourself, your business and overall approach to your life. Stir your mentality.
4. Be a ‘hold-the-door hero’
Imagine the scene. You’re in a lift on your way to a meeting. As the doors start to close, you spot someone else rushing to get in. At that moment, you have a choice. We should all treat this as an opportunity to be a ‘hold-the-door hero’, A positive action like this not only makes you feel good on a human level, but it also sets an example of being empathetic as a trait to the rest of your team.
This mindset can quickly spread, it’s simply about being helpful to others. It costs nothing. Metaphorically, it’s about doing for other people what you’d want them to do for you. Reciprocity. Simply letting the lift door close is a mean-spirited, lazy, and unthinking action. Be helpful to others whenever and wherever you can. Like-minded people help each other.
5. Pursue diverse experiences
It’s like the wisdom of the crowd, the collective opinion of a diverse group of people is stronger and more correct than that of a single expert. Cultivating diverse experiences, friendships, and interests fosters personal growth. Engaging in these keeps stifled thinking at bay. Get out of your comfort zone, don’t be afraid to read about, learn, or watch videos about things you’re interested in.
Last year I renovated the chaotic and rundown orchard we inherited when we moved in 2022. I’m no Monty Don but can spot and treat canker on my apple trees and blossom wilt on my pear trees. This year we will see the fruits of my labour, literally.
6. Don’t rely on the opinions of others…but embrace open-mindedness
I do have a stubborn streak which means I have to find things out for myself. This has cost me time, and also resulted in not finding the optimum solution. I have to know and understand for myself.
Strong individuals are motivated by self-confidence, not the beliefs of others, so focus on cultivating your own opinions by deep learning, but value diverse voices and the freedom to exchange ideas. Exchanging dissenting ideas is key to original thought. Don’t be afraid to voice your beliefs but engage in active discourse. Cultivate open-minded debate.
7. Be guided by future actions, not past results – and think bigger
That you have succeeded in the last few years does not ensure doing so in the future, today’s actions are. Adapt and thrive in response to life’s flux. This may sound clichéd, but how can you think bigger in your business and daily routine? How can you be more present? What’s the next step in your goals? What happens after that? And what happens after that?
Sometimes, taking a few steps forward can help you see the bigger picture and open your mind to what’s possible. See how much bigger you can make those thoughts and ideas. You may surprise yourself. There’s something about an untouched year ahead that sparks a sense of hope and drive.
8. Start and end meetings on time, focused on decision making
Make every meeting count. This year, I’ve resolved to start all meetings on time, whether all attendees are present or not. It’s a discipline we all need and a good cultural set piece in terms of respecting others. Similarly, end all meetings on time. Doing so allows everyone to put their full attention and focus on the meeting content and flow.
Be focused on outcomes, not just discussions as a metric of ‘that was a good meeting’. Set an expectation for decision-making in the meeting, or a timeline from follow up actions. Making decisions is never easy, but you can make the process more productive by creating a distinct decision-making culture. Deadlines stop procrastination.
9. Help more, by helping less
Founders are often guilty of forgetting the people in their people strategy. To counter this, they must extend their emotional intelligence and empathy. Go beyond the basics and create an environment where everyone prospers and belongs, empowering others to perform at their best.
You can achieve this by doing less – but still being there. Many founders will enter the new year with ideas of having more time for themselves as ‘more thinking, less doing’ but before they know it, they’re snowed under helping their team with an endless list of tasks. But every time you offer to help there’s a risk that this reflex response may actually be robbing team members of valuable learning opportunities, had you encouraged them to do the thinking themselves,
Learning to sense when a question might be more helpful to someone’s thinking means that they retain ownership for resolving problems themselves, which, in turn, builds confidence, resourcefulness and resilience. Make one of your new year goals to create the conditions for your team to develop.
10. Embrace small pockets of me time
Avoid the I‘m back-to-back today calendar, give yourself the gift of time. You do not have to spend every moment of the day working, shake up your perception as to what you need to accomplish.
Make your own well-being a priority, setting your intentions to shift the paradigm around self-care, which I feel is still centered around herbal tea and massages. Be preventative and proactive. Build a couple of time slots each day for taking a break from the screen; make a phone call to your partner, family member or friend, enjoy a coffee listening to music for fifteen minutes. You’ve got more time available to you than you think.
My personal focus in 2024 is to continue to keep the main things the main things and live by a less is more philosophy. This means removing obligations and demands, making sure that I am only spending time and energy on the things that matter most, where I can give and get back energy, motivation and a sense of purpose and pride. Socks are a big part of my 2024.
As T.S. Elliot said, Last year’s words belong to last year’s language, and next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.