The New Year is usually the ideal time to stop and plan the next 12 months and list any changes we want to make. Change can be a difficult “thing” to deliver. We start with the enthusiasm of a recharged soul in early January and by March the business is back doing exactly what it did 12 months ago.

Earlier in 2011, I wrote about how to improve your chances of success when I took a very generic model I had stumbled upon and applied it to online marketing. You can read more about it here.

While writing this I had an epiphany moment. When I looked deeper I could see one part of the model that, when followed, would act as a reliable predictor of whether a particular change was going to be relatively easy or difficult to deliver. Recent events have underscored this point even more.

And the piece of the model? What’s at stake.

Yep, after you have spent all the time describing what the current situation is and followed this with the nice blue sky of what the future should look like, then you should sit down and write down what’s at stake if nothing changes. What you write here will be a very strong predictor of whether anything changes at all.

Here are a few examples of this in action.

I start with one from my own history. I can’t remember for how many years I told others I wanted to run my own business. It must have been at least 10. But still I did nothing about it. Then in mid November 2002 I was called into a meeting room and told my position was being made redundant and I was expected to leave the office in a week. Young family, young mortgage and a recruitment market that was winding down for Christmas. There was a lot at stake so I purchased some business cards from a local quick printer, borrowed a laptop from a friend and within two days the name Permission was born and I was calling on prospective customers.

Now something closer to home. There was a lot of discussion prior to the election on the suitability of Phil Goff as the Labour Party leader. Personally, I thought he did an OK job but the knives were apparently out looking for a replacement before the election campaign began. As we know nothing changed until after the result was in. I seriously doubt that the person who got the job after the election would have achieved it before.

Now something too close for comfort. I ride with a friend who has recently gone through prostate cancer and survived. He’s had one hell of a year. He rides with a bunch of us that bash our way around Woodhill Forest on our mountain bikes most Sunday mornings. Our ages range from late thirties to mid sixties. Prior to finding out about Nick, how many of us do you think had been to the doctor and inquired about checking on the health of our prostate? None. And now – all of us.

If there’s nothing or very little “at stake” then there’s very little chance the change you want will take place. So thinking back to your possible list of New Year’s resolutions – how about becoming fitter, losing weight or owning a new Ferrari. What really happens if none of these are achieved? Best way to get fit? Register yourself and your friends for an event – be it cycling or running – 6 months out and start training. Now there’s something at stake.

This is a great example of you having to actively create the “at stake” part to ensure the change occurs. Goal setting is another way to do this. Publicly stating your goals takes this one step further and is proven to increase your chances of success. All you have done is raised the “stake” one level higher.

The unfortunate thing is that sometimes life can create the “at stake” part for you if you don’t. For instance, a competitor opens up nearby and starts to entice your customers their way. A health scare makes you realise that exercise is really important or the act of having a doctor’s check-up is worthwhile.

So this January please take the time to plan where you are and where you want to go but also think through what really happens if nothing changes. Really? If there’s not a lot AND you really want the change to occur then start creating some serious down and gritty “at stake” issues.

Have fun.