Beware the Ides of March? Beware superstition in business.

Your average Roman wouldn’t be particularly troubled by the Ides of March. The phrase certainly wouldn’t fill them with a sense of foreboding or impending doom. It was just a date; one of the three named Roman days: Kalends, Nones and Ides. The Ides of March was therefore merely one of a dozen Ides which occurred in every month of the year – nothing to be afraid of.

Shakespeare’s soothsayer created the sense of menace surrounding the date with his warning to Caesar and it has since become a metaphor for looming disaster. Should this date affect us in any way, shape or form? No – it’s just superstition. However, superstition can affect you and your business… if you let it.

I could explore a range of examples of how superstitions do indeed have a real impact: Hotels losing money due to guests’ refusal to stay on the thirteenth floor, pricing in China playing on people’s preference for the ‘lucky’ number eight, and the lower house prices for those properties which are number thirteen on a street. However, such quirks are covered extensively elsewhere.

Instead, I’m looking at personal superstitions. People well aware that the fifteenth of March is just another day may still own a ‘lucky tie’. Whether it’s dressing a certain way or performing a certain action, we often attribute our success at work to behaviours we adopt. This is not necessarily bad – having a routine or ritual can be positive. But ritual can easily slide into superstition, which is unhelpful.

Consider golfers and their practice swings or fly-halves and their pre-kick shuffling. Both behaviours began as rational triggers designed to initiate muscle memory and achieve metronomic performance. They loosen the muscles, focus the mind and subconsciously channel the hours of practice put in previously. The problem arises when this helpful ritual becomes superstitious and the golfer or player no longer believes they are capable of hitting a good shot or bisecting the posts without their ritual.

It is important to remember that rituals, behaviours or even lucky items are triggers for something else – chemicals altering your mood, making you more relaxed or more positive. If you wore a certain outfit to a successful interview or meeting where you secured a valuable contract, wearing it again will bring back memories and feeling of success. This positive mood may well improve your performance in the next meeting.

But the outfit is not magic. If it becomes lost or ruined you are no less of a performer than before. If you let superstition take hold you will feel that you are somehow diminished without your ‘charm’. As long as you remember that it was the feelings and mind-set induced by the ‘charm’ which gave you a boost, you can find other methods of channelling those feelings.

Psychology makes luck real. More bad news is reported on Friday the thirteenth because people are more inclined to share negative stories on an ‘unlucky’ day. Use this to your advantage if you like – wear clothes with a history of success, look at a treasured photo before a meeting or carry a pebble from a special holiday if they trigger positive thinking. Just remember not to credit clothes, photos or rocks with your own achievements. Remember that these are behaviours designed to induce a psychological result and that there are other ways to achieve that result too. One day the soles will fall off your ‘lucky’ shoes, but you’ll walk just as well without them.

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