Leadership

A simple math class trick can triple your chance at success, says a Columbia psychologist

One of the most tedious parts of grade school math came around in geometry class with the introduction of "proofs" and "if-then statements." These statements require you to go beyond crunching numbers and list the steps to get from your hypothesis to your conclusion.

Here's the formula, in case you forgot: p → q, or "if p then q."

By applying this equation to how you make plans, your chances of being more successful at work, with your health and relationships will triple, says Heidi Grant Halvorson, a social psychologist and associate director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia University.

In her book "Nine Things Successful People Do Differently," Halvorson provides the following examples of if-then planning:

If I haven't written the report before lunch, then I will make it the first thing I do when I return.

If I am getting to distracted by my colleagues, then I will stick to a five-minute chat limit and head back to work.

If it is 6 p.m., then I will spend an hour working out in the company gym before heading home.

If-then planning allows you to decide in advance "when and where you will take specific actions to reach your goal" and can double or triple your chances for success Grant Halvorson says, citing a research published in the journal "Advances in Experimental Social Psychology."

"Wanting to be more productive isn't enough to actually make you more productive," she writes, adding that "you need to introduce better habits of time management into your life by seizing opportunities to get things done."

This type of planning not only provides more clarity on the goals you want to achieve, but it also serves as a way to hack your unconscious brain into helping you along.

If-then statements are written in "the language of contingencies," Grant Halvorson says, describing the brain's ability to create a link between different events to prepare you for the next event.

"Once you've formulated your if-then plan, your unconscious brain will start scanning the environment, searching for the situation in the 'if' part of your plan," she writes. "Since you've already decided exactly what you need to do, you can execute the plan without having to consciously think about it or waste time deliberating about what you should do next."

Don't miss:
This Harvard Business School grad sold his business for $100 million to pursue his dream job
How Elon Musk's mother inspired a family of entrepreneurs

Like this story? Like CNBC Make It on Facebook.