6 mental exercises to help you prepare for 2018

Former Google career coach shares a visual trick for making the new year more productive and happy
Former Google career coach shares a visual trick for making the new year more productive and happy

If you felt stuck in 2017 and want to make 2018 more productive, take advantage of the downtime over the holidays to mentally refocus. Psychologists and successful people alike have a number of brain exercises you can use to prepare for the new year.

Here are six strategies to help you be more prepared and excited to achieve your goals:

1. Adopt a growth mindset

Carol Dweck, Stanford University researcher and author of "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success," has spent the majority of her career studying why and how people are able to accomplish their goals.

The key to success, she says, is how you approach obstacles.

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If you're feeling stuck, try to move away from what Dweck calls a "fixed mindset," or thinking that you can't change your situation or your future.

Instead, spend more time nurturing a "growth mindset," a way of thinking where you believe you can create a better future for yourself. For example, instead of thinking, "I'm not good at this part of my job," try wondering, "How can I improve in this area?"

Instead of saying to yourself, "I'll never land a job as a [insert dream role]," try "What projects can I start at my current job to help me gain useful experience?"

These small changes to the way we think, Dweck says, add up.

"We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us," she writes. "We don't like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary."

2. Draw a mind map

Former Google career coach and careers author Jenny Blake helped more than a thousand people improve their work lives while working at the tech giant.

From her experience, she found that one visual exercise helped many people turn their personal and work lives around. She calls it a "mind map," or a visual diagram of your interests and goals.

To make one, write the year at the center of a piece of paper, and then draw spokes with different themes that are important to you. For example, your spokes could be business, personal life, health and fitness, fun or skill building.

From each of those themes, draw an additional spoke for each way you want to improve in that area, says Blake, author of "Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One."

"The goal is to break out of linear thinking," Blake said in a 2016 interview. "Go broad. Go big."

3. Develop a routine you use before approaching a difficult task

Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University, says that research suggests using a mind trick can help you accomplish more things on your to-do list.

Dan Ariely, behavioral economist and psychologist.
Photo: Mary R.

Ariely and his co-researchers conducted a survey of 800 people who use an app called Fabulous. All of the participants shared the goal of exercising more often but found it difficult to follow through.

The researchers directed participants to adopt a motivating pre-workout routine, such as stretching or practicing mindfulness, and continue it for multiple weeks. The majority of the survey's participants said they exercised more often and felt more motivated to continue doing so. Those who saw the highest success were the ones who designed their own inspiration routine.

Having a routine that you execute before starting a tedious task boosts your chance of finishing that task, according to the research.

4. Follow up on your goals

Billionaire Richard Branson swears by lists, saying that he uses them to keep track of his big goals as well as his daily tasks.

"I make lists — lots of them," he writes on his blog. His lists range from people to call during the day to new ventures he wants to start.

Sir Richard Branson.
Cameron Costa | CNBC

While it's tempting to keep lists on your phone, try jotting them down in a notebook or on a piece of paper. Psychologists have found that writing things down on paper helps people remember things better than if they keep lists digitally.

Once you create a list of things to do, revisit it every day so that you stay motivated.

5. Tell yourself a daily affirmation

Supermodel Ashley Graham nearly quit her modeling career before it took off. Other people's negativity and criticism nearly convinced her she wouldn't succeed.

On the day she nearly decided to give up her career, she called her mother. Graham's mother said failure wasn't an option. Instead, she taught her the daily mental exercise that helped her turn her career around. It's called expressing an affirmation, or making a positive statement about yourself.

Model Ashley Graham says one mental exercise helped her through a difficult time in her career.
Mike Coppola/Getty Images

From that day on, Graham would spend a few minutes in front of the mirror and repeat the statement, "I love you. You are bold. You are brilliant. You are beautiful."

After a few weeks, the exercise began to work.

"I stopped comparing myself to the women around me and competing with them," she said. "I started focusing what I was doing, how I was impacting my own career."

The model encourages every young person to have their own affirmation.

"Whatever you're stopping yourself from doing, whatever you're holding yourself back from, you have to start talking to that thing," Graham said. "You have to start talking and say, 'I am worthy, I am good enough.'"

6. Talk about the big picture with a friend

If you're confused about your career, take a step back and try figuring out what motivates you, says Simon Sinek, a bestselling author whose 2009 TED Talk on finding your purpose has garnered more than 34 million views.

"Very few of us can clearly know why we do what we do," Sinek told CNBC Make It.

Simon Sinek, bestselling author, speaker and self-described "unshakable optimist."

To figure out what motivates you, find a conversation partner like a friend or sibling. Ideally, Sinek says, this partner shouldn't be someone who's extremely close to you, such as your boyfriend or girlfriend, because they may already have preconceived ideas about your career.

You and your partner should separately jot down a list of five to 10 stories of important moments in your life, both high points and low points.

If you're having trouble recalling stories, Sinek suggests answering a few prompt questions, such as, "At school, what was an experience you loved?" or "What happened that changed the way you think about the world and your role in it?"

From those stories you write down, pick your top three and share them with the other person. When your conversation partner is speaking, take notes on themes you notice from their stories as well as details that stuck out to you.

When you are both done talking, share what you observed from hearing the other person's stories. This will hopefully help you figure out what excites you and motivates you.

"What I learned is all those people who know why they do what they do," he says, "have an unbalanced amount of success."

This is an updated version of a previously published article.

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