Before performing an action, imagine the process of doing so and the consequences stemming from it. Decide whether you truly want to proceed. It can be a powerful deterring or motivating tool.
An overwhelmingly familiar option of eating something you know you are going to regret is a perfect opportunity to apply this tactic. Say, you have decided to avoid a certain food (gluten, dairy, sweets, carbs, small animals, or that deliciously decadent piece of chocolate cake) for whatever reasons. Yet you have a very strong craving for it and are succumbing to the temptation. Before taking the plunge, imagine in detail having that food. The most satisfying first bite, the smell, the taste, the less satisfying fifth bite (by the law of diminishing returns), imagine licking the crumbs from your fingers and the feeling you will have right after.
Is it ecstasy or regret? Was the food as wonderfully delicious as your craving has led you to believe, or was it disappointingly unsatisfying? Often when we abstain from certain foods, we tend to imagine them to be way more delicious to us than they end up being. And now that you have “eaten” the food, how will you feel in half an hour? Bloated, disgusted at succumbing to the temptation, vowing to compensate for the deed by running around the block 15 times, or worse – popping pills to cover up the damage?
Many times, this exercise is enough to deter you from actually eating the food, and the craving becomes less strong. You might have to repeat it the next day, but often the imaginary consumption is enough to prevent the real one. If, however, after going through this exercise you are still drooling for that piece of cake, I say, go for it! But first decide to have no regrets.
You can flip this trick around to help motivate yourself to do something you dread doing. Hate cleaning the kitchen floor? Starting is the hardest part – use your mind to make it easier. Imagine what you would have to do to complete the action: fill up a bucket, find a mop, rub resistant spots, for a whole of, maybe, 10 minutes. Imagine the result: a spotless floor on which your baby can crawl without you cringing, at least until the first subsequent food preparation. The action would not seem so daunting any more (as you figured out the steps to complete it and the time it would require), and you’d be excited for the result. If an action is too big to fully plan, it’s a sign you need to split it into smaller tasks.
This applies to anything you want to motivate yourself to do: writing a report or an essay, sorting laundry, reading a textbook chapter, doing an exercise routine, or clearing out an overflowing drawer. See the result in your mind’s eye, and reaching it will seem much easier.
You will often find that after completing the action in your imagination, you do not have as strong a drive to go through with it in real life. This is a great tactic to use for either holding back from doing something, or motivating yourself to go ahead.