I've written a lot about using mental rehearsal in weight control, fitness, etc... (see: www.dietdetective.com/column/lessons-from-olympians.aspx) here is more research based support that simply rehearsing something in your head will help you to get it right!! Tartaglia of the Laboratory of Psychophysics at Switzerland's Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) and team show that perceptual learning—learning by repeated exposure to a stimulus—can occur by mental imagery as much as by the real thing. The results, published in Current Biology, suggest that thinking about something over and over again could actually be as good as doing it.
DEVELOPING YOUR OWN MENTAL REHEARSAL
Here is a step-by-step guide to Mental Rehearsal:
1. Identify the occasion: Choose an eating situation you find difficult, whether it's unconscious eating, traveling, special occasions (weddings, family dinners), dining out, a midnight snack attack, etc. Develop a rough sketch of how you'd like to change your behavior in that scenario — include the thoughts, emotions and actions you want in your "ideal" version.
2. Brainstorm: Brainstorming all the negative events that could occur within that situation. For instance, if you have difficulty sticking to your diet when you're going out to dinner at your favorite restaurant, come up with all the possible complications you may encounter: the great bread, the stupendous blue cheese dressing, the fabulous creme brulee or even those pressuring comments from "food pushers." And don't forget to think about all the positive outcomes in which you make choices you are content with — that's the key, reminds Murphy.
3. Add detail: Be specific. Don't spare a thought, no matter how insignificant it might seem. Think how you would act and behave in your ideal scenario — you can even write it down to make it more concrete.
4. Create the script: Now you're ready to come up with a step-by-step description of exactly what your ideal experience would actually be like. Be creative and thoughtful about the process. You must really understand the experience from beginning to end. Consciously visualize what it will take for you to get through this situation, and make sure to think about how you would react to all the possible negative scenarios, creating positive outcomes for each.
5. Give it life: Once you have the general script down, go back to make the experience really come alive. Keep in mind you want to use all your senses — see, feel, hear and smell it. Make it as lifelike as possible — imagine it in 3D. If you're a swimmer, smell the chlorine in the pool. For weight control, apply the same principles, including imagining the smells of the restaurant, who you'll be with, who your server will be and what everyone is going to say.
There are two types of mental practicing: external, in which you watch yourself in a movie, and internal, seeing the event through your own eyes. Some experts recommend the internal approach for greater success, but either will be effective, so use whichever you prefer.
6. Make it automatic: rehearse your imagery often, including the night before the event and even just before it begins, to keep it fresh. What you're doing through mental rehearsal is creating new "automatic" responses to replace your previous patterns — the ones that had been holding you back from your weight loss. Just think about it. If you've always ordered dessert at a restaurant, you do it unconsciously because it's a habit. If you do nothing to change that pattern, you will continue to do the same thing. But if you rehearse a different outcome — for instance, ordering fruit, coffee or no dessert at all — you will have created a new "automatic" response to the dessert menu.
7. Rerun that scenario in your head whenever you find yourself about to live out the situation you've rehearsed. The details should be as familiar to you as the words and notes to your favorite song.
8. After the event, no matter what the outcome, revise your imagery and try to repair any mistakes or setbacks.