Increasingly research is identifying that the expectations you have about specific behaviours (what you think you will get out of a behaviour) are what you should be focusing on if you want to make changes.
Often when we do things that we don’t really want to do e.g. overeating, not exercising, drinking etc., it's usually our self talk around expectations that are to blame. Take overeating for example. Expectancy prior to overeating might sound like… 'this (extra food) will make me feel good', 'I need more food', 'it will taste so good', etc. Typically what happens after overeating, assuming it was something you didn't want to do, is that the outcome will be the opposite of the initial expectations. In this case you might now be thinking, 'I feel bad/guilty/angry I ate that', 'I didn't actually need to eat that', and 'it didn't even taste that good'.
It is thought that the thinking around expectations is the real crossroad or decision point where we commit to doing something, and not the point immediately prior to actually doing it. By the time we are just about to do something it may be too late to stop as the commitment (built up via expectations) has already been made. What all of this means is that if we want to modify specific behaviours we need to address the expectancy thinking that occurs long before the act itself.
So how can we do this? Quite simply we need to replace the expectant thoughts we have prior to doing something with the thoughts we will have after doing something. In other words swap the expectancy thinking with the outcome thinking. Using the same example of overeating, you're initial thoughts of 'this will make me feel better', would be replaced with 'this will make me feel bad/guilty/angry'. While this sounds simple enough in reality it will likely be a challenge and will come down to your ability to utilise your logical brain (frontal lobe) over your emotional brain (limbic system). If you can override your emotional brain for long enough and continually replace your inaccurate expectancy thinking with the more accurate outcome thinking, it will eventually lead to a long term change in how you think about problematic behaviours. This in turn will lead to an altering of habits which will ultimately lead to a new and improved you.
So what are you waiting for? Have a think now about the next time you will do something you don't really want to do, whether that be choosing not to exercise or eating bad food. Now think, 'what are the thoughts I will have prior to behaving this way (expectancy)', and 'what will I actually be thinking afterwards (outcome).' All you have to do now is be aware of these thoughts as you're having them and then do your best to swap them over.