A defined goal (the third step of the P.A.T.H. Plan)

In the movie The Village, there is a short scene where a young man is standing on a tree stump. It's night time, his arms are spread out, and his back is turned towards the edge of the woods.


And he looks terrified. A stone's throw away are a few of his friends. They are giving him words of motivation, encouraging him to be brave and stay on the tree stump for a little bit longer. The young man is terrified because he and his generation were taught that there are dangerous creatures that live in the woods. So naturally, the boys in the village have created a game to see who can stand the longest with their back towards the woods, putting themselves at risk for a potential attack by one of the creatures. What's so difficult about this game? It's not hard to stand on a tree stump with your arms out. That's easy. The game is difficult because the young man has to stand there while everything in his body is screaming at him to jump down and run away. He has to stay put in the midst of an intense, overwhelming emotion. And how does he know if he's "won" or not? By how long he is able to stand there. He has a goal. He has a target. And when you have a target you are aiming for, it helps you hit it. The third step of the P.A.T.H. Plan, the "T," gives you the defined goal. Let's imagine the next instance when you feel that urge to watch porn. You've already initiated the first two steps of the P.A.T.H. Plan. You've paused and stopped to notice what is happening (the "P" step). You've acknowledged the urge (the "A" step), calling it by its name, not with judgment, but simply noticing and naming. These first two steps have decreased the intensity of the urge and helped you think more clearly. This has put you back in the driver's seat. But now what? The urge is still there, urging and screaming at you to pull up that website or image. This is where you launch into the third step, the timer. In the third step of the P.A.T.H. Plan, you are setting a timer for ten minutes (I usually use a timer on my phone or an online timer). Why set a timer? I'm glad you asked. Here's why we set a timer for ten minutes: we need a defined goal. We need to have a target to aim for. We need to know when we've "won," when we've accomplished a goal. We need to know when we've completed a step towards our destination. When I first started exploring this strategy, sometimes I would feel the desire to watch porn but not set a timer. I would pause and I would acknowledge the urge. But the urge didn't go away, and I felt aimless after that. I didn't have a target. Imagine hiring a strength training coach. You're in the gym together and he says to you, "Bench press. Go!" You'd probably be thinking to yourself, "Um, how much weight? How many reps?" Or imagine hiring someone to help you prepare for a marathon and he says to you, "Okay, now run!" Confusion and questions would likely fill your mind, wondering how far to run, and at what speed. Setting a timer for ten minutes gives you that defined target you are aiming for. You know exactly when you have accomplished the goal, when you've completed a "rep." Okay, so we know why we are setting a timer. So what do you DO during those ten minutes? When you set the timer for ten minutes, you then continue to go about your day, allowing the urge to be there. You don't fight or resist the urge. Rather, you are giving it permission to be there. Remember, what you resist, persists. But what you allow, alleviates. Instead of trying to make the craving go away, you're embracing it. You're accepting it. This is how you process feelings in a healthy, effective way. This is ultimately how you help feelings leave, rather than burying them inside, only to have them resurface later. This third step of the P.A.T.H. Plan is the hardest step. This is where the skill is learned. This is where the muscle is built. As you're going about your day, and that timer is counting down, the urge may rise or fall in intensity. I want to give you a few specific things that I do to help allow that urge during the ten minutes. The first thing I do is take a deep breath when the urge increases in intensity. Next, I'll remind myself what I'm actually doing during these ten minutes. I think about one of two different analogies. The first analogy is that I am building a muscle. I am learning a skill. That muscle or skill is the ability to effectively process a difficult feeling. Just like building any muscle or learning any new skill, the only way to do it is to go through the pain or difficulty of exercising it. That's what you are doing during those ten minutes. Think about when you are doing a really intense workout or exercise. It's hard. You know it's hard. You know that a really good workout has to be hard. Rather than resisting that good form of pain, you're embracing it. Because you know that growth and progress doesn't come unless the pain comes too. They go hand in hand. That's the first thing I'll remind myself after taking a deep breath. The second analogy I'll think about is how the urge is not an enemy I'm trying to fight. Instead, I'll remember that the urge is like a passionate friend inside me that is giving me really bad advice. The friend cares for me and sincerely wants the best for me, but he is incredibly misguided. And he is very passionate and intense. I'll imagine that the ten minutes is the time that I am being a good friend and listening to his intense, but misguided advice. It's not pleasant to sit and listen to, but arguing or fighting against him is only going to add fuel to the fire. So I patiently listen as he rants. A question that often comes up is, What do I do when the timer goes off, and I complete all four steps of the plan, but the craving for porn is still there? So, you've completed a full "rep." And, you're feeling the urge to watch porn. Just like before, you initiate steps of the P.A.T.H. Plan. You implement the four steps again, and complete another "rep." Going back to when I first implemented this strategy, I would sometimes have to complete two or three reps in a row. This is excellent, because I was getting better at the steps. It felt less and less clunky, and I was building in the habit. As time went on, more and more often I would only have to complete one "rep" before the urge left. This is one of the amazing things about this strategy. As you use it, you'll notice that gradually, the urges will decrease in frequency and intensity. Urges will be fewer and farther between, and they will be less potent than in the past. So, if you complete all four steps and you still feel the urge, just like with the first "rep," you initiate the steps again. And you do this until the urge isn't there anymore. And each time you complete a rep, it's a win! And it's hugely important that you celebrate that win. This is the fourth and final step of the P.A.T.H. Plan. It's also the most exciting. This is what we are going to dive into next week! Let's go! Dan P. S. As we're getting into the details of the P.A.T.H. Plan, what has been your experience with it? Have you experienced success and freedom? Do you have questions? Have you attempted to implement it yet? Simply email me with your experiences or questions. I'd love to hear from you!

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