Have you found yourself in a repeating cycle of giving into watching porn, promising yourself that you won't do it again, only to give into it again the next time?
There's actually a very good reason why this happens, and you can blame your brain.
Maybe for you, you've watched porn, and afterwards you felt painful regret and shame. You ask, "Why can't I just stop?!" You promise yourself that this will be the last time, and next time you're not going to give in.
But then what happens?
The next day, or the next week, you find yourself alone, and the thought to watch porn enters your mind. You start to feel that surge of excitement, adrenaline, desire, longing even. The promise you made to yourself flashes in your mind, but then it goes completely out the window. Maybe you even say to yourself, "It's just too hard to resist." You give in, and watch porn.
Can you relate to this? I know I did this probably a thousand times.
Why does this happen? Again and again? How could we, as intelligent creatures, fall into the same pattern over and over, and not be able to get out?
The answer lies in your brain. Let's explore!
Most of the time throughout your day, the rational, thinking part of your brain is in charge. You think clearly, you plan, you problem-solve, you create. This is how we function in society. It's how we do our jobs and get things done.
This rational part of your brain is called the prefrontal cortex.
But there are those times when something "triggers" you. When this happens, you're filled with intense emotion. It can be anger when you get cut off in traffic or when your kids won't obey. It can be fear or anxiety when you are thinking about something that you may dread or are afraid might happen.
Or, it can be those times when you think about watching porn and you're flooded with intense desire.
When this happens, a switch is flipped in your brain.
The rational, thinking part of your brain gets switched to "off," and a different part of your brain, called the limbic system, is turned on.
When the limbic system is activated, it barges in and declares itself the new boss. It is running the show. The feeling that is flooding you, like the longing to watch porn, becomes a megaphone in your body.
It is using all the energy it can muster to get you to act on the feeling, to follow the urge, to fulfill the desire and watch porn. All you can think about is feeding the craving.
What about the prefrontal cortex? What happens to the rational part of your brain, the part that planned and promised that you would never give into porn again?
That rational part of your brain is still there...but it becomes like a tiny mouse squeak being drowned out by the megaphone of your desire.
This is why we make decisions over and over that ultimately hurt us.
We plan and make promises (prefrontal cortex). But inevitably we find ourselves in moments of intense feelings (limbic system), and the promises we made just don't have the potency they did when we made them. And so our behaviors are determined in those moments by the momentary, but powerful, feeling.
Great, so we're completely helpless and at the mercy of our limbic system?
Here's the fantastic news: there are a few things that you can do to help you in those limbic moments.
More great news: they are simple to do. Not always easy, but simple.
Even more great news: the more you do it, the better you get at it!
It's a skill, a practice that you can build. Not to sound too dramatic, but in my opinion, it's one of the most important skills you will ever learn in your life.
Alright, so in those intense moments of desire, there are two things we know helps lower the volume of the limbic system, and gives back the voice of your prefrontal cortex.
1. Pause in that moment, and take an intentional, deep breath.
When you are in the intensity of the limbic moment, there aren't many things that you can count on yourself to do. You're not thinking clearly. You're blinded by intense emotion. Past plans no longer seem as relevant.
So you need something easy, quick, but effective that you can do.
Well, there are few things easier and quicker than taking a breath! And the great news is that stopping and simply breathing helps shift the volume of the limbic system back to the prefrontal cortex.
Simply pausing and taking a deep breath grounds you, brings you back to reality, and puts you in a good position to do the next easy step.
2. Name the feeling that is flooding you in that moment ("Hm, I am feeling the strong desire to watch porn").
It may sound silly, but scientific studies show that when you simply label the feeling you are having, it decreases its potency.
When you describe what is going on by naming the feeling, you are using your prefrontal cortex, the rational part of your brain. This shifts even more activity away from the limbic system so you are back in the driver's seat.
These two actions (pausing to take a breath, and naming the feeling) are the first actions to take when you notice that desire for porn flooding you. They are simple, easy, quick, and effective. In other words, you CAN do these two simple things the next time you feel that urge. It will help you stay grounded and in charge, rather than being swept away by the desire.
Now, you may have noticed that these two steps are the first two steps of the P.A.T.H. Plan. Of course, this was intentional. And it sets you up to be able to move on to the third step of the plan.
The next time you feel that desire to watch porn, whether it's later today, tomorrow, or next week, plan in advance to take these two easy and effective steps to put your thinking brain back in control!
P. S. If you haven't tuned into The New Paths Podcast yet, now is a great time to start. Over the coming weeks I'm going to be diving into each of the four steps of the P.A.T.H. Plan so you can feel confident about your map to real, lasting freedom!