This week during one of my coaching sessions my client said to me, “how do I keep up my motivation so I don’t keep going back to pornography and how do I choose an important enough why that will keep me motivated?”
This question is one that I think a lot of people struggle with, so I wanted to take some time and talk about the differences between the ways that we approach problems and how we might be approaching our struggles with pornography in ways that aren’t helping us ultimately succeed.
I’m going to touch on 4 different concepts, how they might help and how they might keep you from succeeding if you utilize them too heavily without other key elements.
Let’s talk about Motivation, Our Why, Habits, and Who we are.
I’ll start with Motivation. Which I like to think of as synonymous with willpower.
This is a pretty common way of thinking about a problem. First, we encounter a problem and then we find some motivation that helps us overcome that problem until it is finally gone.
When it comes to short-term and long-term, external problems, this is often a really good course of action. Take school or work for example. External problems can be broken into a variety of short-term, solvable, puzzles that once they are overcome fade into the distance. This is why motivation works. We don’t have to sustain a long-term, near-permanent grasp on the problem. We simply need to go through the maze of struggle until we get to the exit and then we can move on to the next problem.
This is like setting a goal and when that goal is accomplished we no longer focus on the goal. I once did a weight loss challenge at work with my co-workers. I kept telling myself that these were permanent changes that I was making and that I would never look back. Immediately after winning that challenge I stopped eating healthy and went back to being the same person i was before. I was no longer focused on a goal, my willpower had run out, and my motivation (the money) had long been spent.
So, it is much easier to have motivation on a short-term project, issue, or goal because we can use willpower and motivation to see it through to the end.
Where we get lost is in thinking that willpower and motivation are enough to overcome an internally motivated feedback loop.
In their book, change anything, the authors describe willpower as a trap. In their studies of children who were offered tempting items to purhcase after they had just been given cash for going through a series of steps that were presented as the experiment. In reality the experiment was what would the kids do with their money. they demonstrate that willpower is not the main determining factor in whether the kids buy.
Motivation and willpower are easily manipulated it turns out. Where the kids who succeeded in keeping their earnings was more based on A set of skills learned along the way that the kids could draw on when the temptations arose. Skill, not willpower or motivation determined whether they bought overpriced trinkets for the thrill of the purchase, or simply said, “i’ll save my money for later.”
Many of you have said, after a particularly difficult patch, “this is the last time. I’ll never go back to that.”
You found yourself motivated and full of willpower. A year later or less, without having changed your skill level your willpower has run out and the brightness of your motivation has faded until you give in again.
Let’s take a look at the Why? Simon Senik talks about this a lot with corporations and I do think there are applications in personal life as well. In his most famous example, Simon talks about the reason we all buy apple products when there are more affordable and often, more functional products out there.
It’s that they focus on why they do what they do.
Let’s talk about how the Why is often used and how we can use it more effectively to succeed.
Usually, when I hear my clients talk about the reasons they want to eliminate pornography I hear them tell me that there is some sort of external why.
“I don’t want to upset my wife” “It’s not ok as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to do this” “I can’t go on a mission until I get this under control”
Each of these reasons are trying to make our internal problem an external one by putting the locus of our why outside of us and on a person or entity that isn’t us.
I often talk about this as an abdication of agency and a nice guy approach to living which ends only in resentment, failure, and frustration.
One thing that Simon talks about in his famous ted x talk that you only see if you’re paying attention is that all of the why’s of great and famous entrepreneurs are focused in on themself making something that they like. Meaning, when we focus on who we want to be, creating what we want, and making that thing work for us, our why can be helpful in structuring a meaning frame that provides a long term creation of who we want to be. Why must lead to who we want to be, not who we want to please.
So, let’s talk about who, because who we are and how we see who we are is integral to executing behavior that allows us to succeed at higher and higher levels.
Let me give you an example from my own life.
When I left a very lucrative job working for a large company my in-laws thought I was insane. The work I was doing wasn’t going to end any time soon. I had a six figure salary, a five figure bonus, and a company car. But I also had a tight schedule, bosses that I was beholden to, and very little freedom in my day to day.
In the beginning of being in that job I saw myself as a lifer. I thought I would be there forever. Then one day a switch flipped for me. I no longer saw my self as a corporate man. I saw myself as an entrepreneur. I wanted to own what I was doing. I wanted to be my own boss and was willing to risk greater insecurity for greater rewards.
My who had changed. As a result, I found a way to buy a business and become my own boss.
My behavior reflected my sense of who I was. Not the other way around.
When it came to pornography, who I was became just as important. When I stopped seeing myself as an addict, I started to figure out that I don’t have to act like someone who can’t control my own behavior.
As I left that space I had to find a new vision and belief about Who i was.
For a time I was someone who occasionally looks at pornography.
Eventually, who I was entered a phase where I am someone who doesn’t view pornography at all.
From my belief in who I am, my behavior followed because if I were to act in a way that was contrary to my understanding of who I am, that would become very disorganizing to my sense of self.
This same principle is why vegitarians don’t eat meat, Cubs fans don’t buy White Sox hats, and Latter-day Saints sacrifice so much to go on missions.
Who I am trumps short term happiness when we fully integrate it into our lives and use it to show us the way forward.
“Who” also dictates our habits and can help us create worthy, valuable ones where unhelpful and damaging ones previously existed.
So, when we talk about habits, I start with a simple equation. Cue, response, reward.
In this equation we have one lever of control. How we Respond.
Cue’s will always be part of our lives. As a result, we need to retrain our response process to give us rewards that align with our long-term sense of who we are.
First, what I mean when I say cue is the external circumstances and internal feelings that occur to everyone. You might have referred to these as triggers. I find that to be a loaded word that relinquishes too much control over who we are. When I have a cue, i choose how to respond to it. When there is a trigger, I go off like a gun regardless of what I want to do.
This process of creating habits based on skills that we learn creates automatic, values-based responses to cues that align with our internal why and sense of who we are.
Setting up a habit is not just about trying one thing one time. It is about training.
I grew up a military brat, we traveled from place to place and were deeply ingrained with a sense of pride in our armed forces.
If you think about what it means to be a soldier in the US armed forces you probably think about training.
Lots of training.
Which is just a word for practicing the skills that we need to automatically react to the environment we’re in.
Just like the military, we can practice our overcoming pornography skills in what I call “off game” scenarios.
Food is a great place to do this, but so are other commonly occurring circumstances.
If you are looking to overcome porn for good. This is the podcast for you.
If we want to succeed we have to be able to automatically react, rather than fight, search for motivation, and drain our willpower.
If you drop soldiers into battle without training them, they will likely not succeed. Dropping yourself into life without training for urges, cues, and circumstances hoping you’ll have willpower enough to walk away from your computer or motivation enough to talk to your partner is a recipe for disaster.
Instead, learn your “why,” create your who, and train like your life depends on it.