So you’ve read and implemented my advice about finding a replacement habit and using that to reprogram your habit cycle. And it works, some of the time. But it’s not foolproof, and it’s not easy.
I’ve been studying and experimenting with habit change for some time now. I know what works well and what doesn’t.
If you’re a human being and not a robot, you probably find it incredibly difficult to do your replacement habit on a consistent basis when you’re first starting off. Well, from my own recent experiments and reading on habit change, I think I’ve figured out how to make it easier on you to solidify your replacement habit.
Until a few months ago, I’ve been focusing on the intrinsic rewards of the replacement habit. For example, lets say that the reward you get from PMO (porn-masturbation-orgasm) is physical excitement. So you decide to make push-ups your replacement habit, because it gives you a physical reward (endorphins, dopamine), thus completing the habit loop.
But then sometimes things don’t go smoothly and as you planned. You find that you don’t feel all that motivated to do push-ups each time you get a craving to PMO. What do you do then?
The Old Way: Brute Willpower
What I used to do in this situation was to just use “brute willpower” to make myself do the push-ups. I would just basically yell at myself internally until I finally did it. And the physical craving would be satisfied. But this takes a huge amount of willpower, and some of us just starting out with improving ourselves don’t have access to enough of it to constantly deal with the cravings. And as Kelly McGonigal points out in the great book, The Willpower Instinct , willpower is a finite resource within us. So once you’ve exhausted that resource, it’s like your defenses are down.
I’m sure you’ve experienced this. When you just don’t have enough energy to combat the rationalizing voice in your head that says “just one more time – it’s not a big deal. This will be the last time.” And you give in and suddenly you’re set back weeks in your reboot.
How do we let this part of our brain — the lizard brain – beat us? How does it win? This part of our brain – the part that controls desires, pleasure-centers and addictions, is incredibly powerful. That’s why we have to outsmart it and use it’s own weakness to overcome our addiction.
The New Way: Extrinsic Motivation
Here’s what I’ve learned in the last few months: use the replacement habit, and also give yourself an external reward. This means, in addition to getting the physical reward of endorphins from the exercise, you’re going to augment it by adding something extra.
An example: I’ve always had a problem building the habit of waking up early. I could get it going for a few weeks, but then something would happen and I would lose momentum. In the book The Now Habit, the author suggests rewarding yourself with external rewards to solidify habits. So, when I wake up early, I reward myself immediately with my favorite breakfast food — unsweetened Greek yogurt with a little bit of fruit. The intrinsic rewards of waking up early (getting more done in a day, feeling productive, seeing the sunrise) are still there, but I’m making the habit even stronger by adding the external reward of my favorite breakfast.
It’s also important to NOT give yourself these things unless you do the task. What I means is that I don’t allow myself to eat my favorite yogurt unless I wake up before 6:30am.
How can I apply this to my struggle with PMO?
So, how can we apply this to quitting PMO? First, you want to decide on a replacement habit that will satisfy the craving. In my case, I used to watch porn out of both boredom and to satisfy the physical craving. I chose an exercise routine as a replacement habit, which I sometimes change up to keep from getting bored.
The next step is to add to it. Have a favorite television series? Allow yourself to watch one 22-minute episode if you do the pushups. Directly after you’ve done the pushups. This is to give positive reinforcement and solidify the push-ups as habit. It’s important that we make it so it will be painful to renege on the change, so don’t cheat with rewards.
See, as with many addictive “substances”, porn has an advantage on most replacement habits. It has the dopamine market cornered. It’s exactly because our brains are pre-wired to want sex, novelty, and speed (I want it now!) that the current range of high-speed Internet porn is so powerful. When you PMO, we’re talking massive amounts of dopamine, squirting through your brain. So we need some bigger, better tools to overcome it. Not guilt, not shame, but reward.
A better carrot
Have you heard of the Carrot and the Stick approach? It’s named in reference to a cart driver dangling a carrot in front of a mule and holding a stick behind it. The mule wants to move towards the carrot because it wants the reward of food, and moves away from the stick behind it, since it does not want the punishment of getting hit. Thus the cart moves forward.
I know that for many guys the ‘stick’ (knowing the negative effects of PMO — in this case porn-induced ED, sexual anxiety) is not working to keep us clean. So we need to make the ‘carrot’ (external rewards) more appealing. It’s time to start using external rewards to make quitting more attractive than using. What will your reward be? Let us know in the comments!
Now time to man up!
News: Recently, I commissioned a professionally recorded mp3 to help guys who have cravings for porn. It’s called “The Craving Crusher”. Yeah, cheesy. I know.
You can download it here for free:
==>> Craving Crusher mp3 <<==