Why Mere Willpower Isn’t Enough to Fight Porn

Even if you don’t know Terry Crews by name, you’ve seen his face. The former NFL player-turned-actor has been in TV shows (such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Arrested Development) and movies (such as Idiocracy and The Expendables) and Old Spice commercials. He’s hosted awards ceremonies (such as the 2017 MovieGuide gala). And he has a lovely wife and five children to round it all out.

And yet, despite all his outward success, he also had a porn problem. “If day turns into night and you are still watching [porn],” he explained, “you’ve got a problem.” It wasn’t until his wife, in a screaming match over the phone while he was on set, told him not to bother to come home that he finally sought freedom through technological solutions (including Covenant Eyes) and through therapy (for both him and his wife). And almost a decade later, they’re still together, and Crews is porn-free.

But he’s more than porn-free. He and his wife are open about the problem, about how it made him objectify women, and about how shame in particular—the belief that you are bad—kept driving him back to porn. “When you believe you are bad, you go right back to the dirt,” he explained in a Facebook Live video.

Why Mere Willpower Isn't Enough to Fight Porn

Why Willpower Alone Will Fail You

The solution Crews found was not mere willpower. In moments of weakness, like when you’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, willpower will fail. You’re relying on mental fortitude alone to fight against neural pathways that have been carved into your brain since the first time you made the choice to view porn. That’s why going cold turkey doesn’t work.

Think of your triggers—your anger, your stress, even your visceral responses to seeing a photo of friends in swim suits on the beach—as a mountain stream. If there’s just a little bit of water, like a minor deadline, it’s easy enough to divert the stream. But if there’s a lot of water, a “rainstorm” of sleepless nights and job stress and a sick kid and lingerie ads on Facebook, it becomes much harder. The water naturally pours down the preexisting channels, and eventually into the same old scuzzy swamp of pornography. And willpower alone is like trying to block the water with your foot without giving it anywhere else to go.

That’s where self-discipline comes in. We’re not talking about punishment, like a parent spanking their child, but rather like an athlete who works with a coach to strengthen her body. In our stream analogy, if willpower is trying to block the water, then self-discipline is digging trenches to send the water away from the pond, into a reservoir or a crystal clear lake or waterfall. It’s taking the stresses and making something useful or even beautiful out of them.

Crews identifies five steps to self-discipline:

Remove temptations.

For Crews, this meant deleting his Twitter account and other sources of temptations, and installing Covenant Eyes on his computer.

Develop healthy eating and sleeping patterns.

The acronym HALT describes four of the most common porn triggers: hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness. If two of the four terms in HALT are literal physical states—hunger and tiredness—then setting yourself a bedtime and eating regular, nutritious, filling meals will reduce the stress that leads you to porn.

Do something else, and don’t wait for it to feel right!

Channel all of your anger and loneliness into something creative. As Crews says, “Sexual energy is creative energy.” Doing something else, like picking up a book or playing guitar or running a mile instead of watching porn, will feel awkward and uncomfortable at first, but that’s because you’re digging new neural pathways. You’re telling your brain that the old way of responding is wrong, and you’re sending it to do something new. Eventually, these new practices will become habits, and your old way of doing things, of fleeing to pornography, will fade away.

Celebrate your victories.

Obviously, porn shouldn’t be part of your celebration, but schedule breaks, treats, and rewards for yourself. Maybe you treat your family to a fancy meal out for every two weeks that you’re porn-free. Or buy yourself something cool that you’ve been eyeing. If you’re focusing on a creative hobby instead of porn, like drawing, celebrate accomplishments there too. Maybe you drew for two hours instead of watching porn. Maybe you drew something that you’re particularly proud of. Celebrate those accomplishments!

When you trip up, forgive yourself and move forward.

You may fail, especially early on. You’re working against years of porn habits. Of course you’re going to go down the wrong trail. The important thing is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep moving forward. Don’t wallow in self-pity, don’t beat yourself over the head, and most importantly, don’t give up! You didn’t dig the original channels to the swamp of porn in a day; you’re not going to solve them in a day, or even necessarily a month or a year. But that doesn’t mean you should just give up. Keep on trying, and eventually you will train yourself away from pornography.

Related: In Case of Relapse

How to Get Started with New Habits

We frequently cover the first point here at Covenant Eyes, and the second, fourth, and fifth are all fairly self-explanatory. But what about the third? What about those new habits we’re supposed to build?

Think back to your childhood. You have a pretty good idea of who you want to be now, but who did you want to be back then, when you were five and ten and fifteen? Did you spend all your free time writing or drawing? Did you rock out on air guitar to your favorite bands? Maybe you spent your free time collecting bugs, or trying to build machines out of LEGOs. Often what we did in childhood points us to things we’d truly enjoy as adults.

Of course, your childhood may have been disrupted by porn or other abuses, and you never had a chance to mess around with hobbies. Or your parents forced you into soccer games and other after school activities, and you simply didn’t have the time to figure out what you liked. That’s okay! Regardless of whether you’ve dreamed of learning guitar since you were three, or whether you were dirt poor and your most valuable toy came from a fast food kid’s meal, this should be a time to explore and try new things.

In our ebook Hobbies and Habits (which is now available!), we cover seven different types of hobbies:

  • Creative hobbies
  • Physical hobbies
  • Practical hobbies
  • Intellectual hobbies
  • Experiential hobbies
  • Generous hobbies
  • Social hobbies

As you read over them, it will feel like a lot! But don’t let information overload get you down. Start by reading over the book, and make notes on one or two things from each category. Then pick one thing to try out first. If it sticks, great! If not, go back to your list and try out something else.

Don’t be afraid to experiment as you try out different hobbies, and feel free to jump around and try something different from day to day—but make sure you try out each hobby on a good day; don’t judge whether you enjoy it on the days you’re already frustrated and on the brink of viewing porn.

You may try something out and dislike it immediately. Or you may find a hobby that you enjoy for a few weeks, but you grow quickly bored with it. That’s okay! You’re exploring and looking for what sticks. In the end, you’ll likely find one or two core hobbies that you truly love, and that help transform your world.

This article is excerpted from the new ebook Hobbies and Habits. Download it today!

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