EPISODE 23: Quitting Porn Means Understanding Lower Brain Functions

Feb 26, 2020

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You are listening to the Self-Mastery Podcast, where we break through barriers holding you back from becoming who you wanna be, whether you're struggling with pornography, overeating, social media addiction, or just wanna get better at succeeding at life. This podcast is for you. Now, your host, Zach Spafford.

Hi everybody, it's Zach and welcome to another wonderful Mastery Monday here on the Self Mastery Podcast. So today, I want to talk to you about the battle of the brains. So why your lower brain hijacks your best intentions and you still buffer so you have a problem. In fact, we all have this same problem.

We are trying to survive in a world where survival is almost virtually guaranteed. Infant mortality is down across the world. Life expectancy is up. In fact, I was just looking at some statistics in preparation for this podcast, and I found that since 1950, Life expectancy was 45 years old, and now here in 2020, we've added nearly 30 years to the average life expectancy across the board in the world.

That's an extraordinary achievement when you consider that, that the previous a hundred years was nothing like that yet with all this survival going on, we seem to be getting into things that are bad for us, like pornography and excessive eating and video gaming and overspending, and so many other buffers that keep us entertained in the very short term, but that bring us a host of negative consequences in the long run.

Why? . So that is the big question. That's the one that really gets most of us down on an average day, right? So many of us would go, man, I, I know that eating all of this peanut butter is going to be bad for me, but I'm doing it anyway. I, I ate five snicker bars and I knew it was bad for me.

Or I'm looking at pornography and I know that it's not who I want to be. Or I spent eight hours watching video games and for whatever reason, I couldn't, not watching playing video games. I, you can see that I'm not a gamer. And you look at all these buffers and all these things that we're doing, and they are, they're in the mean, in the short term.

They're interesting in they're fun, but in the long run, We're killing ourselves. We're putting ourselves in a position to where one, we we might be getting overweight. Two, we are definitely undermining our own self-confidence. And if you want to talk about self-confidence, you can take a look back at episode number 17 where we discussed self-confidence itself in detail.

But there's all this stuff and we're doing it, and we know that it's not necessarily who we want to be or what we want to be doing, and yet we continue to do it. . So why, and really this is the most interesting part of working with individuals who have addictive behaviors that they're dealing with, that they want to get rid of.

And it's this. Discovery of this amazing tool that our brain has that we call the lower brain. The thing that got us to this point, right? The thing that took us through all the evolution to this point is this lower brain and its effective use of this thing called the motivational triad. Now, What's the lower brain?

Why does it have a triad and does that involve nuclear arms? The only time I've ever really heard of the, the word triad is in, in reference to the nuclear triad. So if you have no idea what that is, good. Ignore that part of the , this conversation. And let's talk about the motivational triad, which is the lower brain doing three very important, very basic, but very essential things.

And that is it can serves energy. , it seeks pleasure and it avoids pain. So that's the lower brain. So, well, what about the higher brain? Where's this higher brain? How does that contrast with this lower brain? So let's talk about the higher brain really quick and then we'll go back to the lower brain.

The higher brain is the place where you make all of your really important decisions. It's the place that makes it so that you can get into a situation and figure your way out of it. If you've ever driven anywhere, and as you approach the location and you've never been there before, you get closer and closer.

You reach for the radio and you turn it down so that you can see better. That's your higher brain pulling in more power so that it can think about which turn to make and where, so that you can arrive safely. That's what your higher brain does. It makes. Very complicated decisions. It's the reason why humans are really great at recognizing faces and computers aren't right.

It's this extraordinarily powerful part of your brain. What it does is it creates pathways that your lower brain takes over time, and the contrast to, driving somewhere that you've never been before and. turning down the radio as you arrive so that you can see better. The contrast to that is your lower brain when you've driven to your office or to your school, or somewhere you've been a thousand times and you think, oh, on the way, I'm gonna stop and I'm gonna get something.

And yet when you drive there, you forget to stop. That's actually your lower brain taking over in its process of conserving energy. It's saying, I know the way. I'm just gonna get you there. And it doesn't take any effort from your higher brain. It takes very little thought process from your higher brain to arrive safely at your destination.

That's what your lower brain does. In fact, that's the conserve energy part of your lower brain. It does that for all sorts of things, including habits like viewing, pornography, overeating, or eating when there's no need to eat right. And part of the reason it does that, those habits is because it does two other things very, very well, avoiding pain and seeking pleasure.

So seeking pleasure is really simple, right? Anything that feels good, usually briefly, is something that your lower brain is interested in. Pornography. It's very, very pleasurable to view pornography. Let's be honest, right? There's nobody out there. Well, there might be somebody out there who's like, no, that's just gross.

But in fact, I'm, I'm pretty sure my wife feels that way. It's just gross. But for men who, and women, cuz men are not the exclusive users of pornography, but for those who are using pornography, there is a pleasure component to it. Otherwise they wouldn't do it. Same thing goes with food, right?

whether it's sugar or just plain old, something to put in your mouth just to get you past that moment of discomfort. Seeking pleasure is something your lower brain does very, very well. That's why video games and the games that you have on your computer, and even Facebook actually they actually engineer into the code of those video games and those technologies those mediums.

they engineer into them tiny little dopamine hits. And what I mean by that is every video game, every social media platform, all the electronic media that you consume, engineers, these little dopamine hits like notifications or little treasures that you win as you move through the process, or little boxes that you can open.

Everything within the games that are being built these days is designed to give you tiny dopamine hits that keep you engaged with the process. If you've ever gone to your Facebook page and you've looked at the notifications within that and you said, oh, I've seen all this, and then you go back, a few minutes later and you see that same notification is lit up.

That's Facebook trying to keep you engaged via their notification process. They are trying to say, oh, you've got something important to look at. That's the process that your lower brain loves because it's pleasurable. It's interesting, it's all of a sudden saying, oh, I ne I need to be here.

And then avoiding pain is a very important one, right? So when we were living on the Savannah and we needed to avoid the lions that were trying to kill us. This is a super important skill to have, right? Don't die and avoiding pain. You'll understand this is a process that your lower brain goes through to keep you out of harm's way.

What your lower brain doesn't understand is that bad feelings, even though they feel bad, like sadness or loneliness or hunger or whatever. aren't necessarily gonna kill you in the environment that we live in now, those bad feelings, in fact, may be something you just need to feel rather than reacting to them in a way that helps you avoid their presence.

So when you feel lonely, and this is something I talk about with my clients pretty regularly, is, my goal is to help you get comfortable with feeling bad. Because your ability your capacity to feel the negative feelings that you have in your life is going to directly correlate to your ability to feel joy and feel all the love, and feel all the good feelings that you want to feel in your life.

So if you avoid, as a business person, I would often travel to, places alone without my family. And those nights were awfully lonely. And a lot of the men that I coach, they have this same situation going on with themselves where they're off on business for a day or two or a week or a month or whatever it is, and they get there and they're just lonely and they're sad, or they're, they're just outta sorts and all of a sudden they're turning to something that they haven't turned to in a long time, whether that's food or video games or pornography, because they don't want to feel that sad, lonely.

Feeling and the process of understanding this motivational triad helps you become aware of your capacity to just say, you know what, Brian, I hear what you're saying, but I'm not gonna engage with that at this point because it's not who I want to be. And it takes that decision back to your higher brain.

Creating a pathway that in the long run is the one that you want to have. It's the one that meets your cognitive desire to live a gospel life or to live in a way that is porn free, or, make it so that you're choosing not to eat food so you're not overweight. So that's the motivational triad.

It's this built in system within your body, within your brain that says, okay, what are the most important things to do to keep me alive? Conserving energy. Okay. I do that by creating habits. So Pornography's really easy habit to get into, partly because it hits all three of the pieces of the motivational triad.

Very hard. It's pleasurable when you feel pleasure, when you feel arousal, you can't feel. Any other painful feelings, and so it, it knocks those two out of the park pretty quick and easy. And then once you do it once or twice, the pathway is built pretty solidly because they're so, it's so pleasurable and it's so easy to see why you would want to do it from a lower brain standpoint, that you've got a superhighway pretty much built by the next day, and that creates a habit.

It's almost immediate, right? You've got, you're avoiding pain. Button pushed. You've got your pleasure button pushed, and now because you know where those two things are, next time you come up against that same circumstance, if it's feeling lonely or whatever it is, then you've got a habit that you can fall back onto to quickly and easily erase that painful moment.

Same thing goes with your food consumption. If you are, every time you. w get home from the office. Immediately. You go to the refrigerator, you get something to snack on, to ease that transition from office to home or so. Our lower brain has an extraordinary capacity to help us and to hinder us. It helps us, helps by keeping us alive.

It, gives you some indications as to some of the things that you may want to seek in your life, but it also seeks those things out to excess. Sex is good. Because it's an important way to connect with your spouse. It's an important way to propagate our species, all of that. And yet, because of the desires built into our system, it also could be, it can run amok, right?

If you can have too much of a good thing, pornography's probably it, right? The same thing goes with food. Sugar is a really important thing to give us a boost of energy and berries and all the things that came along with that in the beginning of our evolution. Those were really great things that helped build a very strong humankind, and yet, , it's gone to excess in terms of the sugars that are available in almost everything that you eat now, and that goes for corn syrup and all the things that go along with that.

And video games. This is a, this is actually even more recent than our ability to get as much sugar as we can possibly manage. It's this, Ability for companies and technology companies specifically to literally engineer ways to trap your brain and to get your brain to play their games all day long.

And this isn't as prevalent with the people that I've worked with, but it's something that I've been reading about and watching. In terms of other countries, South Korea and Japan tend to have some pretty significant issues with this, where. Kids are, they're stuck. They literally can't stop using their video games because their brains are wired to want that little, that teeny little trickle of dopamine all the time.

So that's all the bad news. That's everything that you need to basically know about your lower brain. Well, not maybe every, maybe not everything, but it's the basic foundation of understanding, okay, here's what my lower brain does, and now the question becomes what do I do? How do I fix that?

How do I. , sometimes quiet my lower brain and say, listen, it's gonna be okay. We don't necessarily need to eat an entire chocolate cake. In fact, if we really want to, we can have that chocolate cake tomorrow. So this is the part, this is the process of our, and oh, by the way, one of the things that this.

Lower brain Process does is it's one of those it's really one of the reasons why we oftentimes feel like we can't control ourselves. We feel like I don't have control over this. I can't stop looking at pornography. I can't leave, the chocolate cake alone. I can't stop playing my video games.

I don't have control over this because every time I try to control it, I feel like I'm. , I'm just white knuckling it and eventually it gets me every single time. Cuz that's your lower brain putting a lot of energy into saying, Hey, this is really important. And for some reason it seems like your lower brain, it doesn't do well with denial.

And what I mean by that is when you say, no, I absolutely can't do this or can't have that, your lower brain kind of freaks out about it. It's like, no, I gotta try and get this stuff. . And so you gotta understand that your lower brain, it's not trying to kill you, but it's also not necessarily gonna have your best interest at heart at all times.

It's just trying to deal with the immediacy of whatever you're dealing with. So how do you deal with that? What's the process? How do I, take this lower brain thing and make it work for me? Super good question. And one of the ways that I teach my clients to do that is I say to them, plan it.

Plan whatever it is that you're gonna do, plan it. And this has been an interesting conversation. So I had a conversation with another coach who works with pornography users, and I said to him, from a moral perspective, for members of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, saying, listen, plan your incidents, plan whatever sin you're gonna choose to sin with ahead of time.

That's this huge leap that's this huge, oh my gosh, what is going on moment. And as I was discussing it with him, my position and my thought process was, listen, you're my clients are already doing this. That's exactly what's happening. They are using pornography, or they're overeating, or they're doing whatever it is that they're doing that, that they are using as a buffer to get past the moment of the day.

And so I'm not giving them permission to do that thing. They don't need my per permission is one thing that I say to 'em. And the other thing is they're already doing it. So if they're already doing it, why not plan it? And the reason why I have them plan it, the reason why I say to them, listen, if you plan this, it's going to get better, is that you're now taking the process out of your lower brain and you're taking it out of that reactive space, and you're saying, this is something that I am going to choose proactively with my higher brain.

This is a process that I am going to own, and I'm not gonna give it away to some other capacity. I'm not gonna say I don't have control over this. So on the one hand it's really simply a matter of saying, I have agency here, and I've talked about agency before. You know this. I can't, I should, I shouldn't.

When you say, I, when you say any of those three phrases, you're essentially saying, I don't have agency because I can't. Is this place of not choosing. , I don't have the capacity to choose. I should is a place of, well, someone else tells me that I need to choose this or I shouldn't, is someone tells me that I shouldn't choose this, right?

That I can't choose that. And so those three phrases, they're abs in my opinion of agency. And so if you take those three phrases out and you say, I can, I can do whatever I choose to do. then at that moment you're reasserting your agency. And in the case of pornography, for me, this was one of the, this was one of the turning points, right?

And instead of saying, I can't stop looking at pornography, I just said, I can look at pornography if I choose to. And understanding that that was my agency, that was me flexing that muscle that probably hadn't been flexed in a long time. And it wasn't, again, this isn't permission, this isn't Yeah, you should use pornography because it's fine.

This is, you're using pornography anyway. Take responsibility for it. It's your responsibility. This is something that you've chosen to do. Take responsibility for it and own that decision. And in owning that decision, we're gonna make it a planned decision, just like you would plan a trip. . Yeah, I would, yeah.

Like nobody ever showed up on a trip and was like, well, I, I don't know how I got here. , right? They're like, okay, I'm gonna get on the bus, or I'm gonna, no, nobody takes buses anymore. I'm gonna, I'm gonna buy my plane tickets, I'm gonna pack this much. I've got these activities planned. That's all going on in your higher brain and.

The process of taking this decision away from your lower brain and bringing it back to your higher brain so you can build a better, more efficient pathway to the decisions that you really want, which is, I don't want to use pornography and I don't want to use sugar to buffer my life and I don't want to look at video games and I don't wanna overspend, is to take it back into your higher brain and rebuild the road.

And use that road instead of the other one. And it's not a simple process. And I'm making it sound simple. It's not as easy as all that. But what it is, is you proactively building that pathway. And that's how it works. I mean, that's the short version of how it works to become pornography free.

Whether you're using a 12 step program or you're just talking to a counselor, it's. or you're working with a coach like me. It's a process of, and I like to say this, it's really a process of repentance. It's changing your thoughts through proactive and active engagement with the thoughts that you're dealing with.

So next time you're dealing with pornography and you start to go down that path, take a step back and look at it and watch what your brain's doing and be like. Oh, my brain's taking me down this path. Why is it taking? And just ask questions, step back, look at your brain, look at what it's doing, and ask yourself questions about why you're going where you're going, and whether or not that's serving you in the long run.

And that will take you miles in terms of overcoming the pornography used or whatever it is that you're dealing with. All right, everybody. Again, it's been another wonderful Mastery Monday. Hey, thanks for listening to the Self Mastery Podcast. Every day I get requests from people who are looking to change something in their life.

If that is you, if you need help overcoming your addictive behavior like pornography use, sign up for free mini session at That's I'll put a link in show notes for you to follow. Also, it would mean the world to me if you were to leave a review for us.

Wherever you get your podcast, it'll go a long way to helping others find us. Thanks again.

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