EPISODE 61: Motivation isn't as helpful as tiny habitsNov 08, 2020
Motivation and willpower aren’t enough.
When I was about 14 years old I told myself that I wasn’t going to do this any more. I knew what I was doing was not really something that I wanted to be doing but felt like I had to just get the right motivation and put some willpower to it and it would be done.
I could quit this. I wanted to be the kind of kid who didn’t have to feel ashamed of who I was when people weren’t looking.
This was around the time I went to my first youth conference, I’m pretty sure it was in Seward Alaska, at some high school and it was a blast.
The theme song was Fly like an eagle by the steve miller band. Pretty sure that is a not so veiled reference to getting high from the same band that brought you the line, ‘some people call me a space cowboy, some call me the gangster of love’ - but as kids we just went along with it and enjoyed our time learning about the gospel with our friends, meeting new friends from around Alaska and singing along whenever the leaders played the song, “time keeps on slippin into the future.”
I came back more motivated than ever to be done with masturbation.
The thing about motivation and willpower are that they are unreliable partners.
I’ve talked about willpower being a trap and how it is the wrong tool in episode 38.
Let’s talk about motivation.
Motivation is fleeting, it comes, it goes. It usually only sticks around for a little while until some other emotion takes over our current moment.
Anyone who has dieted knows this. We are forever fighting the battle of the bulge in this country and part of the reason is, we use motivation to start strong and then, when that motivation is all used up, because emotions all fade eventually, we haven’t built the habits that we need to behave the way we think we wanted to when we were motivated toward the end result.
As I have been reading the book, tiny habits by bj fogg I have noticed that is what I was doing as a young man working to eliminate a behavior that had been keeping me from being my best self.
This problem didn’t go away as I got older because, as BJ puts it, my behavior “was a design issue, not a character flaw.”
What I needed to do, and what I eventually did, long before I read BJ’s book was create a series of habits that crowded out my pornography and masturbation habits. I undermined what they were giving me by creating habits that gave me more.
And, just like the examples that BJ uses in his book, when I lapsed back into old habits, I didn’t look at it as a failure that impugned my character and made me irredeemable and broken. I saw it as a moment to learn how my designed behaviors had worked and how they could be improved.
I’ve always felt like a tinkerer. My wife is often amazed at the things I do when it comes to building and creating and fixing the things in our home. I love to use tools and build and create, design and refine.
When I stepped back from 12 steps and councilors about 8 years ago, that was the same attitude that I brought to my pornography habit.
So, I want to give you two, tiny habits that I have identified from those years that helped me create new habits that helped me so I could see pornography as a problem I had outgrown and no longer needed to help me feel better.
If you are someone who needs help with a pornography habit and wants to work with me on it, go to my website, zachspafford.com/workwithme and set up a consult with me. I can tell you how you can get the one on one help that you want to get to being worthy and free and clear from this trial in your life.
The first habit was a really simple phrase. Whenever I would begin to feel the urge to use my phone to look at pornography or get a phrase from my thoughts that would say something like, ‘now would be a good time, you’ll be all alone’ I would stop what I was doing.
Just for a few moments, it didn’t even have to be 10 seconds as I got better at it.
I would center myself, breath deeply and say, I can totally look at pornography if that’s what I really want.
Those words, usually under my breath, but both physically and audibly to myself.
Then I would, as if I were looking the moment in the eyes and addressing it like a person that I loved and respected – I realize now that I was addressing someone that I wanted to love and respect, myself – I would just wait for the urge to subside, as if it were answering me.
Occasionally, I would use pornography in those moments.
More often, the urge would pass, I would emerge from that conversation with myself pleased and more relaxed than when I went into that moment.
It was a simple ritual that freed me from the fight that I had been waging against myself.
It kept me grounded in my agency and in my higher purpose of me being a better version of me. The one that didn’t use pornography.
At the time I didn’t know this, but that tiny ritual was the kind of habit that bj talks about in his book. It was simple, took little time and pushed me in the general direction I wanted to go without the need to dig into willpower or motivation.
Some of you might be saying, ‘well, I don’t want to give myself permission to view pornography, that would mean that I am going against my moral compass and what I believe’
To that I often say to my clients when they believe that is true, you already have permission to view pornography. It is inherent in the reality that you are able to choose between right and wrong, good and evil, coke and pepsi.
But there’s a key in that phrase that really made this work for me. “if that is what I really want”
Sometimes we want things that aren’t good for us. Like rootbeer floats.
But if we were to have them all the time, we’d probably feel really crummy about ourselves.
That phrase acknowledges that middle ground and clears the way for a conscious decision based on what you want, not just in the moment but over the long term.
The second tiny habit that I had was simple but profound.
Whenever I was tempted to give up or think that it was too difficult to keep up the streak I had built and believe that no one was perfect and that I deserved a break I would just step into my own shoes in an hour.
I would just take a minute, I would imagine where I would be, what I would be doing, why I would be there and how I had gotten there.
I would see who was around me, I would think about their relationship with me. Then, from that place I would think about me, where I was right then, imagineing myself in the future and think about what I really wanted to believe about that moment. Did I want to believe that it was too hard, was it really that I deserved a break, did I need to be perfect
Invariably, my future self would tell my current self, It’s probably not worth it, but ultimately, it’s your choice
It was a simple conversation, but it got me out of my current place and moved me to a place where I, again, wasn’t reacting to my lower brain and it’s insatiable desire for dopamine. I wasn’t fighting with me. I was acknowledging what I wanted from a real, long term and higher brain perspective.
I also wasn’t taking it to all or nothing thinking. I was being clear with who I was, who I wanted to be and who I would be based on my decisions.
These two habits are so simple that anyone can do them in a matter of moments.
And don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it right the first 67 times. Just give it time, you’ll get the hang of it.
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