The other day, I had a thought. It was not a good thought. It was about doing something that I shouldn’t do. Now, the important thing to remember about temptations is that they mostly aren’t voluntary. In the same way you may be tempted to eat a donut because your co-worker brought them into the office with no thought for your diet. You don’t have control over what things you see, hear and the thoughts that just pop, unbidden, into your mind.
But what you are responsible for, is how to respond. What are you going to do with those thoughts and temptations? It may be your coworker’s fault that the donuts are present, but you still need to decide what you are going to do about it.
So there I was. Temptation now present. Sitting firmly in my mind and now it was up to me to decide what to do. So I thought about giving in, but I thought about it allllll the way through. I thought about ALL of the things I would experience as a result of the decisions I could make. Not just how I would feel in the moment of giving in, but what would I feel like afterwards? What would it be like to have the conversations I would then have to have? How would that affect my life? I thought about it all. And then the temptation went away, because it didn’t seem tempting anymore.
It’s a technique called “follow the fantasy”. You see, the problem we have with fantasy is that we only think about the first part. What it would feel like to give in. We do this with things like pornography. Our brain thinks, “wouldn’t it feel good to give in? To stop fighting? Remember the rush of chemicals you would experience? Remember all that?” And we feel like we are in a battle to say, “no”, to “good” feelings. To overcome the desire for something pleasurable. But if we follow the fantasy to the end of the story, it is much easier to fight because we can realize any “pleasure” will be fleeting and the pain might be forever.
After you give in to watching pornography, then how will you feel? Do you remember THAT feeling? The shame you probably felt? The guilt? The majority of us who have watched porn can remember a host of negative feelings we experienced. Do we want to feel THAT again? And then, what about the conversations we’ll have to have. How will it feel to talk to your spouse? Or your accountability partner? Or anyone else you’ll end up needing to have a conversation with? Remember THOSE conversations? How did they feel?
When we actually think about the fantasy all the way through, it’s a lot easier to realize how our fantasy isn’t actually all that fantastic. This can apply to nearly all temptations, from eating too many donuts to having an affair. It helps a lot to actually THINK about it. What are we really considering doing? Not just the one action, but the ramifications.
It’s Still Not Easy
There is a common saying in the addictions community. “Addicts lose the ability to choose”. This isn’t an exaggeration. When your brain is flooded with chemicals which are more than it can handle, it stunts the growth of your pre-frontal cortex. That’s the part of your brain that makes decisions. If you are truly struggling with porn addiction/compulsive porn use, you are making it difficult for your brain to make the right decisions. That’s why dealing with porn addiction takes serious intentionality and work. Having a filter on your devices doesn’t mean you are a failure; it means you are taking steps to cut out content that will make your battle more difficult. You are giving your brain the best chance to fight.
Having accountability isn’t a sign of weakness; it means you realize that we are stronger when we fight together. We make better decisions in life when we consider how our actions may affect others and we think outside ourselves in the moment.
Techniques like “following the fantasy” are helpful, but no technique is foolproof because nobody is perfect and there is not a soul on earth who can get through life just fighting on their own. It takes work, it takes purposeful actions, it takes community. It’s still a fight. It’s just a winnable one.