My client, Darin, is preparing to serve as a full-time missionary for the LDS Church. His application is all filled out, but the bishop of his ward congregation won't sign off on it and send it to Church headquarters until Darin has demonstrated an ability to abstain from pornography for a reasonable period of time.
Darin has his heart set on serving as a missionary. It's one of his primary motivations to kick the pornography habit. When temptation hits, he typically reminds himself that he's been without porn for a period of time already, and he'll be heading out as a missionary before long if he can just hang in there.
It can be powerful to think about what you want even more than we want instant gratification, and this approach has helped him go longer periods between relapses. But some interesting research that suggests there's a way to leverage his future goal in an even more powerful way.
Up to now, Darin has been trying to bring his desire to serve as a missionary to mind in the heat of the moment, once temptation has already been sparked. Using this approach, he has to interrupt thoughts about and yearnings for instant gratification and try to replace them with thoughts about and yearnings for a better future.
Psychologist Daniel Kahneman has demonstrated in his research that when we have a choice between two attractive options, we place a higher value on whichever one we have "in hand"--or even "in mind"--first.
Kahneman arrived at one "value" of a coffee mug by showing it to participants and asking them how much they'd be willing to pay for it. The price averaged around $3.00. For another group of participants, however, he first gave them each mugs. Then he asked how much they'd be willing to sell it for. The average price of the mug suddenly rose to $7.00! Kahneman called this the "endowment effect." Once we have begun to experience our life as including a certain benefit, we suffer "divestiture aversion." We don't want to give up what we've begun to anticipate experiencing.
It's important to note that while we can't have a future reward (such as serving a mission for Darin) "in hand," it can be just as powerful to have it "in mind." This was demonstrated in a study conducted by Elke Weber, a professor at Columbia Business School, and her colleagues. They had participants choose between a $100 Amazon gift certificate in three months vs. one of lower value--say $75--today. Once participants had possession of the "$100 in three months" gift certificate, they typically would not give it up for the "$75 today" one. If, on the other hand, they started out with the 75.00 one, they were unlikely to give it up for the $100 one.
These researchers discovered they had an amazing power! They could make instant gratification more likely by handing over to subjects the cheaper-but-sooner gift certificate. Conversely, they could pave the way for delayed gratification by giving them the more-valuable-but-only-redeemable-later card. What happens, Weber also discovered, is that the mind tends to spontaneously generate arguments for the attractiveness of whichever option we start out with. Whichever path we first consider taking becomes more attractive even in the consideration!
Here's the cool part: the power these researchers discovered is one we can wield in our own lives. We can turn our focus first to longer term goals and the fulfillment that will flow from them. By bringing our future focus into mind, by starting out the day with that as our baseline, we better leverage the full power of those desires to drive us and determine our actions now.
This month, Darin is trying an experiment: rather than waiting until he is tempted to start playing defense, he is going to start out with a more aggressive offense. He committed to refresh daily his anticipation of the benefits of going without pornography and serving a mission. Starting out with this goal in mind, rather than bringing it to mind in the heat of the moment after the seeds of temptation have already started to sprout, may give him one more advantage in his self-control battle.
I will let you know how it goes for him.
Sunday, April 29, 2012
Saturday, April 28, 2012
Everyone's path is different. And yet, as Henry Nouwen wrote, "The most personal is the most universal." In that spirit, I really appreciate Rachel's (not her real name of course) permission to share with you what she has written about her experience over the past year. If your personality, your relationship, and the course you feel inspired to traverse is different from Rachel's, don't expect her map to match your journey. Simply take strength from knowing you're not alone.
One year ago I discovered my husband’s secret life -- a life of pornography and acting out and betrayal. It was like peeling away the layers of an onion as I learned more and more, and the revelation was a complete shock to me. I have been thinking about the things I have learned and done that have led from a time of despair to a place of great hope. I realize that I have learned a great deal about myself and how to find strength in the face of adversity. There are several things that helped me to not only heal my broken heart but to provide support to my husband.
For six weeks I didn’t share my story with anyone. I didn’t talk to friends or family, or even a counselor or church leader. I did turn to God for strength and guidance. This is a personal thing for everyone, but I believe I have been greatly blessed with the ability to love in spite of the pain. I was surprised to learn that underneath the intense pain was a small amount of anger, but mostly love. From the beginning I knew that I wanted to do what I could to repair the damage and to move forward with a strengthened marriage. Keeping this goal in mind has helped so many times when I wanted to give up.
Six weeks after I learned of my husband’s addiction he decided to move out. I had begged him to stay, to get in addiction recovery and protect the children from being hurt. His desire to escape was too strong, he was in love with someone else, and he had reached the breaking point. I found myself wishing him good luck in finding what he was looking for and encouraging him to get help for his addiction. I am grateful for the strength that helped me hold myself together.
My husband described the night he moved out as a wake-up call. He realized that he didn’t want to leave me and the children and that he needed help. We still had a long and difficult road ahead, but it was a turning point. Over the next several months he was sometimes home, sometimes away. He was learning to deal with his emotions and I did my best to give him the space he needed while maintaining a secure home for the children.
In the beginning I turned to books for answers to my questions. I read everything I could about addiction, and it was immensely helpful. Not everything I read applied to my situation, but one big thing I read over and over is that my husband’s addiction is not my problem to fix. Knowing this has helped me focus on things that I could do or change, and allow my husband to deal with the addiction on his own terms.
One of the most valuable things I gained from my mostly-unused education is that there are always two sides to every issue. This situation was no exception! Wallowing in self-pity is so easy when you have been betrayed, especially when your partner has very little to give emotionally. But looking at life through my husband’s eyes made me realize how much worse it was for him. He was in the depths of despair, filled with shame for what he had done, sorrow for his betrayals, grief over the loss of his ability to love and serve. His desire to escape was so strong that he felt willing to sacrifice everything to start over and to dig himself out of the deep pit he had fallen into. Everywhere he turned someone expected him to behave in a certain way or be a certain person. He felt controlled and smothered. Of course, there is no easy escape. He wanted to believe he could run away and hide from his problems, but he would always be a father, a son and brother. His addiction would not magically disappear. His heart would not easily mend. Understanding his pain helped me to put my own pain into perspective and to work towards a solution.
Considering my husband’s feelings has helped me many times. For example, there were occasions where we would be away together, and everything was great between us. I would feel like we had made progress and were moving forward together. When we returned to our normal routines I found that he would withdraw and I was left wondering what had happened. The first time this occurred I felt hurt and sorry for myself and upset with my husband. The next time it happened I began to notice the pattern. Imagining his feelings was a revelation. Of course returning to the pressures of life and career would make him withdraw -- his miserable life was waiting for him, and I still represented the things from which he wanted to escape. Armed with the vision of what he was feeling allowed me to expect certain responses, and it gave us something specific to discuss together. Recognizing the pattern allowed us to break free and truly move forward.
One of the most difficult things I had to face was the fact that my husband was in love with another woman. Feelings of new love are very intense -- we all remember the overwhelming pull of infatuation. I understood that setting boundaries was appropriate and necessary. I wanted to draw the line here, for him to cut off all contact with other women. He was not ready to do this. He no longer intended to leave me to be with her, but his feelings still pulled him towards her. I discovered that this particular boundary that I wanted so badly to enforce would have to be flexible for awhile.
I don’t know, really, which boundaries should be flexible and which should be firm. I do believe that stepping back and making an analysis of the situation without being guided by emotion can be very helpful. I found that examining the life that would result from enforcing a firm boundary, and comparing it to living with a flexible boundary, allowed me to make a decision I was comfortable with. In this case I knew that enforcing a boundary that my husband wasn’t prepared to live with (no contact with other women) could lead to him leaving, or to further deception. On the other hand, if the boundary became flexible I knew that I would struggle with insecurity and wonder where his heart was. But, I reasoned, if he were allowed to reach the point of complete fidelity on his own he would know for sure that his other relationships were over, and he would not have cause to resent me in the future for forcing him to act against his will. I decided that a flexible boundary was best in this instance.
Betrayal and addiction are by nature emotionally-charged, and stepping back to view the situation with cool detachment can be very difficult. However, detached analysis has often been useful to prevent me from saying or doing something I would later regret. I came to understand that my husband’s desire to escape wasn’t about me or even about the other woman. It was really an overwhelming desire to run away from his miserable life and addiction.
I also understand that dwelling on the past is not helpful. There are times that I find myself obsessing over details associated with my husband’s betrayals. Unanswered questions take over my thoughts and I become miserable. Again, a detached analysis can rescue me from my turmoil. Details about the past really do not matter. I have enough information to understand what happened, and more detail only serves to create pain and suck me into a cycle of doubt and misery. I believe that the past should not be used as a barometer for the future, or even the present. Pushing aside past wrongs and present worries frees me to embrace our progress and look to a better future. It really does.
The past year has been very difficult. Along the way I felt impatient, wanting to know everything would be okay, and wanting it to be okay now. Progress seemed dismally slow. I wondered if I would survive and if I would ever see my husband emerge from the hell he was in. Looking back I see that we have made great progress together. One day at a time really works! I am so grateful for this progress and I have great hope for our future.