Monday, September 30, 2013

The "Mental Redo"

Many equate being "in recovery" with being completely porn-free. If they blow it and have a slip, they conclude that they'll be back on track only after they've gone a few days--or perhaps even weeks--free of porn again.

That's an overly simplistic view. Think about how discouraging this perspective would be for someone who's just starting to try to get on the right track after viewing porn on a daily basis.

There are better indicators of whether we're in recovery or not. Either way we might relapse, perhaps even at the same rate to begin with. Whether we're in recovery or not we will likely regret that we lapsed, want to make a better choice next time, and fully intend to.

However, here's where a key difference emerges: when we're in recovery we do something distinctive after we lapse.

We probably won't be overly dramatic about it. We'll simply keep working our program. We may take notes on what we learned in enemy territory. We may report back to our therapist, sponsor, group, or a supportive loved one.

We're more able to take a slip in stride because we have a plan that takes it into account.

This is so different from someone who's not in recovery. They can't take a lapse in stride because their plan was to quit porn and never go back. Simple, straightforward, but unfortunately not very realistic for most people. Far from a twelve-step program, they've put their faith in a one-step program.

I strongly advocate working a recovery program over simply trying really hard to quit and never go back.

The mental redo is one example of a very powerful post-slip practice, and it takes just a few minutes to implement.

First, rewind and determine a point (or two or three) where you could have made a choice that would have led in a different direction. Then mentally practice, again and again (four or five times), taking that better route.

My client, Melissa, is 17 years old. She last lapsed when she was feeling lonely, frustrated, and angry one afternoon while alone in her room. She battled the urge for a while and then finally got on her phone and watched porn.

As she sat in my office she identified the moment when the urge first hit as the best potential turning point if and when she faces that situation again. I had her go back to that moment in her mind and imagine handling it differently. She closed her eyes and said, "I'm there. Okay, I know I shouldn't try to stay in there alone and win. So I get up off my bed and walk out of my room. I put my phone down on the kitchen counter and go find someone in the family to chat with. Yeah, I tell my brother about my bad day. He's always great when I reach out, I'm just reluctant to. So then we chat for a while and maybe watch something together. Wow, I did it! Give myself a high five." She clapped her hands together and smiled.

I had her run through that same imagined way of handling the situation again in her mind. Then I assigned her to mentally do it again on her own three times later that afternoon.

I've said it before on this blog: some key, very powerful parts of the brain that don't know the difference between imagination and reality. In fact, both Melissa and I got the chills as she imagined aloud handling things better than she had originally. As though it had been a real victory. And in a way, it was: her mind was getting the hang of it, leveling the mental jungle to make way for a different, better path.

A tennis player may curse themselves for missing a shot. They may hope they never make that error again. But it's also helpful to take a moment right after the error to mentally practice hitting the ball exactly the way they wish they would have. Swing the racket once or twice the right way. Let the body get the hang of doing it correctly. That's the same principle you're putting into practice when you implement a mental redo for the sake of your porn recovery.

If this post makes sense to you, make a commitment to yourself right now to run through a mental redo four or five times after each slip, relapse, or close call you have throughout the next month. By then you'll be able to tell whether this practice is giving you any traction against the addiction.

Then, let us know what you find. It's one thing for me to describe these practices; it's even more powerful for fellow readers to hear directly from you about what works and what doesn't.


  1. Thanks, Mark! This is good information!

  2. Thanks Kari! I've found it to be a concrete, helpful recovery step men and women in recovery can take when they otherwise might feel like the damage has already been done and there's nothing I can do about it now. I sure hope some of our readers try it out and report back on how it goes for them.

  3. My husband said he used this technique for him and he found it to be more helpful than he realized. Hopefully, he'll keep using it!