Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Gentle Art of Self-Control, Lesson 11: Reverse Conditioning

Over and over again, you've paired the image of a sexually attractive person with the habit of lusting. In time, you don't even have to choose to lust when you see something or someone tempting--the sequence initiates automatically.

To change this pattern, you can condition yourself in a different direction by deliberately pairing trigger events with another, better sequence every time you're triggered.

To do so, try responding to triggers with a brief gesture designed to remind yourself who you are and what you care about.

George Collins suggests one I've found to be quite powerful: put your hand on your heart, look heavenward, and silently mouth or quietly say the words "Thank you."

This process is a sort of value anchor. When you think or see something that would usually trigger a lust lapse, it helps by:

  • Reminding you who you are: a human being with a heart, not just an animal driven by your genitals.
  • Orienting your attention upward instead of downward--heavenward if you're a spiritual person--and toward what you're grateful for, giving you somewhere to focus besides the potential object of your lust.
  • Initiating gratitude, a higher level (human) feelings state that can be a potent antidote for the animalistic state of lust. 
  • Giving you something to ponder: what, exactly, am I grateful for right now? This gives the searching mechanism in the mind something else to scope out besides objects of and opportunities for lust.
  • Bringing you back to your realm of power. From a spiritual perspective: the devil operates in the realm of thoughts and feelings. When we wrestle on his home territory, he has better footing. But (at least according to my beliefs) he doesn't possess muscles or vocal chords. So when we initiate even a simple behavior (placing your hand on your heart) or make even a brief, quiet statement ("Thank you"), we're like the alligator that just dragged the lion into the water, where our advantage lies.

In his book, Breaking the Cycle, Collins tells about a time when he came upon an attractive woman in a grocery store aisle. She bent down in front of him to grab a can of soup from a low shelf. His old lust-based reflex would have been to stare. Instead, he reached for his protein powder, put it into his cart, and turned to walk away. As he did, he put his hand on his heart and quietly whispered, "Thank you."

From the other direction came the soft voice of a woman he hadn't noticed before: "You're welcome."

Rather than a coincidence that she was standing there and responded as she did, it seemed to George like a little gift meant just for him. As he walked toward the cash register, tears came to his eyes as he relished how nice it was to be breaking free of the clutches of his sex addiction and deciding for himself where to focus and what to think.

One remarkable thing about reverse conditioning is that it can turn a source of aggravation--everyday triggers--into an ongoing series of opportunities to do something that bolsters your recovery instead. Little events that used to trip you up become the innoculations that help your mental immune system get stronger.

Keep at it regularly and this little reverse conditioning, value anchoring process will become a habit. Before long, you'll end up like George. You'll find that your brain, in response to triggers, automatically initiates movement down a better, more life-affirming path.

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