Sometimes all the reasonable arguments for avoiding porn get eclipsed by the euphoria that courses through us for even considering how great it would be to indulge right now. Unfortunately, the brain isn't very good at multi-tasking when it comes to feelings. As we consider a course of action, we don't usually weigh the pros and cons mentally. Our present feeling puts its thumb on the scales and, more often than is good for us, manages to get its way. This is how we end up treating our future self as though he's someone we don't give a hoot about, instead of treating him the way we would treat someone for whom we have a high regard and deep affection.
Captured by Cravings and Imprisoned in the Present
Harvard research psychologist Daniel Gilbert points out that, left to their usual MO, our brains do a lousy job of prefeeling future events accurately. Here's why: when we consider now how we're going to experience the future we're not very good at conjuring up an accurate sense about how it's going to feel to us then. Feelings are more time bound than that, and thus not a commodity we can muster that way. Instead, we take our best mental rendering of the life we will be living and insert into the scene the only feelings prop we have on hand: what we feel right now.
Unfortunately, our here-and-now feelings are lousy forecasters. Here's a simple example: If someone asks right after Thanksgiving dinner what you'll want for dinner that night, you'll be at a loss. In your stuffed state, you can't imagine ever being hungry again, let alone what food you'll be hankering for when you are. To quote Gilbert: "We find it particularly difficult to imagine that we will ever think, want, or feel differently than we do now." To do so, he says, is like trying to imagine the taste liver while chewing a marshmallow. "Future events may request access to the emotional areas of our brains, but current events almost always get the right of way." (Stumbling on Happiness, 127, 135)
How to Summon More Precisely How Your Future Will Feel
We don't have to leave our minds to its usual MO and its watered-down version of the future. As you did the brief exercise I shared with you in my last post, you shined your imagination on what your future will be without porn. You sharpened your image of coming attraction, particularly how it will feel to you, and that will make a difference in how motivated you'll be to do what it takes to achieve your goals. There's something else you can do that was found in Elisa Muru's research on the topic to be equally powerful. It's the flip side of imagining a better future. You can take a few minutes to dwell on an image of yourself living in the future you're hoping to avoid. Pre-regret that imagined future in which you've failed to change.
Bring to mind your impression of yourself 5 to 10 years from now. More specifically, think about yourself in the future as a person who continues to consume pornography. How do you feel about that part of your life? Five to ten years from now, you relapse regularly and it impacts the quality of your life. When you think about yourself five to ten years from now as someone who still regularly goes to porn, what images come to mind? Please take a few minutes to imagine and think about this image before you read the next paragraph.
Please respond to the following questions in writing: What was the first thing that came to mind when you thought about the image of your future self still consuming pornography? Write out some of the details of your future self's appearance in the image that came to mind. How are his relationships? How is he doing spiritually? What is his general health? Energy level? Attitude toward life? What are his achievements? Write about anything else that came to mind.
Now take a minute to toot your own horn. Rather than beating up on yourself for your struggles or merely hoping things will get better, you've taken a concrete step that has been shown by research to make a real difference in changing behavior.
Please comment below what it's like for you to do this exercise and the effect it has on your recovery.