The Habit loop is so expertly written about in The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Habits consist of three elements: the cue, the routine, and the reward. The cue is the trigger that sparks a routine or behavior which elicits some kind of reward. As the cycle continues craving develops and this can help enforce the habit loop making it difficult to break. The cue and the reward are unchangeable variables. The cue will continue to occur no matter what and you will continue to crave the reward. So, to change a habit one must change the routine. You must find a new routine to do every time the cue occurs which will give you the same reward that you crave.
Let’s look at a typical example. Say Tommy has a habit of smoking cigarettes multiple times a day. The reward for Tommy could be to relax, to take a break, or to socialize. The cue for Tommy could be restlessness. Every time he is at his desk and starts to feel restless he goes outside for a smoke. While this loop might be obscured by an addiction to nicotine, Tommy is actually craving the reward. By identifying some of these elements and focusing on the routine, Tommy can change his behavior.
If Tommy wants to change this behavior, he must change the routine. The cue, restlessness, will still occur. And he’s still going to crave the reward, be it socializing, a break, or relaxation. So, Tommy can start experimenting by trying different routines to see which one satisfies the craving for the reward. If Tommy finds that talking to some co-workers for ten minutes satisfies the craving, then socializing was the reward. Alternatively, if a break is the reward Tommy craves he could satisfy this with a new routine such as going for a walk, meditation, checking personal email for five minutes, or some activity that satisfies his craving for a break. In this way Tommy can change his behavior simply by identifying the variables and substituting in a new routine.
So, how do we apply this to porn addiction? Well you know what the routine is already, I don’t think I need to elaborate on that piece. The reward that you’re craving could be stimulation, a feeling of achievement, or just to feel good. A variety of cues could be causing this such as boredom, stress, anxiety, loneliness, procrastination, sadness, or depression. It’s important to analyze yourself to realize what it is you’re feeling the moment a craving arises in order to determine your cue. So once you’ve identified the cue, start experimenting with routines to substitute every time a craving arises. Through experimentation you can figure out which routines satisfy the craving and then determine with certainty which reward you crave. Some examples of substitution routines could be exercising, mini-goals (reading, blogging, writing 5 pages a day, working towards any goal you have), calling a friend, socializing, going for a walk, or any routine that would give you a similar reward. Once you’ve determined the routine that satisfies the craving, simply do that routine every time the cue happens and a craving arises.
You might be thinking this sounds too easy. Or perhaps you’ve tried this but when things got really tough you failed. There is one missing ingredient that solidifies this whole formula: belief. Belief is a critical element without which relapse is likely to occur. You must believe that success is possible, no matter what. No matter how difficult it becomes or what life events happen, because they will. Belief comes in a variety of forms from self-belief, religion, spirituality, knowledge, support of one other person, or groups and communities. As an example, AA uses religion or spirituality as the element of belief. A belief in God or a higher power is the belief that empowers members to succeed.
How do we implement belief into our plan? For many of us one or more of the sources of belief are unappealing. For example, an atheist will struggle with a program like AA or resorting to belief in a higher power for success. The good news is belief comes in a variety of forms. Find one that works for you and stick with it. Whether it’s a friend who believes in you or a community of like minded people who all believe in each other. Some of us may believe so strongly in ourselves that it is enough to sustain us in our darkest moments. For me, my belief comes from knowing I can do it based on the knowledge and collective experiences of others. I’m not alone, as so many succeeded before me and so many more will after me. Additionally, the support of one person, just knowing they believe, means everything.
In summary, we can use the techniques for breaking habits to break free from the cycle of addiction. By acting like scientists we can identify the cues and then the rewards that drive our behavior. Then we can substitute new routines until we find one that satisfies our craving for the reward. It’s important to see failure as a learning opportunity during this stage. This is not a time for self loathing and being overly hard on yourself, failure is the key to success. Just imagine you are an inventor or a scientist where failure is critical to learning. Finally, by adding belief into this equation we can create an unstoppable formula for changing habits and overcoming addiction.
Have an experience with changing habit or using the habit loop? Please share in the comments.