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Right now, you might be very focused on getting rid of the bad habit of pornography. Unfortunately, sometimes that focus works against us.

For example, if I told you, “Don’t think about a pink elephant,” you would have a hard time not thinking about a pink elephant. That is unless you decided to think of a red alligator instead. It’s much easier to not do something if you explicitly choose to do something instead

Good Habits Replace Bad Habits

If you are trying to break free of pornography, it helps to understand how habits work. Most people find it incredibly difficult to simply stop a bad habit unless they have a good habit to replace it.

Whether it's pornography, overeating, or binge-watching Netflix, our bad habits form because we need something. Maybe you watch pornography when you’re bored, tired, lonely, or angry. All of these feelings are supposed to motivate us to a solution: productivity, sleep, community, or peace. Bad habits like porn make us feel like we’re solving a problem without actually solving it.

In order to replace the bad habit of porn, we have to replace it with a good habit. That good habit should give us what we’re looking for when we turn to porn. If you turn to porn when you are lonely, you should form habits that give you community. If you do it when you’re bored, you should find a habit that keeps you productive and gets you excited.

Covenant Eyes has an eBook called Hobbies and Habits that can help you identify a good habit for your situation. But to start a new habit, we have to learn how habits work in the first place.

Cast Votes for Good Habits

We all have an internal monologue that tells us who we are. Psychologists call this a “script.” Positive scripts build up our confidence while negative scripts can make us have a poor self-image. We are more likely to keep up a habit if we have a positive script for it. We’re more likely to draw if our script says, “I am an artist.” We are more likely to practice an instrument if our script says, “I am a musician.”

We create new scripts when we “cast a vote” for or against them. Let’s say you want to exercise more. Every time you choose to work out, you cast a vote for the script that says, “I am the kind of person who exercises.” On the other hand, if you choose to hit the snooze button and miss your workout, you cast a vote that says, “I am not a person who exercises.”

The good news about votes is they take the pressure off your failures. Failing to exercise one morning or falling back into watching pornography once is only one vote. You can replace it by two the next time. The bad news is when it comes to bad habits, we already have a huge deficit of votes for negative scripts. It takes consistent votes in the positive direction to change that.

Use Triggers to Your Advantage

When we think about triggers, we often think about what triggers our bad habits. For instance, tiredness may trigger our desire to use pornography. Identifying and avoiding those triggers is an important step in breaking free of pornography. But triggers aren’t just for bad habits. We can use triggers to build up good habits.

Triggers are more common than you may think. Morning breath triggers you to brush your teeth. A yellow light triggers you to slow down (or at least it should.) Triggers are a way to signal to our brain that it is time to perform a routine task. So, if you want to create a routine good habit, you should find something that triggers that activity.

Habit Stacks are your Friends

The best way to create a new trigger for a new habit is to put it at the end of a “habit stack.” A habit stack is a series of routine actions that all serve as triggers for the next action. For instance, you unlock your car which triggers opening the door, sitting down, buckling, starting the car, putting it in reverse, checking behind you, and pulling out of the driveway.

Your morning and evening routines are great place to put a new habit. Let's say your habit in the morning is to wake up and go to the bathroom, you see your toothbrush which triggers you to brush your teeth, then shower, then go down to the kitchen to eat breakfast. Say you’re an old man like me and make oatmeal every morning. Waiting for your oatmeal could serve as a trigger for your new habit: doing ten pushups.

If you continue with that habit stack for a long time, you will find that you have a new positive script, “I am the kind of person who exercises.” Now it’s easier to replace porn use with exercise.

There are plenty of other habit stacks in your daily routine you could use to create a new habit. If loneliness is your reason for using porn, add a phone call to a friend during your morning commute. If anger turns you to porn, add journaling to your morning or evening routines.

Do It on Easy Mode

The best piece of advice I can give for creating good habits is: Do it on easy mode. Don’t attempt life-altering habits like a two-hour daily workout or journaling 3,000 words per day if you don’t already do something close to that. Don’t make anything harder than it needs to be.

The best way to simplify your habits is by understanding friction. Friction is what stands in the way of you and an action. For instance, when it’s cold outside there is more friction between you and your daily run. To make your habits easier, increase friction for bad habits and decrease friction for good ones.

This means you should increase the friction between you and porn. If tiredness is a trigger for you to use pornography, don’t charge your phone in your bedroom (buy an alarm clock.) If boredom is a trigger, don’t use your phone when you’re bored (this likely means deleting social media from your phone.) Programs like Covenant Eyes put a lot of friction between you and the bad habit of porn.

For good habits, decrease friction. If you want to trigger the habit of working out in the morning, put your workout clothes next to your bed so you see them first thing in the morning. Then, put them on before you even go to the bathroom. If you want to pray before you go to bed, put your bible on your pillow in the morning so you need to pick it up at night.

Little things like that may seem insignificant, but you’d be surprised how many times I’ve almost skipped my workout and said, “Eh, I already put my workout clothes on, I might as well go.” Laziness can make you more productive if you use it correctly.

Don’t White Knuckle It

A big temptation when trying to break free from pornography is white knuckling it. Our pride convinces us we can break free of porn by the raw strength of our willpower. That strategy almost universally fails. The best way to break free of porn is to understand how your brain works and work with it, not against it.

When you cast votes, use good triggers, and habit stacks, you make this journey much easier on yourself. Not only will you break free of pornography, you’ll also have some good habits to show for it.

Hobbies and Habits

Hobbies and Habits


Fighting Porn with Purpose

What if the secret to freedom from porn wasn’t just quitting porn, but changing your life so there’s no room for porn in the first place?

Download this ebook to learn how small changes to your life, as well as trying out new things, can help you change your view of life and reduce your need for porn.

Patrick Neve is an evangelist and speaker based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He hosts The Crunch Podcast and is studying for his master’s in theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville.