“The Secret of change is to focus all of your energy,
not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
This quote is extremely simply, yet addresses a wide range of issues relating to habit and addiction. I’ve interpreted it into two related teachings, ‘not fighting the old’ and ‘building the new.’
By not fighting and resisting our thoughts and emotions, and learning to accept them, we make a crucial step towards creating meaningful change, followed closely by making that change.
“Not fighting the old”
Once a seed has sprouted, no amount of wishing will ever put that sprout back into the seed. Similarly with our mind, once a thought, memory, fantasy, feeling, or emotion arises, we can’t put it back where it came from. They are here now. We can try to force it to change, declare war upon it, consider it an ‘enemy’, or ignore and deny it’s existence, but doing so would only cause us anxiety and repression. Making us weaker, more emotionally unstable, and more likely to loose control over our actions. Which is the opposite of what we want. It’s like trying not to think of a pink elephant with purple spots. Or like silly putty, you try to push it down and it just comes out the sides. The more you fight with your own emotions the weaker you become, and you create a vicious cycle.
What is being pointed out to us is that by trying to forcefully control our emotions, we lose control over them. Sounds paradoxical right? This is one of the biggest causes of relapse I see today. This is evident by the over-use of military terms like ‘fight the cravings,’ ‘the war on pornography,’ and ‘conquer your addiction.’ So what do we do then? We are still getting the thoughts and cravings, and we still need to stop them some how.
The “old”, the things we are trying to change, are the triggers: the habitual thought patters, memories, fantasies, and emotions that drive us to view porn over and over. So if we can’t fight or ignore these emotions, the only intelligent way to react to them is with acceptance and compassion. Realize that our feelings are just as much a part of us and our arms and legs. A feeling or thought has arisen, and we must acknowledge it’s existence with understanding and patience. Learn to work WITH the triggers, become friends with them, and eventually learn from them. To do this, we must learn a process that cultivates these mindful emotions and mental actions.
The more we can accept these feelings with compassion, while slowly working with understanding to learn from them, the less power they will have over us. This work is slow and tedious, but truly transforms our inner addict: the habitual thought patterns and emotions that come from our own mind. Don’t fight: Stop, feel, listen, breathe…
This might also include the uncomfortable feelings that arise when you begin to reduce your pornography and/or masturbation use. But the same exact process applies, to become mindful of the feelings, and accept them as they are here and now with compassion.
To become more accepting of one’s thoughts and emotions I recommend a proactive approach of meditation and a worksheet style practice. I have outlined a few meditation practices for us to use here: Equanimity Meditation, Mindfulness Meditation, and Relaxation Practice. And for a more proactive worksheet style approach to identifying these thought patters, you can use the Identifying Triggers process outline.
“Building the new”
Now that we have begun the process of transforming our triggers in a healthy manner, we can work towards… whatever we want.
What is it you would like to be doing with your life right now? Working on custom cars? Making new friends? Painting murals? Starting a youth group? Training dog? Spending more time with family and friends? Loosing 35lbs? Volunteering? Just relaxing and being content? Life is open to you now. Now, we have this vital energy. Now, we need a goal to work towards in life.
What this quote is trying to tell us is to focus on what you want to bring into your life, what is it you would truly like to be doing with it? Put all your energy and time into that which you could not do, that which the pornography and masturbation addiction did not let you. You’ve spent years or decades pacifying your drive for life with this addiction, chasing a false sense of intimacy and accomplishment. Now it’s time to actually DO something with the time and space in your life created by quitting porn. To have some real intimacy with other or goals to work towards or a hobby to enjoy. Learn a new instrument, play some basketball with friends, play hide and seek like you were kids again, love more, worry less. This is your life, enjoy it.
Intimacy is what drives us, we will do and put up with almost anything to achieve intimacy in our lives. We go to porn because it gives us a false sense of this connection with other real people. So quitting the porn means more then just dropping the habit, we need to fill it in with the REAL DEAL, a connection with others. This is part of ‘The New You’ we are building, and it’s called friendship, relationship, family, and reuniting. Focus on your family, Start a local food drive, volunteer at a soup kitchen, do the grocery shopping for a shut in, drive the elderly around the city, start a how-to course, play with your kids, helping out others with the same struggles as you, start a youth group, get involved with people somehow.
The point is not so much to keep yourself busy-busy, but to use this new time and energy for something that was held back by the addiction. Something to pour your heart and soul into. It also may be painful, it may not be easy. The same reasons you were avoiding these things in your life is the same reason you have been using porn to escape, so be patient with yourself. Your new life starts here.
I wish you all the best of luck on your recovery, please take care.
Edit: A whole post I made about this topic can be found here: Building a New You.
Some Key Terms
Acceptance: To receive willingly without hatred or aversion.
Understanding: To explore and gain insight into the subject or matter at hand. To intellectually or experimentally comprehend.
Compassion: A sympathetic or empathetic understanding of yours’ or others’ suffering together with a desire to alleviate it and to not cause more harm.
Mindfulness: To hold a thought, feeling, or emotion in your mind’s awareness without distraction.