Episode 92: Retrain Your Brain

Oct 17, 2022

Last week, we dove into the reward system in our brain that produces a seemingly automatic urge or over-desire for pornography. I touched on the subconscious training of our brains to seek out dopamine-producing substances, whether that be porn (or sugar in my case), and I promised you a way to retrain your brain out of that over-desire. 

You might have been told that you’ll have to live with your urges forever, but the great news is that’s just not true. Just as you trained your brain to want or expect pornography at certain times or places, you can retrain your brain out of that over-desire. So, how do we do that?

Join me this week as I show you how to retrain your brain, and what this retraining of your brain will require of you. You’ll discover why, while retraining your brain can be simple, it won’t necessarily be easy, and some important considerations to keep in mind as you practice this process.

If you’re ready to do this work and start practicing unconditional commitment toward quitting your porn habit, sign up to work with me! 


What You'll Learn from this Episode:

  • Why you don’t have to be at the mercy of your brain’s reward system.

  • How retraining your brain can be truly simple. 

  • What’s required of you to retrain your brain out of over-desire. 

  • Why you don’t want to use willpower to retrain your brain and what to do instead.

  • What to be careful of as you begin practicing retraining your brain. 


Listen to the Full Episode:

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Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to the Overcome Pornography for Good podcast episode 92, Retrain Your Brain.

Welcome to the Overcome Pornography For Good podcast where we take a research-based, trauma informed and results focused approach to quitting porn. This approach has been revolutionary and changed thousands and thousands of lives. I’m your host, Sara Brewer.

Hey, you guys, welcome to the podcast episode this week. I hope you guys are having a great week, let's dive into the content today. We're going to talk about retraining your brain. Last week we talked about the rewards system in your brain. We talked dopamine, we talked how you trained yourself to want pornography, we talked about over desire.

We talked about how when you view porn your brain gets dopamine hits, and your brain is created to have this reward system that really seeks out dopamine. And your brain doesn't just seek out dopamine, but it remembers where and when it gets dopamine. And so your brain will remember the time of day and where you were that you last got that extra dopamine from pornography.

And so when those moments come up, let's say the other night you looked at porn at 10pm, your brain remembers that. So 10pm comes around and your brain is like, “Hey, it's 10pm. Remember, this is when we got that dopamine last time. That's really important, we should get that again.”

Or if you're traveling, or if you're in a certain location, or whatever, you create these triggers, these memories in your brain, your reward system that remind you, hey, we get dopamine here. And so that's where this over-desire comes from and where these seemingly automatic urges come from, okay?

And then at the end of that episode we talked about how when you understand that you subconsciously trained your brain to want porn, you subconsciously trained your brain to experience this over-desire, you can learn how to train your brain to not want porn, how to train yourself out of that over desire. Out of always searching for all that extra dopamine, okay?

This doesn't have to be a life sentence. You don't just have to deal with this for the rest of your life. And we know that because we know how the brain works. And so anyone that's told you you have to deal with this forever and you're always just going to have these urges for it, they were just misinformed and didn't know better. It’s just not true.

So let's talk about it. How do we bring down that over-desire? That over desire, those urges for pornography? And I want to keep it really, really simple, okay? How you bring down that over-desire and you train your brain to not have over desire for porn, is you stop giving yourself the dopamine.

You have to create new patterns in your brain, which means you stop giving yourself the dopamine right now. And I know that's very simplified, but I want to keep it simple in your mind, okay? And we're going to talk about all the nuances here in a moment, but I want to illustrate this by sharing a story of when I was in high school, and my parents moved.

They moved about 15 minutes away, so I was still at the same high school, I had the same friends. Not too much changed, except for the house that I slept in at night. And I remember one of those first nights after moving I just was driving home from a soccer game or something and drove straight to my old house. And I pulled up to my old house and then it hit me, oh, wait, I don't live here anymore.

But I was on autopilot, right? When you're driving, this happens to us all the time, you know, you're driving, and you get in patterns and rhythms, and you just go on autopilot. And you just drive where you're supposed to go, and you know exactly where to go and exactly how to get there. And you just do it without thinking about it because you've done it so many times.

And so in order to create these new patterns to get rid of this natural response for me just to go to this old house, I just had to drive to my new house many, many, many, many times. And it took some concentrated effort those first 50 times. I had to remember where to go, I had to consciously say to myself, “I don't live in that old house anymore. I have to drive over to this new house.” Okay, I had to drive that new route a lot of times in order to create a new habit.

It's the same thing with sugar. So we talked about how this is a very similar process with sugar and a lot of us create over-desire for sugar because we train our brains to want the dopamine from sugar after we eat dinner or whatever, that's my experience at least. After eating dinner I would eat some m&ms or some chocolate or something. I did that enough time that my brain really craves sugar every single time I eat.

And so it's almost, it's just automatic. It's like I eat dinner and then I have this craving for sugar. I don't have to see any sugar. I don't have to be buffering from anything. It's just a habit, it’s this over-desire because my brain is seeking for that dopamine. So how I stop craving sugar, how I get rid of those urges for sugar after dinner is I stop eating sugar after dinner, okay?

I don't want us to over complicate this. And I would never say, like you would never hear someone say, “Well, you want sugar after every meal, that's just something you're going to have to struggle with for the rest of your life.” No, you would not hear that. But that's sometimes what we hear around pornography, and I really want to squash that myth. It's just not true.

Your brain is working the same as it is when it comes to sugar and other things that create high amounts of dopamine in our brains. So what this does require, right, some of you might be saying, “Okay, well, all right, Sara, you're just telling me just to stop. That’s not very helpful.” That’s not what I'm trying to do, I'm trying to keep it really simple.

What this does require is it requires increasing our ability to feel that discomfort without responding to it, without giving into it. And I've talked about quite a few skills in the podcast that you can start to learn how to do that. And next week I'm going to talk about what to do when you feel out of control.

But right now, what I want to focus on is this idea and all of this brain drama that if we have over-desire we're going to have over-desire forever and it’s as strong as drugs, once an addict always an addict. That's just not true. And that's just not the story that you have to tell yourself.

I want to remind you of the Pavlov's dog example. I talk about this in depth in one of the earlier podcast episodes, but it's always a great reminder. So let me mention it here quickly. Pavlov was a scientist who had a bunch of dogs in a cage. And what he did is he would ring a bell and give his dogs a treat. Ring a bell, give them a treat, ring a bell, give them a treat.

And he did this over and over and over again. It created this over-desire in these dogs that when they heard this bell they started to salivate because their brain was expecting this treat. Their brain was expecting this dopamine hit, okay? Just like we've done that, our reward system in our brain has done that same thing with porn. It turns 10 o'clock at night, it's like that bell is ringing and our brains start to salivate, right? We desire this porn.

Okay, so what Pavlov found out is that he didn't even have to show them a treat or anything, he just would ring that bell and they would start to salivate. Now, the other part of this experiment is that not only was he able to train his dogs to salivate at the sound of the bell, not only was he able to give his dogs this over-desire, but he was able to train them to stop salivating at the sound of the bell. He was able to train them out of that over-desire.

And what he did, it's super simple, he rang the bell and didn't give them the treat. And rang the bell and didn't give them the treat over and over and over again. Pretty soon the dogs stopped associating that sound of the bell with the treat and they didn't have that over-desire anymore. Okay? So it can be that simple for us too.

What it requires, it requires you feeling that urge, hearing that bell, having that experience of desire, and not giving it to yourself. The dogs, they heard that bell for the first few times and were miserable. They were salivating, they were barking, they were like, “Give me that freaking treat.” But they didn't get it. And going through that enough times allowed them to bring down that over-desire where every time they heard the bell they weren't freaking out anymore.

What's a little bit difficult about this process is we have to be both the scientist and the dog. And so we have that part of our brain that barks and yaps and salivates. And then we have that part of the brain that can withhold and mindfully manage the urges. We have to be able to do that and let that scientist part of our brain be in charge instead of that dog part of our brain.

Okay, just a quick reminder for those of you, we don't want to use willpower. There are easier ways to do that, I'm not going to go into that in this podcast episode because I've done lots of episodes on that. But here's something that I want you to be careful of with this process. I want you to be careful that you don't replace porn with another buffer.

A buffer is any activity that we do to escape emotion. And so for example, I don't want you just to replace porn and that dopamine from the porn with sugar, or ice cream, or a Wendy's frosty, right? If every single time you have the urge to be porn you're like, “I'm just going to instead go get a Wendy's frosty,” pretty soon your brain would be trained to crave a Wendy's frosty instead of craving the porn.

And for some of you, you are like, “Oh, that's way better than porn.” But there's an even better way to do that, where we can learn that emotional management. And instead of just trying to escape and trying to make it go away, we can bring it down. Because if you're going to get the frosty, you're not actually bringing that over-desire down, you're just substituting it with something else.

Okay, so we want to be careful that you don't replace it with another buffer. And keep in mind that you get to choose how you get dopamine. This is such a cool concept to think about, okay? Dopamine is a beautiful thing, it gives us pleasure. We like dopamine, dopamine is a good thing.

Now, if you want to bring down the over desire for porn, you're going to have to go through this river of misery, this period of being pretty miserable, just like the dogs. They hear that bell and those first 20, 30, 40, 50, 100 times of hearing that bell after they have all this over-desire, it's like salivating, and yapping, and barking, it's miserable. You're going to have to go through that to bring down this over desire.

But what you can also do is you can start to replace your dopamine sources, okay? So, sugar, example for sugar, there's that river of misery after a meal where I want that sugar, I'm really craving it. And I'm going to feel that and I'm also going to go do something nice for myself and get some dopamine by taking a nice, warm bath.

The example of porn, you're in that river of misery, you want to get that dopamine hit. You're going to feel that,  it's going to be miserable a little bit, you're going to have to sit in that discomfort. And then you're going to also say, okay, brain, body, I'm also going to give you some dopamine by doing something that I enjoy, like playing video games, or building something in the garage, or painting, or cooking, or whatever it is that you enjoy doing that can give you a dopamine hit.

Now, here's what's really important, it's not going to replace it. We want to make sure we're not trying to replace it. If you're trying to replace it, it's not going to work. You're going to find that you're pretty miserable, you're going to find that nothing is quite as exciting as porn. And that's okay, that's normal because you have all this over-desire for porn.

So as you're finding these new dopamine sources for something that seems to align more with your values, something that helps you create the life that you want, recognize, at least at the beginning, at least while you're bringing down this over-desire, it's not going to be as pleasurable as porn, and that's okay. And that doesn't mean you're never going to find something as pleasurable as porn, it doesn't mean you're always going to be miserable.

It just means that we're in the process of bringing down this over-desire. And as we're doing that, as we're retraining our brains, bringing down this over-desire, you just have to go through that period that I call the river of misery. You just have to. And while you're doing that, you can also find things that you enjoy that give you dopamine that you actually want to fill your life with.

And this is a great, beautiful journal exercise for you. If you think to yourself, what ways do I want to get dopamine and pleasure in my life? How do I want to feel pleasure, and success, and wellness and all these things? How do I want to feel pleasure in my life?

So many of us just are at the mercy of whatever was in front of us when we were young and that's just how we're feeling pleasure for the rest of our lives. And we don't go through this process of choosing how we want to experience pleasure. And we feel out of control, whether that's porn or sugar, or alcohol, or over shopping, or over eating, or over drinking, or whatever that is.

So many of us are not even in control of how we're feeling pleasure and getting dopamine. And the beautiful truth is that in our world today, with the brain that you have, with the things that I teach you on this podcast, with the things that you're learning in the program if you're in the program, you get to choose how you experience pleasure.

So if you could experience pleasure any way that you want to, what would that be? Oh, what a fun journal prompt that is. Maybe you think like, I would love to be creating beautiful food in the kitchen. I would love to get my dopamine hits from running because it feels so good.

It feels so good to be outside. It feels so good to be in the sun. I would love to get my dopamine hits from surfing. I would love to get my dopamine hits from woodworking, whatever it is. I would love to get my dopamine hits from watching TV.

Like there's not a right or wrong way or not a right or wrong thing that you can do. I totally choose TV often, especially at night. I love TV. Not something that I choose to put in my life, it's a great way for me to experience pleasure and to wind down for the day and I love it.

Just make sure that what you're experiencing pleasure and dopamine with, make sure that you are working towards choosing that, instead of it just happening because you're experiencing over-desire and you subconsciously trained your brain to want something that you really actually don't even want, okay?

And then just one last note is make sure that new dopamine activity doesn't become another buffer. If you’ve followed me for a while, if you've heard my podcast you'll know what I mean by that. What I do mean by that is make sure it doesn't become another way for you to escape emotion.

So we've talked a lot about the reward system, the over-desire. We didn't talk much about escaping, using porn as an escape in this episode, but I do talk about that quite a bit more in other episodes. Just make sure that you aren't using working out or whatever it is as another way to escape emotion.

We want to become emotionally mature adults and then use activities and use things for pleasure because we want to experience pleasure, not because we want to escape pain, okay?

All right, you guys. Have a great week, hope you enjoyed today's episode. Have a great week. Have a great fall. We'll talk to you next week, bye bye.

I want to invite you to come and listen to my free class, How To Overcome Pornography For Good Without Using Willpower. We talk about how to stop giving into urges without pure willpower or relying on phone filters so that you can actually stop wanting pornography.

We talk about how to stop giving up after a few weeks or months. And spoiler alert, the answer isn't have more willpower. And then lastly, we talk about how to make a life without porn easily sustainable and permanent.

If you're trying to quit porn, this class is a game changer. So you can go and sign up at Sarabrewer.com/masterclass and it is totally free.

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