Change doesn’t happen overnight.
You don’t decide to quit using porn or acting out on your compulsive behavior and then stop completely the next day. Most of the time it takes a while for you to recognize that there’s a serious problem in the first place. The recovery process is just that: a process.
The five stages of change (sometimes called the five stages of recovery) describe the process of changing a compulsive behavior. You’re probably familiar with it by now if you’ve spent time in any recovery circles or read much on the topic. It’s a helpful outline for understanding how change happens when you struggle with compulsive behavior or addiction. These stages are:
Although quite a few men are aware of the five stages of recovery already, I’ve also noticed that plenty have yet to hear of them. I want to give you a quick outline of each stage to help you determine where you’re at in your process.
Precontemplation is the initial stage where you don’t recognize that you have a problem. Your world hasn’t caught on fire yet. Pornography hasn’t had a significant impact on your life yet. You might feel some residual discomfort or experience a few consequences but it hasn’t gotten out of control.
Maybe you’re making justifications for your actions. You truly believe you could stop if you wanted to. If your partner confronts you about your porn use, you’re convinced that they’re overreacting and making a big deal out of nothing. All of your buddies watch porn and jerk off, what’s wrong with you doing it, too?
But the difference between you and your buddies is that your behavior is compulsive. You’re not simply watching porn, you’re using it as an unhealthy coping mechanism. Your porn use and compulsive behavior have been getting progressively worse over time. The problem is actively escalating but you still haven’t noticed that there’s an issue.
Contemplation is the stage where you start to experience and recognize some of the negative effects porn has on your life. Sometimes it’s the amount of time you spend watching it or how distracted you feel when you aren’t. Perhaps it started affecting your sex life. Maybe you notice that you can’t have sex without watching porn first, or you fantasize about scenes during intercourse.
The contemplation stage is when you begin thinking this might be a real problem. The cons start to outweigh the pros. You start thinking about making some changes. You might consider trying to masturbate or watch porn in moderation. For example, instead of jerking off every day, you might cut it back to once a week.
Once you try cutting back, though, is when you realize how trapped you are. You may be able to stay off of it for a few days or weeks or months, but you inevitably find yourself back where you started. Maybe you find yourself in an even worse situation than before. So you’re back to the idea that it might be time to do something about this problem.
Once you’re ready to commit to making some changes, you’ve reached the planning stage. It doesn’t mean you’ve fully committed yet but you’re starting to look for solutions. You’re searching online for resources, watching videos, listening to podcasts, and reading blog posts like this one.
But the planning stage is the stage where the distinction between two types of men becomes clear: Type A and Type B. I’ve talked about the differences between Type A and Type B men before. One type will move through the planning phase and into the next phase. One will get stuck in the planning phase and spin his wheels endlessly.
Type B men are ready to make changes. They do a ton of research but aren’t ready to do anything about it. These men consume tons of content online but never implement it in their lives. They might even reach out and email us about their problem, but they never follow through on their request.
Type A men are also ready to make changes. They do the same sort of research that Type B men do but they decide on a plan of action. These men don’t just read, watch, and listen to things online; they take the content they consume and determine how they’re going to apply it to their lives. Then they move into the next stage of change.
If you’re reading this blog post right now, you’re most likely in the action stage. Men in the action stage have identified that there’s a problem, researched how to address it, outlined a plan of action, and are now in the process of following through on their plan.
A ton of work occurs during the action stage. This is the time when you need to establish your routine and commit to it. At some point, the initial alarm and fear that led you to seek a solution will wear off. The action stage is when you build your new behaviors into lasting habits so you can persist through these lulls in motivation.
The action stage can take quite a while. You begin to make different choices than you would have before. Sure, you might experience a slip or two during the action phase but you continue moving forward. But you use these slips to understand your triggers, learn to manage your urges, and build up new coping skills. Over time, these slowly become your new way of doing things.
When your routine and habits are set in place, you’ve reached the maintenance stage. This stage is exactly what it sounds like: you continue maintaining the progress that you’ve built from the beginning.
Your self-image begins to change during the maintenance stage as you recognize how far you’ve come. You’ve built up many areas of your reboot capital, from your spiritual life to your social life, your finances to your health. The maintenance stage is when you finally begin to feel like you’re on the right track, that you’ve overcome your compulsive behavior.
And you will, brother. You’ll no longer be the man you used to be. By the time you reach the maintenance stage, you’ve built an entirely different life than you had before, one that’s worth living. So long as you continue taking action and moving through the five stages of change, a life free from pornography can be your reality, too.