“Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky, Winter Notes on Summer Impressions
Although this psychological phenomenon of the mind gravitating back to the very act that it has been instructed to curtail was first observed by Dostoevsky but it was more than a century later that a psychologist from Harvard University, Daniel Wegner, carried out a series of experiments to prove this assertion. In this experiment, Wegner divided the students into two groups and to the first group, he instructed the students that they should not think of the white bear for a period of 5 minutes and the students in the second group were asked to think of the white bear. Despite the seemingly simple instruction, the students in the first group who were specifically instructed to suppress their thoughts about the white bear thought of the creature more than once per minute, on average.
Next, Wegner asked the same students to think of the white bear without any restriction. During this time, the students who had initially been told to control their thought and suppress the image of the white bear reported imagining the creature much more than the students who had initially received no such orders to restrain their thoughts. The results suggested that suppressing the thought for the first five minutes caused a sort of “rebound effect”, which caused the image of the white bear to appear more freely and frequently into the minds that had previously attempted to forcefully suppress the image.
In a similar psychology experiment on thought suppression, psychologists named James Erskine and George Georgiou conducted an experiment to study the effects of suppressing thoughts on consumption of chocolate. They divided the participants into three groups, the participants in the first group were asked to think about chocolate, the second group was instructed to suppress their thoughts of chocolate, and the third group was informed to simply record their thoughts with no specific details. Later, all participants were asked to taste some chocolates and rate them according to the several well-defined qualities related to taste. The focus of the study was not the ratings but to evaluate how much chocolate each participant consumed. People who had tried to suppress thoughts about chocolate ended up eating more chocolate. Suppression not only led to a rebound in chocolate thoughts, but also to a rebound in terms of the physical manifestation affecting the behavioral pattern of the participants.
As per Wegner’s Ironic process theory, when we attempt to suppress any thought one part of our mind complies with the injunction and dutifully avoids the forbidden thought. The problem arises when the other part of the brain periodically monitors that activity with an intent to check that the restriction is being obediently complied but ironically, such fixated voluntary supervision of the mind only ends up making the forbidden thought to reoccur.
If thought suppression is doomed to fail, could we be doing ourselves more harm by constantly coercing our mind to abstain from pornography and masturbation? Perhaps this is the reason why most of us repeatedly relapse back to our old ways after having experienced few days of self-discipline inspired by forceful thought suppression.
This post is not to discourage you but to explain the basic fundamentals of how the brain functions. Once you understand how your brain functions, how it perceives triggers, temptations, etc. then you have won half your battle because then you can work around to circumvent that weakness and march towards your goal and not try to fight your brain by force-feeding your desire and eventually getting dissuaded.
Wegner suggests certain strategies which can be successfully employed to positively distract the mind to keep it on track and not relapse back to its old ways.
There are several guided meditation videos available on YouTube and you can check that if you are a complete novice to this.
In conclusion, quitting pornography and masturbation can sometimes prove to be a difficult endeavor, for better results we must avoid repeatedly reminding our mind of the things that we must not do; instead, it will do us all a lot more good if we remind ourselves of the things we should rather do and invest our time and energy in doing that task and constantly strive to be a better version of ourselves. There are no quick fix solutions in life; we all have to gradually work to change our mindset and perceptions for long-lasting results. Stay strong!
Pornography addiction is a real threat. Thousands of people suffer in silence, families have been destroyed, women have been objectified, careers have ended, etc. because of this problem. Yet, we consider pornography as entertaining and educating. Rather than helping the person suffering overcome the issue, society prefers to make them a laughing example. In my blog, quitfapnow.com, I discuss habit transformation techniques to help people overcome this problem and lead a happy life.