Do you have any bad habits you’ve failed to break? A key for you is found in the blanks below.
- Blood, sweat, and _________.
- Knock, knock. ______________?
- Red means _____, green means _____.
The truth is there are different words that could fill these blanks just as sensibly, but your brain most likely first filled each blank with tears, Who’s there?, and stop/go.
Your brain is cued or prompted by the words that are there to automatically fill in the blanks of the words that aren’t.
Your ability to respond automatically to cues is a great gift from God. Your phone rings, you answer it. A hand is extended to you, you reach to shake it. A rock is flying toward your head, you duck to miss it. A traffic light turns yellow, you lift your foot from the gas (or perhaps press it down further). Each of these is a cue prompting you to take action, even without thinking about it.
And believe it or not, when you find yourself tempted to do again what you’ve sworn a thousand times you’d quit, the temptation comes in response to a cue.
It may be as simple as a sound or a song or an image, but most often, the cue is more hidden than that. Usually, the cue is a felt emotion.
Have you ever noticed you’re tempted to eat more when you’re anxious? Or that you have a harder time putting down social media when you’re feeling lonely? Or that the temptation to watch porn hits when you’re angry?
Maybe the cues are different for you. Maybe the bad habits are, too. But I guarantee you, whatever the repeated behavior is, temptation returns in force cued by an emotion.
It’s a little more complicated than this, but it basically works this way:
- You feel some type of pain or discomfort.
- Your brain wants to alleviate the pain or discomfort.
- You’re tempted to medicate what you’re feeling with the pleasure that comes from the negative behavior. And when you do, it works.
- You repeat steps 1 – 3 and your brain begins to chart a faint path from pain or discomfort to stuffing your face, or crafting the perfect post, or getting lost in porn. All without you having to be conscious of any of it.
- Repeated over time, this faint path in your brain becomes a major highway.
- Now when your brain gets a whiff of pain or discomfort, your feet are already running to your drug of choice. And you’re not even sure why.
What can you do to change this?
Fortunately, a lot. The first step is to ask for help. Cues like this are hard to identify, especially if your brain is trained to move quickly away from the cue (the emotional pain or discomfort) and onto the highway leading to that unhealthy habit.
Once you’ve begun identifying the cues, the next step is to begin practicing responding in healthy ways. Temptation says your pain is the enemy. But it’s actually a friend telling you there’s a problem that needs resolving. Instead of running from the pain or medicating it, how can you bring a healthy resolution to it?
Our team at Regeneration would be happy to walk with you on this journey.
That’s your cue,
Happy New Year and Merry Christmas Josh!
Thank you for challenging me to be mindful of my emotional cues. whenever I am tempted to lust. When walking my dog I noticed that he always looks toward the houses where he has encountered other dogs barking at him. Similarly I begin thinking about the people I have lustfully stared at, thought about and maybe even engaged in personal conversation with when I am moving toward where I last encountered them. Just like my dog I look toward their house. I need to not look that way or to totally change my route. Chances are I will see temptation on the alternate route.
To be honest my motivation for looking for temptation is to medicate when I am feeling sorry for myself. I need to confess self pity and leave at the cross of my Savior.
Love in Christ,
This makes total sense to me as I’ve noticed that the times I’ve given in to temptation it has happened without me making a conscious decision: I just found myself driving to a adult bookstore like I was on a autopilot and immersed myself in porn and worse. I didn’t even think “should I go or not ?” It just happened as though something else had taken control of me.
The tough thing for me is identifying the cues, as I don’t see a common thread of emotion or pain joining these incidents.
Thank you for your wonderful work.
May the Lord be with you.
Thank you, Brian. Your experience driving to an adult bookstore on “autopilot” is a great description of how this feels and one of the main reasons we need help identifying the cues. This really isn’t something most of us can do alone. I had no idea what was going on for me (or even that anything was) until I was in a Regeneration group where men were asking each week and helping me dig deeper to begin identifying what was triggering/cuing me. Let us know if we can be a help to you with this!
Excellent post, and so very true. It has been by helping me to identify the cues and to seek alternatives that are not addictive that the Lord has granted me freedom, after I cried out in utter agony and repentance without regret. I am of course, still subject to temptation, but through his grace, far more aware of both dangers and of better ways of behaving with integrity.