I'm ruining my life with self-destructive habits... please help?
December 6, 2014 10:38 AM   Subscribe

How do I stop various self-destructive habits (pornography, time-wasting websites, etc.) that I know are going to ruin my life and my marriage?

Hey Mefites, I need some serious help...

Right now, I am sucking at life and I need to fix it before things get worse. I am self-employed, but have a hard time focusing on my work and often my projects fall behind schedule to the the point where the client is less-than-happy and I'm making up excuses to pacify them. Not good. Secondly, I believe I have an addiction to pornography which is fueling a lot of my slacking off (when I'm not slacking off on various social networks and time-wasting websites).

I'm sure I can go into a lot more detail about how the above is effecting my life in a negative way, but hopefully I don't have to. I'm willing to answer any qeustions that might help you help me. I need to get ahold of these issues before they ruin my life and my marriage. Please help...
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (20 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
It would be a good idea to consult a therapist. Articulate your goals ("I would like to stop these habits") and they will help you build a toolbox to be more adaptive in your life.

Might also be worth thinking about why you are focusing on these things; that can help in eliminating bad habits.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:11 AM on December 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not trying to be overly simplistic, BUT, most of this can be "cured" by making lists, setting deadlines, and using timers.

I mean, like, micro managing tasks down to the smallest detail in your workday and setting alarms on clocks so that X chunk of a project is completed in Y minutes.

I can't speak to the porn. I can offer this work habit to you as a way of not giving yourself time to slack off and do "bad things" during your work hours.
posted by jbenben at 11:14 AM on December 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

A short-term fix is a site blocker. That won't fix the underlying problem (which, therapy), but if you can't go on time-wasting websites, you won't be able to waste time on them.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 11:15 AM on December 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Take a breath.

You sound like you have anxiety. I have anxiety and depression, too. It sounds like your anxiety over fucking up your work leads you to masturbate to relieve stress. This is not an unusual use of masturbation, so if you're riding the shame train for that, just get off at the next stop, horrid pun definitely intended to help you have a little bit of a sense of humor about this whole thing.

Okay. Here's some stuff you can actually do immediately, and then there's other stuff you're going to need to commit to doing in the long term, or you're going to need to try and risk having it not work out.

- Rent a workspace or find a library or coffee shop where you can work. You can't work from home. You have to be out in the world because your anxiety won't let you be alone with yourself and focus on your work while in your house. Where I live, you can rent a cubby, desk, office or even a conference room for short periods of time for what I think is an affordable fee. If you don't have anything like this near where you live, get to the nearest public library, university, tolerant coffee house.

- Talk to your spouse about your situation. Just talk about it. You'll feel better just having talked about it, plus you need to start a dialogue with him/her about solving the problem, not just emotionally flailing around feeling ashamed and terrified.

- I'm a total luddite but even I know there are tools available on-line to keep yourself off the websites you're currently frequenting for set periods of time. Someone here will undoubtedly point you to specifics. But they exist and you need to install them today on your computer, run them on your computer, attach to your computer, paint them over your screen, whatever.

- Make an appointment with your primary. Talk with them about your anxiety, talk with them about possible ADD or ADHD symptoms, and ask for a referral to a psychiatrist or psychologist to get some talk therapy.

- Consider changing careers or finding a group setting to work within. Being isolated when you have anxiety and depression is a terrible thing. Support and structure in your work environment could really help you. This is a long-term thing, of course; in the meantime, you need to put yourself on a schedule. You get up at a certain time, you shower, you put on work clothes, you work on X from 9 til foo, lunch, then from foo to wen, you do Y. If you have to reward yourself early on for sticking to the schedule before it becomes a habit, do so with things that are pleasurable but not addictive. I used to reward myself with sushi once a week if I accomplished a set goal.

On preview: see? Enchanting Grasshopper with site blocker.

I wish you the very best. You're going to be okay. You're catastrophizing right now because you feel ashamed. Shame is really a totally useless emotion, you know? It does absolutely nothing for you or anybody.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 11:19 AM on December 6, 2014 [16 favorites]

I'm curious about the bigger picture here. These are not questions that you need to answer here (you can MeMail if you'd like to speak more), but rather questions that came up whilst reading your post.

You've identified your behaviour as self-destructive, which means that this behaviour is "destroying" things that you care about. Your job, your marriage, etc. You've identified internet pornography as a primary example – which manifests as a tool for escapism and procrastination.

My questions are:
1) What need is this behaviour serving? You've identified it as negative, and yet you continue to behave in this way. Thus, you are gaining something from it. What are you gaining from it?

2) Closely aligned with what you are gaining from it, what is this behaviour allowing you to avoid? What are you escaping from? What is the result you are procrastinating against?

To be more nuanced about those questions, you are receiving from benefit from this behaviour, and it is allowing you to escape from something in your mind. What are you not saying? What are you not talking about, with your client, your spouse, or yourself?

3) What does the future where you "solve" this problem look like? If you're going down a self-destructive path right now, you can foresee devastation of some form if you continue. You'll lose the contract, or damage the marriage. Can you also see a future where you do your work, get on with it, and have a great relationship with your spouse?

The third question is highly relevant, for procrastination and self-destruction may indicate that you have a negative view of the future regardless. Are you concerned about this contract ending? Are there issues in your marriage that you and your partner are both denying?

4) The summation is that you have well-identified the symptoms, and possible outcomes if you continue. The key now is to identify the problem. What is driving these behaviours within you?

And the answer is probably not a complex interweaving of different things. It's probably one very simple thought / feeling that you're repressing. Something that you refuse to let enter your mind. Something that you need to admit / discuss with your client / spouse / yourself.

What is the thing that you are not talking about that is driving these behaviours?
posted by nickrussell at 11:28 AM on December 6, 2014 [8 favorites]

At a mechanical level, killing habits requires you to identify the triggers and rewards.

So what are the feelings and situations that immediately precede the desire to view porn? Or get on Facebook?

What are the rewards? The relief of orgasm?

You can then start to break the habit by recognising the triggers -- maybe an angry phonecall from unhappy client always makes you feel bad and want temporary relief, perhaps -- and subbing in another behaviour that provides some reward -- maybe a walk around the block, going and fixing a cup of some nice beverage, whatever.

You build awareness of habits by logging them and that can be a good first step in identifying triggers and building in the thinking that lets you stop before you engage in the unwanted activity.

I have just been reading a very good book called The WIllpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal which has a lot of helpful stuff to say on these matters.

Not disputing other posters' advice to look into root causes, but yes you can just work on the symptoms and get results.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:06 PM on December 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

You could try reading/listening to the "Now Habit". I'm listening to the audiobook right now and have found it really helpful already to help understanding why sometimes I feel like I just can't do what I need to do and instead just effectively do nothing. The SUPER short version is anxiety/negative feelings = avoidance = anxiety/negative feelings. I've actually found it really easy to start short circuiting this cycle with what I've learned from the book.
posted by pennypiper at 1:34 PM on December 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

You might appreciate this talk on Kelly McGonigal's The Willpower Instinct, which talks about procrastination from a psychologist's perspective. Her book recommends meditation and backs up how it works with scientific studies.
posted by tinymegalo at 2:36 PM on December 6, 2014 [9 favorites]

Download LeechBlock for your browser, test it and make sure it's working correctly, and then do the nuclear/permanent option so it will be very hard to undo. Do that for both Chrome and Firefox and uninstall Internet Explorer since it's garbage anyway. Other than that, go ahead and delete or throw out that stash of porn you're holding onto. Part of why you do it is probably because it's there and it's easy to get, like having junk food in your house. If you have any paid subscriptions, cancel them all.

I'd consider doing work outside of the home if you let yourself get distracted too easily. Do work at a local university library or a public library if you need it super quiet. If not, go to a coffee shop. Your city may have a co-work office you can join to work in an office with other freelancers. Being in a place where you have to get all your work done before you go home may push you to be a little more efficient and may prevent you from browsing embarrassing garbage sites when people will be able to see your screen. Interacting with actual real humans more often may help get you away from the fake fantasy world that is porn.
posted by AppleTurnover at 3:15 PM on December 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

"The procrastination equation" is also a useful book for people like me who tend to avoid doing what we know we should be doing and avoid it anyway.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:36 PM on December 6, 2014

Re the porn, I wonder if it's the other way around - maybe it's not that it's fueling distraction, but rather that you use it as a release from your anxiety about your obligations (multiplied by anxiety about your avoidance). If your anxiety is through the roof, you probably need a high-reward distraction to pull you away from it. If that's the case, addressing your underlying anxiety (which will probably entail dealing with your obligations, using the methods people have talked about) may help with the porn use.
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:38 PM on December 6, 2014

I also recommend LeechBlock. I use it for metafilter and other websites that I compulsively open and can easily waste hours on. You can block websites during set hours of the day, such as 9 AM-5 PM, or set it to block a website after you have visited it an allotted number of minutes each day.
posted by wrabbit at 3:58 PM on December 6, 2014

What you need is reddit.com/r/nofap .

You can't reduce porn to much advantage, quitting it altogether tends to be necessary, at least for a very long time. I quit porn and masturbation and my whole life is better. (Just checked and I'm 159 days without... holy moly! Go me!) Make no mistake, it's a serious addiction.

Porn addiction drains your life force, and also can cause erectile dysfunction (or the female version which I had: annoying numbness, no orgasms with partners, and a requirement of ever-more-extreme top-shelf porn to have a response). After almost 6 months, my life is better. Quitting porn basically fixed my sexuality. The physical machinery works again, I'm better in relationships than I've been in years, and I already know I'll never go back to PMO (porn+masturbation+orgasm). It's really impressive how quitting fixed me physically... I never thought I'd have the sensitivity of a teenager again but I do! It is amazing.

In addition to r/nofap I'd also check out the book Cupid's Poisoned Arrow . That's a dogmatic no-orgasms viewpoint, but I have found it surprisingly beneficial as well in my relationships as something to experiment with. If you're feeling disconnected in your relationship(s), it prescribes a long period of time with zero orgasms and some serious cuddling in order to reconnect. Works wonders. This isn't the question you asked, but I submit it as an FYI because it works well with nofap.

Leechblock or simple methods won't help you if you have a porn and masturbation addiction. Quitting is hard, it's like quitting cigarettes or alcohol. Just look at what a difficult time the people on reddit have at quitting. Like you, my porn addiction affected my work as well. It was bad news.

Once you quit porn, you can quit time-wasting websites. I haven't done that yet. Still on Metafilter for instance! But quitting porn was a major step in the right direction. I just wish someone would recommend another type of life improvement that is as awesome as nofap, because it gives you superpowers, and I would totally do that other type of life improvement whatever it was.
posted by htid at 6:01 PM on December 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

PS, I saw benefits of quitting porn after about 6 months, and prior to that I had been enjoying porn for 22 years. It takes longer than a few weeks to see benefits, but you can see benefits in a relatively short time compared with the length of time you've been addicted. There are a lot of interesting and disconcerting moments involved in quitting, like orgasms in your sleep and the feeling of "flatlining" like you have zero sexuality, until things improve. If I were you, I would go on r/nofap, sort the page by top posts of all time, and read a lot of them, to get other people's experiences and motivation.

I'm not going to say I regret porn entirely, because exposure to so many sex things let me better understand what I like. (I do regret the harm caused to people in the industry.) But, at a certain point if it's messing up your life, body, and actual relationships, it can be good to quit.
posted by htid at 6:20 PM on December 6, 2014

When I have a hard time concentrating on getting work done, I break it up into discrete parts (five papers to grade at a time, a chapter of a really dense text to read/edit, three math or programming exercises to complete, etc.) and then do something I enjoy, like read a chapter of a mystery novel I would rather be buried in or complete a household chore (because believe me, washing dishes is PREFERABLE to reading bad student papers any day). You could play a video game or spend time on a favorite (non-porn) website or whatever. (If you are out at a coffee shop while you do this, I'm guessing you won't be surfing porn.) Just make sure to limit the amount of time you spend on that activity (play just one game, read just one or two chapters of your novel, spend ten minutes on AskMeFi, or whatever). Before you know it, you're done.

I'm not a fan of porn, but I'm a little skeptical that there is such a thing as "porn addiction" and think it may have been invented by evangelicals who couldn't seem to rid themselves of the urge to look at nekkid people and wanted to pathologize it instead of acknowledging that they might just be responding to normal sexual impulses. However, as htid says above, if something is such a compulsion that it really is interfering with your life, whether it's porn or lolcats, you have to confront it.
posted by tully_monster at 8:45 PM on December 6, 2014

I made this same suggestion in another thread recently, but here goes... Lifehacker had a tip that you should think of your future self as a friend, and not yourself. It's easy to let down the you of on week from now, because that person hardly exists in your mind. But if you had to do something for a friend who was depending on you, you'd be a lot more likely to get it done.

Something I've tried with some success is to just jump on a task as soon as I think of it. Like, don't even give myself time to make an excuse or get distracted. I can't always do this, but when I do it I'm almost always glad.

Do you have things in your life that you enjoy, or that make you feel fulfilled? If everything feels like a chore, and you're just clicking your life away online looking for distractions, it sounds like you may be depressed or at least like you're not having much actual fun.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:25 PM on December 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Modify your hosts file to block the websites you want to stop visiting.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:09 PM on December 6, 2014

When I find myself in a place like this, It's usually because I'm chasing some feeling of being okay. Something has brought me low and I'm trying to swim back up to the surface of being okay. Sometimes I fixate on a single thing (porn isn't exactly my get down for things like this, but I've dabbled) and other times I cast about looking for that thing that will right my emotional ship. The anxiety, I think, blossoms out of the unsuccessful search.

Work is easier when you're enjoying it. It's doable when you're not but the rest of life is in order. It feels all but impossible when you're not enjoying anything. Maybe it isn't how you're doing the work. It's hard to engage in it earnestly when it's not getting you any emotional reward at all. Trying method upon method just to get to doing something you can't see the point of is just another kind of casting about.

This is hard place to get the right kind of advice for something like this, I think. But you're trying to find your way out. That's a good thing. You haven't quit yet. I quit in August and the entire month just floated away into a dark sea of laying in my bed watching the entire run of The Office (a show I never liked and had seen all of already.) Work was just something that got in the way of the numbing, but I did my best there too.

I hate when people make their Ask answer about themselves. But I'm making a sincere sales pitch here. If you want to talk to someone going through the same thing, you can memail me. I've gotten out of this before. I'm getting there this time. But it's slow going. I'll let you know what's worked for me and what hasn't. This offer is open to anyone else in the same boat.
posted by SinisterPurpose at 10:23 AM on December 7, 2014

Okay, you have checked to make sure that there is not some other treatable condition like ADHD that is playing a role?

You can always find new and exciting ways of getting around site blockers.

On the other hand, you're not going to visit a porn site if there are other people around. Consider joining a coworking space or, if your wife works from home too, move into a public space to work.

Most people find crowded spaces to be too distracting, so it's common wisdom that you should find a quiet isolated place to work. However, for some people this can actually be very ineffective for concentration. The environment is so boring that you seek out excitement rather than focusing on work. Being around other people who are working can exert positive peer pressure. Even at a minimum it will keep you away from porn sites.

I like listening to podcasts in the background while working. Sometimes slightly distracting but not nearly as distracting as total silence.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:16 AM on December 7, 2014

There is a method that a therapist recommended to a friend, but it can be kinda harsh: Overdo it. Make a concerted, deliberate effort to do it more than you want. Masturbate twice a day? Add a third. Every day. For three weeks. Spend 4 hours on the web? Add a fifth. Every day. For three weeks. I believe the idea is to do it till it hurts. You start noticing what it costs, what you could be doing instead, and you start associating pain and obligation with the activity, instead of escapism or pleasure. And three weeks is long enough to start building a pretty solid aversion.

Of course, going to talk therapy/CBT therapy and seriously examining what needs this is filling might be easier and gentler on your sanity, but for the record, it DID work on friend's TV addiction.

(This is obviously not recommended for stuff like binge drinking, cocaine, self harm, etc. Please use sense)
posted by Jacen at 2:33 PM on December 8, 2014

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