Motivational Triad: Your Brain is Designed to be Tricked by Porn

PODCAST VERSION AVAILABLE HERE

Written Version

Through evolution, any traits that help a human to survive and reproduce get passed down. One of those traits: the Motivational Triad.

The motivational triad is a useful way to describe what drives your lower brain. It’s a triad because there are 3 things that your lower brain wants you to go after in an effort to survive and reproduce.

The 3 parts of the motivational triad:

  1. Avoid pain
  2. Seek pleasure
  3. Expend as little energy as possible

In my experience, if under distress (or a perceived threat) this part of your lower brain can kick into high gear. And you can see how this triad creates the perfect storm for pornography use, and addiction.

Why does the Motivational Triad work?

Because when natural pleasures are involved (ie, food, warmth, sex, accomplishment, connectedness), it can help get us where we need to be to survive.

Why doesn’t it work?

Because when false pleasures are involved (ie, porn, cocaine, heroine, alcohol, sugar, shopping, flour), they trick the pleasure part of our brains. It is unnatural and concentrated pleasure that gives a lot of dopamine (pleasure neurotransmitter) without really doing anything useful to our survival.

In fact, false pleasures do the opposite of help us survive. Think of all the people who literally eat themselves into obesity, health problems, and even death. Think of where pornography would take you if you just gave into as much as possible, without caution, completely unsupervised.

The other problem is, our brain doesn’t always know the difference between real life or death threats and actual life-threatening situations.

Example: Getting isolated from the group used to mean imminent death. Nowadays, you can survive alone much more easily. But this is why being left out, or not getting invited to the party, or being publicly humiliated can literally feel life-threatening to us. People pleasing, or porn, then feel like something necessary to our survival. They are not.

Other examples of situations that can feel like life or death in our minds but actually are not: being fired, not getting that job offer, boss is mad at you, rejection letter from a University, wife is mad at you, you let somebody down, you made a mistake.

Why Do You Need to Know This?

Because understanding that this is a built in process can help you realize that there is nothing wrong with you for wanting porn.

Now you can practice increasing your awareness of when your lower brain’s motivational triad is trying to run the show. The sooner you pick up on this, the sooner you can make choices in line with what you really want.

Having powerful urges (to view porn) that feel urgent and like your life depends on it happens because your brain is working perfectly, by design.

You have learned to over desire porn. And you can unlearn it.

You Are Not an Enemy to God

In the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin says “the natural man is an enemy to God.” This is strong language and I get the point of it. I think the idea is that the natural man part of us often goes against God’s commandments, or strategies that he recommends. I think the lower part of our brains and the motivational triad may have something to do with this “natural man” part of us. But we are also created “in God’s image” and God gave us these bodies for a reason.

Are we enemies to God because of the natural man parts of us that he gave us? Do you see the faulty logic there? What if the natural man is a learning tool that God gave us? What if learning to manage our natural man, and struggling and making mistakes along the way, is what a loving father in heaven wants for us.

When Christ approached the woman in adultery did he join in with the pharacees and saducees judging her? Did he say “you are an enemy to God”? No. He said “go and sin no more.”

I can imagine Jesus saying further to her: You are meant to struggle. Making mistakes is part of the human experience on earth. I needed human bodies to have built in survival mechanisms because this wouldn’t have worked if everybody died off (we may not have made it past Adam and Eve!). Learning to manage those parts of your brain is part of what I want you to do here. You have an opportunity to learn from this. I love you more than you can know. Learn to love yourself. Don’t let this drag you down. I know you are not my enemy. You are my friend, my brother, my sister. Now move forward and pass this lesson along to others when you are able.

Do we act like pharacees and saducees toward ourselves? Does it help?

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that if we chose to come to earth that we were in support of God’s plan for us. Doesn’t that mean that any of us who are on earth are a friend to God?

Don’t mistake me here. Each of us is completely responsible for all of our choices, especially as adults. This is not a way to write off all of our mistakes. It is a way to accept that God-given part of us as part of the process. Only when we accept what is there, are we then empowered to go and make lasting changes.

Survive or Thrive?

If we were to remove all false pleasures, the lower brain would do a great job at helping us to survive. But is that really all you want your life to be about? Surviving? What if you could not only survive, but also thrive.

How Do We Do This? (From a brain perspective)

Get your upper brain involved.

In the following quote, cerebral cortex = upper brain, limbic system = part of lower brain

“Imagine the brain as a horse and rider. The horse is the limbic system, while the thinking part of the brain, the cerebral cortex, is the rider. The rider can learn to direct the horse, but sometimes this may be difficult if the rider is inexperienced and the horse is not well broken in. Our cortex, then, is a controlling bridle riding on the wild animal of the limbic system. In this metaphor, addiction is the limbic system running uncontrolled, with no bridle or restraint.”  -Donald Hilton, Jr.

You Need to Know

Your upper brain, hands down, is more powerful than your lower brain. You can learn to put it in charge.

Your lower brain cannot do anything without the consent of your upper brain.


To get going learning the skill of not looking at porn check out my free guide “How to Stop Looking at Porn.”

If you want to stop looking at porn and need help learning how, check out my 12 week How to Stop Looking at Porn Program by scheduling a free mini-session with me. Click here.

1 thought on “Motivational Triad: Your Brain is Designed to be Tricked by Porn

  1. Science and our Savior–together. I love this post. It helps me understand our part better–our works, that go along with our faith. Understanding the body and brain we were blessed with is an incredibly important part of what we are here on earth to learn. Thank you for this post.

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