Cognitive Dissonance: Are You Rewarding Yourself For Disagreeing With Yourself?

In the moment, your lower brain thinks looking at porn is more important than anything else. But in your upper brain, you want to stop looking at porn. This creates cognitive dissonance, which is very uncomfortable. What do you do to solve this stressful feeling? Look at porn.

If you want to learn how to stop looking at porn, this is a pattern you need to become very aware of. It is one of several (if not many) layers of patterns happening in your brain that lead you to looking at porn and masturbating. These patterns are happening whether you are aware of them or not. If you can start noticing them consciously, then you claim your power over them.

With this awareness, you have the authority to change the patterns in your brain. In short:

  • Change requires power
  • The power already exists within you
  • Awareness of existing patterns helps you direct your power to change

So you have a disagreement in your brain about whether you are going to look at porn or not. And it’s uncomfortable. If this uncomfortable feeling is part of what drives you to porn, what are your options?

  1. Continue as you have been and see no change.
  2. Build your tolerance to sit with this uncomfortable feeling without rewarding with porn.
  3. Reduce the frequency and intensity of the uncomfortable feeling.


Continue as You Have Been

It is a bit obvious to say but I’m going to say it. Your compulsive use of pornography starts in your brain. If you change nothing in your brain, you will continue to use pornography. If you change nothing, nothing will change.

You will continue to freak out whenever you have an urge to look at porn and feel like you are victim to this “power” that comes over you every so often. You will think there is nothing you can do about it. You will believe that it’s just because you are a guy. You will beat yourself down for not being able to control yourself. You will feel like there is no hope to really stop looking at porn. You will see these things as the “truth.”

This is why willpower alone is not enough. There are other things going on in your brain that need to be addressed to find lasting change.

Note About Judging Yourself

Many of us judge ourselves for even partly wanting porn in the moment and make it mean terrible things about ourselves. AS LONG AS YOU JUDGE YOURSELF FOR WHAT’S GOING ON IN YOUR BRAIN, YOU CANNOT CHANGE IT.

Start practicing the skill of observing the current state of your brain with curiosity and fascination and WITHOUT judging. Otherwise, you will remain stuck with whatever thought patterns you are judging yourself for having.

This is ironic because I think the reason we judge ourselves in the first place is to try to help us change for the better. But judging actually does the opposite of the intended affect.

Build Your Tolerance to Sit With the Cognitive Dissonance

This will be flexing new muscles for a lot of you. Treat it like you are bench pressing for the first time. Start where you are. Push what weight you can. Find your edge: that point in between where you are both pushing yourself and not injuring yourself.

A lot of us want to stop porn cold turkey, but it is usually more of a process. Be okay with mistakes along the way but always keep finding your edge. Maybe it’s okay if it is slow or hard. This is a very individual thing.

What if it’s okay to feel negative feelings sometimes, even half the time. Do we feel entitled to feel positive feelings all the time? Would you we really want that if it was an option?


Use meditation with the uncomfortable feeling of cognitive dissonance.

All meditation really is, is sitting with whatever feelings you are having in that moment and focusing on your breathing. It’s not only sitting with your feelings but also sitting with everything about you and your perceived experience in that present moment. It increases your consciousness and awareness and therefore increases your power in that moment.

You allow it to be. You stop resisting/avoiding/reacting. You accept.

There are apps to teach you how to meditate. I subscribe to the app, Headspace. There is also one called Calm that I’ve heard is good. Find a good paid or free resource to help you learn how to meditate if you want to take things to the next level.

Reduce the Frequency and Intensity of the Cognitive Dissonance

This comes from part of your brain (lower) wanting porn and part of your brain (upper) not wanting it. To reduce this disagreement, one of them has to stop pushing so hard for what it wants. One of them has to give.

Surrender With Your Upper Brain?

You can give up on wanting to stop look at porn and just do it as much as you want. Just have your upper brain join in with your lower brain and eliminate the cognitive dissonance altogether. This really is an option. You get to decide.

But, I have a feeling, if you are here reading this, that is not what you ultimately want. Or is it? This is an important question to be very decided on before going any further.

Allow the Urge Without Rewarding With Porn

If each time you have cognitive dissonance you reward that pattern with porn (huge amounts of dopamine), you create incentive for your brain to create even more cognitive dissonance in the future.

Isn’t that crazy! On the one hand, you are rewarding the part of your brain that wants porn so that you want even more porn next time On the other hand, you are rewarding that pattern of having a big fight between your upper brain and lower brain about whether or not to look at porn. Because your brain knows: when it creates that dissonance it is more likely to get rewarded with dopamine from porn.

But if you regularly sit with that dissonance without rewarding it with porn, that dissonance will decrease in intensity and frequency over time until, eventually, it isn’t even a question whether you will look at porn or not. Then, your upper brain and lower brain will be on the same page more often and more of the time. You will have trained your lower brain to get on board with your upper brain.

If you allow the urge without rewarding with porn, you are also showing your lower brain that just because it makes a big deal about wanting porn, you are not going to reward it. So your urges (urgent desires) for porn will also decrease in frequency and intensity.

It Goes Beyond That

I sometimes sabotage my own sleep. In the past, not sleeping “well” or “enough” has been a big trigger for me with pornography.

This week I noticed that I was sabotaging my sleep. And I asked myself if there are patterns that exist in my brain to create conditions where I might be more likely to reward my brain with tons of dopamine from porn. This rang true for me.

I truly believe that I have a “sleep sabotage” pattern that is related to my brain trying to set the stage for me to give it porn. It’s just like 3 or 4 steps ahead of those patterns that directly lead me to look at porn.

What other patterns do we have that might be setting the stage for porn use?  Sleep sabotage? Not taking care of ourselves in some other way? Letting ourselves feel overwhelmed? Confusion? Shame? Feeling unworthy?

If you let existing patterns occur in your brain, observing curiously without judging, and removing the reward for them (dopamine/porn), you will direct your already-existing-power toward lasting change.

You will let those old patterns die and create new patterns. You will be like a snake shedding it’s old skin. This work is so much more than stopping looking at porn. It is the work of your life.

What other parts of your life can change for the better through this process? What amazing results will you be able to create with these changes? I guarantee you it is more than you can possibly imagine in this moment.

Learn how to change your thinking and check out my How to Stop Looking at Porn Program by scheduling a free mini-session with me. What are you waiting for? Click here to find out more about a mini-session.

For a free jumpstart on learning the skill of not looking at porn check out my guide:  “How to Stop Looking at Porn.”

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