/ By Brandon McDonald

I can’t emphasize enough the role that habits have played in my recovery. I believe so much in the beneficial influence of habits that I now teach a seminar on habit change to the clients at Desert Solace.


One trap that I want to avoid here, however, is to oversimplify this idea. Habit change is not the key to recovery. It can’t be, and I will explain why in a moment. For years, while I was stuck in the depths of addiction, I believed that my addiction was merely a behavior that needed to be changed, that if I could just figure out how to change the bad habit of pornography addiction, I could obtain the freedom I wanted. 


I spent so much time reading every book I could find on habits and behavior change. I would get motivated for a few weeks (sometimes a few days or just a day) before my old behavior kicked in again. This turned into a vicious cycle that reinforced all of the negative beliefs I had about myself: that I was weak, a failure, not good enough, and that I’d never be able to live the life I really wanted for myself. Every time I tried to change my behavior and failed at it, I fell deeper and deeper until I resigned myself to the belief that I would die with my addiction. How depressing is that?!



Why Our Beliefs Are So Important to Changing Our Addictive Behaviors

Had I known what I know now, I would have been able to recognize that I was focusing on changing the wrong thing. Yeah, I wanted to get rid of my addictive behaviors, but trying to permanently shed the behaviors themselves without getting to the underlying cause is like ripping off the top of a weed without pulling out the root – it will always come back


This is where I get to tell you how to obtain lasting behavior change.  Every behavior is based on a belief that you hold about yourself. Humans don’t do anything for long if it isn’t in harmony with their beliefs about who they are.  Another way we refer to our beliefs about who we are is identity. If you’ve ever sat in an interview and tried to describe yourself to someone else, you basically gave them a description of your identity.   


If you have a moment, write down or say out loud how you would describe yourself to someone you just met. I’ll give you an example to illustrate:



I’m 41 years old, I am married and I have 4 kids that I adore. I retired from my career as a lawyer to run an addiction treatment center that helps men recover from pornography addictions. I’m not an athlete, but I try my best to stay fit and I enjoy working out. I hate social media and avoid it like the plague. I love watching movies with my family, going on dates with my wife, and learning about philosophy and spirituality. One day I’d love to write a book.


When you read that description, what are some behaviors that you think he would do consistently? Probably spending a lot of time with his wife and kids, going to the gym, watching movies, and reading. Now, here’s a trick question. Do you think he writes consistently? I don’t think he does and here’s why: he doesn’t identify with being a writer. He used the words “one day” to describe his aspirations to write a book. It wasn’t in the present, which tells me that he doesn’t currently believe he is a writer. So I don’t believe that he writes consistently enough for it to be a habit.



What are some behaviors that this guy probably doesn’t have a habit of doing?


My guess is that he doesn’t spend any time on TikTok or Facebook. Because he loves spending time with his wife and kids, I can’t imagine he’d be out at bars and clubs every night. He says he’s not athletic, so he probably doesn’t join in the weekly basketball games at the park.

So you see, we can get a pretty good idea of the behaviors that a person does consistently based on their identity – what they believe about themself. If a behavior doesn’t comport with their identity, they probably don’t do it much. If I believe I’m a healthy and fit person, I probably exercise consistently and eat healthy foods. If I don’t believe that I’m an athlete, then I probably don’t play sports that often.

Our Hidden Identities

Now, what about the hidden identities that we all have but we probably don’t tell the person interviewing us for a new job? I guarantee that at some point in your life you’ve probably said some of these things to yourself:



  • I’m not a smart person.
  • I’m terrible at math.
  • I’m a fraud.
  • I’m a failure.
  • I’m an impostor and I don’t belong here.
  • I’m not good enough.
  • I’m an addict and will always be an addict.
  • I’m not attractive.
  • Getting healthy is too hard.
  • I don’t deserve anything good to happen to me.


These are all beliefs that we pick up in life and they do nothing but hold us back from having what we want. If I’m a single person and I hold the belief that I’m unattractive, do you think I’m going to get into the dating scene? If I believe that I’m not good enough or that I’m a failure, do you think I’m going to apply for that dream job? Nope. Every one of these beliefs is a lie, and until we can see this, we won’t ever find the lasting peace, joy, love and fulfillment that this life can give.

Changing Our Identity Leads to Lasting Habits in Recovery

Now, let’s bring this all back to recovery, you saw the belief up there that says, “I’m an addict and will always be an addict.”? What behaviors do you think the person who holds that belief is going to engage in consistently? You guessed it –  addictive behaviors. What if that person is able to stop acting out in their addiction for a few weeks, or a month, or even several months, but they still hold the belief that they will always be an addict? I’d bet money that they will eventually go back to their addiction.



To permanently change the behavior we have to get to the underlying beliefs that drive the behavior.



What if, instead of believing that I’m an addict and will never change, I am able to make the following beliefs a part of my identity?:



“The person I believe I am, doesn’t look at pornography, doesn’t objectify other people, or use them for my own selfish gratification. The person I am loves other people and sees the humanity in everyone. I am always seeking a true connection to myself and my Higher Power and using others in that way is not in harmony with who I believe I am.”


Do you think the person with those beliefs watches pornography? I don’t think they do. This is why identity plays such a crucial role in behavior change. Without changing our identity, we will never adopt lasting habits.


To Be Continued...

I’ll go into more detail in future posts about why going to an inpatient treatment center for 90 days gave me a huge jumpstart in creating beneficial habits in my recovery (habits that I continue to rely on today after four years of recovery). I’ll also discuss more about how we go about changing (or completely discarding) the negative beliefs about ourselves that lead to addictive behaviors.


If you’re interested in learning more about habits, I’d start with two books that I think are awesome: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and Atomic Habits by James Clear. Both of those books are packed with great information on changing habits and a lot of what I talk about in this post is inspired by those works.


If you want to know more about how we can help you overcome your addiction, give us a call at Desert Solace or use the contact form below to get more information!

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