Get ready to quit smoking - Prepare your mind to stop smoking for good!
I love helping people get to the point where they feel more natural not smoking because I know what it was like to smoke - I have sat across from so many who felt themselves totally enslaved to smoking and together we have, bit by bit, loosened the chains to the point where walking away became easy. I am passionate about this now because when it comes down to it, it is about potentially saving a life.
Now I love helping smokers quit
Over time I learned to love helping smokers and found that I could often ease them away from smoking with no or few withdrawal effects by helping them see smoking in a totally different way, rather than just giving them a few hypnotic experiences. I don’t just mean they thought about it differently but also felt differently about it before they stopped and that was the key to helping people escape nicotine comfortably.
What the difference is when you stop smoking properly
I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience of finding someone charming and attractive, then finding out something unsavory about them? You just can’t see them in the same way ever again. And this can happen with cigarettes. The government tries this with its warnings and images, but that backfires, for reasons I already discussed.
The “Whatever did I see in you?” effect
But then cigarettes truly no longer have the same pull for you, you don’t have to resist them any more. I call this the “What did I ever see in you?” effect. And when that happens to you, really happen, it’s quite amazing. These days when I help smokers quit smoking it’s a joy. Finding ways to take the pressure off them, to help them feel differently about smoking and find healthy non-toxic ways to meet the needs the cigarettes met before is so much more effective – and interesting. The vital change in my understanding is that when you stop smoking you are not just stopping a behavior, you are ending a relationship. This makes all the difference, for me and my clients.
I can’t stand to see people bullied
I think the real reason I love helping smokers break their habit is because I have a strong dislike of bullies. And in my mind, getting people hooked on a product that is so bad for them is bullying of the worst kind. The very worst kind of bully is one who convinces you that you are not being bullied so you forget to resist them. You see there is always a part of a person that wants to quit, their lungs, their skin, even their ovaries or prostate. These are the silent victims, the parts that need representation. To me helping people naturally come to the point where quitting feels inevitable is about restoring justice in the province of the human body. But as you’ll see in a moment I never lecture smokers about the “dangers of smoking.”
I’m indifferent but not anti-smoking |
I’m not going to be one of those judgmental, boorish and boring self righteous anti-smokers. You know the kind of person who thinks they are superior because they don’t smoke. There is nothing worse. And when you quit I don’t want you to be a brow beating anti-smoker either. Why? Because hate is too close to love. When you hate smoking you’re still too emotionally connected to it. This isn’t about the ‘evils of smoking’, it’s about whether you are ready to leave behind something that no longer fits with who you are.
For the love of life
So let’s talk about love and smoking. You must love smoking, don’t you? Or maybe you once did and now you’re not so sure. Maybe you love it too much to free yourself from it. People love, or think they love, all kinds of people, substances or ideas that undermine them. Or maybe you hate smoking now but feel yourself to be caught in the ‘honey trap’ of addiction. This is something we’ll look at in your next email. So why do I suggest you should love smoking? Just before you discover why I think you should really love smoking (given certain caveats), I’m going to ask you to suspend judgement for a moment and to think about the habit of smoking not as a habit but as a “deal.” Okay so just what is this deal?
Your deal with smoking
For the pleasure of smoking you get…well the pleasure. But maybe you don’t feel much pleasure but, rather, get other seeming benefits. For instance you may have learned at some level, that smoking helped you form a certain identity - perhaps it made you feel a bit cooler, to fit in or whatever. It’s unlikely this still feels like a benefit but its effects can still be there at an unconscious level. Or more likely perhaps you’ve come to feel, like millions of others, that smoking helps you relax or socialize because you can connect to other smokers, or because smoking gives you something to do with your hands. Maybe smoking feels comfortably familiar. Perhaps smoking feels like a friend - who is always there for you in the good times and bad. Maybe you now smoke just to feel “normal”. And, as I say, perhaps you simply like smoking and enjoy the taste and the quiet moments those cigarette breaks give you. Then again maybe you feel that mini smoking breaks punctuate the day somehow. You smoke before and after jobs you have to do or it helps you relax after work just making life a little easier to manage. These smoking benefits are by no means unimportant. And they do really feel like benefits. So these are some of the things you might get from the ‘deal’ with these strange creatures known as cigarettes.
So what do they get in return?
For giving you pleasure, a sense of identity, something to lean on when times are tough, the feeling of being able to relax or concentrate, cigarettes get your money and time, some if not all of your fertility, the brightness of your eyes, the youthfulness of your skin, your sexual and general fitness and for one out of every two frequent long term smokers, your life. Now, remember I’m not here to scare you – you know all this stuff already – I’m just asking you to assess the deal you’ve struck. Does that sound like an equal and fair deal to you?
Liking smoking is not enough
My point here is that if you do continue to smoke you shouldn’t just “quite enjoy” smoking you should love it like nothing else in life. Then we start to square up the deal. Seriously, if you really love smoking to the extent that it feels like the most meaningful thing in your life then maybe the ‘deal’ is worth it. If that is the way it is I for one will not try to talk you out of it. And maybe it is worth it. But when I say “love” I really mean it. Considering what cigarettes take from you then you need to take such a level of ecstatic joy from every smoke that it actually feels worth the sacrifice. I find it a tragedy when people say they just “enjoy” smoking because as I’m sure you can see now, that’s really not enough. You know for them the deal is a fraud. Imagining buying a new pair of shoes and quite liking them, finding them quite comfortable but as well as paying for them you also have to give up the proper functioning of your heart, lungs and possibly just hand over your life. I don’t know about you but I’m going elsewhere for comfortable footwear! To justify handing over all that to cigarettes (or let’s be clear here - the tobacco companies), you should love smoking more than anything. And maybe some things are worth dying for. If nothing else compares to smoking for you, and you really feel it’s worth paying for the pleasure in this way then stop reading this right now, I don’t want to rob you of your life’s meaning. Right now you might be thinking: “Of course I don’t love them above all else! I’m physically addicted! I don’t even like smoking any more!” If so that’s promising.
Your body hates nicotine
The truth is nicotine is gone from the body pretty fast - it really doesn’t stick around for long. Your blood pressure and pulse rate return to their normal levels a mere 20 minutes after your last cigarette. After just 12 hours your blood oxygen levels will have got back up to normal and toxic carbon monoxide levels will have fallen to within normal range. After 48 hours damaged nerve endings are starting to repair and sense of taste and smell begin to return. And after only 72 hours your body will test completely, that’s 100%, free of nicotine. Any physically-based craving will have peaked after this time also. Despite the abuse it suffers from smoking, the body fights back and recovers many of its losses pretty quickly - as long as it’s given a chance to do this before cell damage becomes too chaotic and uncontrolled. And here comes the astonishing truth about smoking addiction…
Chain smokers who stop with few withdrawal symptoms
Of the 100+ smokers I’ve helped over the last couple of years, some of them have smoked 30, 40 or even 60 a day for decades. When they stop many of them feel slight or no symptoms of withdrawal. If smoking were just a physical addiction - or even if the physical addiction side of it was all important then you wouldn’t find such people quitting so comfortably. But what is highly important in maintaining a smoking habit and also in the experience you have after quitting is your psychological expectation. I’m going to talk about something I’m sure you have experienced.
How unpleasant unmet expectation can be
You’ve had this experience: You’re chatting to a friend and you expect to remember some famous person’s name but when you ‘reach for it’ it’s just not there. It’s on the tip of your tongue and it feels frustrating because your expectation is being thwarted. And when their name finally pops into your head it feels like a relief! So if you can feel that frustrated just because you can’t remember Britney Spears’ name, then how powerful would a major long-held expectation be? The truth is that what you expect affects your body just as strongly as your mind.
You know your brain is powerful right?
But this powerful? You’ve probably heard of the placebo response, but did you have any idea just how powerful it is? (bear with me, all will become clear shortly!) The placebo response happens when we believe an inert sugar pill is, say, a powerful pain killer. The expectation of pain relief causes an actual reduction in pain. The placebo is real and has helped people recover from serious illness because they believed they had been given a “wonder drug” when they hadn’t. And it works the other way round too. ‘Nocebo’ is the term given when negative expectation produces a negative result. So people who wrongly believed they were sicker than they really were have died because they had been wrongly diagnosed and expected to die. Witch doctors would rely on this. So you know now why I’ve been talking about expectation. If it can make the difference between life and death then it can make all the difference in your experience of stopping smoking.
When you quit, you heal, you don’t ‘withdraw’
One of the lessons I learned from taking a long hard look at how I approached helping people quit smoking was how people feel about the time after quitting. I found that when the smoker started framing the time after they quit as healing rather than withdrawal they had much fewer so called withdrawal symptoms. Expectation produce powerful physical responses and when you really expect something it feels right that you are going to get it. People who expect to get drunk will feel and behave drunk when given fake alcohol by researchers. So if we can remove a large amount of expectation that nicotine withdrawal is going to be terrible then all a person has to deal with is the physical element of letting their body heal. This is why we use hypnosis - because it is much better at helping you change your expectations than will power is. If someone is led to believe that withdrawal from smoking has to be awful then that belief and expectation may produce a large part of what they experience. But what role does expectation play in keeping people smoking?
How expectation keeps you smoking
Imagine you had a crazy finger clicking habit. You click your fingers one thousand times every day. You don’t click all the time though. You click during breaks at work. You click your fingers with a cup of coffee and an alcoholic drink after work when socializing or perhaps irritatingly for your partner, after your most intimate bedroom moments. Now imagine you’ve clicked your fingers like this for thirty years. Just about every cup of coffee for thirty years has been consumed in conjunction to you clicking. The thought of having a coffee or drink or break at work without clicking your fingers clicking would feel weird! You might wonder what you would do with your hands at social gatherings if you couldn’t click your fingers. You have trained your brain and body to expect to finger click just as my mother trained me to expect chocolate though hearing a key in the door. I’m sure you’re getting the message… the connection between smoking and having a coffee is no more natural than clicking your fingers and having a coffee. But when we do something – anything - often enough, we come to expect is as natural. This is how any learning takes place. Of course nicotine contains thousands of toxic chemicals and finger clicking doesn’t but as I’ve said these toxins are cleared as your body heals when you quit in three days! So psychological expectation is still central to feeling addicted to smoking (or obsessive prolonged finger clicking) Okay so back to our finger clicking analogy: When it comes time to quit the finger clicking habit you might come to believe you are physically addicted whereas what you have is a set of powerful psychological associations between finger clicking and certain situations. What’s more we know this is true of smoking.
“I don’t even think about it… until”
Even the heaviest chain-smokers report times when they don’t even think about smoking. It might be during a long distance flight, a situation in which they have never smoked and therefore the psychological association has never been built. Most people have never smoked when swimming or in the movie theatre and so the desire only reasserts itself when they come out of these places. The desire is linked to the situation, not physical cravings (although this is not to say physical cravings play no part at all). Which leads us back to you: Are you too physically dependent to even think about freeing yourself from smoking? Or have their ever been times like long haul flights, visits to non-smoking friends or to the movies where you hadn’t really thought about smoking? Do you ever sleep for more than two hours without your body waking you up demanding to be fed cigarettes? Did you ever forget about smoking for longer than normal because you had become so engrossed in some emergency or other diversion? If the answer is yes to any of the above then you certainly are not too physically addicted to think about quitting for good.
Watch out for willpower’s dreaded ping back
If you have a rubber band to hand, grab it and stretch it. If you don’t, then imagination will do nicely. When you stretch the band, everything in it want to return to its original shape. It’s what rubber bands do. And what I have noticed over the years is that it's the same with human beings…
A concerned mother forces her teenage girl stop seeing her compellingly edgy boyfriend and she'll want him even more.
Go on a low carb diet and suddenly cakes and donuts are everywhere!
Try not to be angry with someone and within hours you’re carrying on a full blown argument with them in your head!
Deny yourself the 'treat' of a cigarette then watch that desire build. And I’ve lost count of the number of smokers who, years after quitting, still say “Oh I’d love a cigarette with a beer”. People who stop smoking properly never say that. Now I’ll repeat - sheer force of will can and does work for some people, but it’s exhausting and often doesn’t last. Trying not to smoke has you still focusing on…the smoking.
What if smoking felt stranger to you than purple pants on backwards
Have you ever noticed that the tasks you get done most efficiently are those which feel right to do? Not the tasks you know you should do that never seem to get done. Not the books you know you should read, that are still gathering dust on the mantelpiece. The things that almost pull you towards them, that get done hardly without you thinking about it. That’s how I want stopping smoking to be for you. I want you to stop because it starts to feel more right not to smoke than to smoke. Because when cigarettes feel so alien to you, so irrelevant then you don’t need to exercise any will power at all. Or put another way: Think of all the stuff you don’t have to force yourself not to do: I’m guessing here but I doubt you have to force yourself not to walk down the street dressed as Tinkerbell the fairy … or run naked through the shopping mall... … or steal cars for a living. You don’t even think about that stuff because it’s just not who you are. You don’t have to spend even an ounce of willpower stopping yourself doing these things. Smoking can feel that way to you too.
A little more on growing out of smoking…
Remember when you were a kid and you were still growing? One sure way of knowing your feet were getting bigger was when your shoes started to pinch your feet. You had outgrown them and you stopped wearing those shoes, not through sheer will power but because they had started squeezing the life out of your poor feet. You didn’t have to set a date and say “right, from Monday the 18th of January I am stopping wearing those darned shoes!” You stopped wearing them because it felt much more right and natural not to wear them now. Smoking squeezes too. Not at first, but eventually. It squeezes years out of your precious life, it squeezes energy from your limbs, it squeezes youth from your face and blood flow from your organs. It squeezes money from your bank. It squeezes a hell of a lot more than any tight fitting shoe. When you quit it should be because it feels more right to be free than it does to continue being squeezed.
As I’ve said, only quit when it feels right
Wait until it feels right. Will power can help bridge gaps here and there but it shouldn’t be the main force you use for outwitting smoking.
Is it really the right time for you to quit?
Quit when you reach the tipping point either when cigarettes have done irreversible damage to your body or is it time to quit when in your mind you feel totally ready to be free because it feels more natural to be free of smoking (which it is of course) than continue with the relationship.
It’s also vital to know what you genuinely need, so that smoking doesn’t hitchhike a lift pretending to be a viable way of say combating loneliness or soothing frazzled nerves. So what do you need to live a satisfying life?
Terry the smoker, who’s real problem wasn’t smoking
Years ago a man called Terry came to see me to help him quit smoking tobacco. But when he arrived it became clear he didn’t want to talk about smoking at all. He wept as he told me about his failing marriage, his stresses at work, the fact that he never had time to eat properly, his terrible sleep, his anxieties and more besides. I gently suggested that we wait until his life became more stable before ejecting the smoking from it. The truth is if your boat is so unstable that you can’t stand up on the deck then you will problems balancing well enough to throw the ticking time bomb into the water to save yourself from it. We had to get Terry “balanced on his feet” before he could stop smoking. This we managed to do surprisingly quickly. Most people don’t lead perfect lives all the time. We all have stresses day to day. We all get frustrated, bored (which is another kind of stress) or other people can irritate us. The art of living well isn’t about eradicating all stresses from life (I wish) but in coming to the point where you deal with life’s stresses in ways which are healthy and don’t create further stresses.
In short we all need:
a need for a sense of safety and security
a need for connection to community
a need for emotional intimacy with another person
a need for creativity and stimulation
a need for a sense of connection to something bigger than oneself
a need for purpose and goals
a need to feel good about oneself, self esteem
a need to feel creative, stretched and stimulated by life.
When these needs are met life feels meaningful. When they stop being met or we fear they will shortly stop being met then we become more vulnerable to feeling overwhelmed by life.
Let’s quickly summarize how far we’ve come…
The smoking deal: we’ve seen how smoking is a sort of ‘deal’ and discussed how much you need to love smoking to make that deal a fair one. Otherwise smoking is just taking you for a fool. Expectation, not addiction: we saw how the physical addiction idea is overplayed and how millions of people stop smoking painlessly when their psychological expectations change. Just keep clicking those fingers! Avoid the ping back: we looked at the ‘rubber band effect’ and how willpower alone - a conscious effort - isn’t as powerful as an unconscious feeling that you have “outgrown” smoking. When you feel it’s the right time. Steady as she goes: in session four we looked at how your life needs some balance before you have the spare capacity to escape smoking. And also how smoking tricks people into thinking it’s a kind of “friend” even as it thieves or sometimes murders them.
But no one has a perfect life…
Few people have all these needs perfectly met all the time and that’s okay but by being aware that you have these needs you become freer and less vulnerable to fake solutions like smoking and other habits. So if you are chronically stressed by your life at the moment, chronically lonely or unsatisfied then it might not be quite the right time to disentangle yourself from smoking. Smoking, like cults, con artists or abusers, preys on the vulnerable. But I want to emphasize that you should never wait for life to be perfect - then you could wait forever (or however long the cigarettes decide you have left). Make sure you are at least “steady on your feet” before you fling the smoking parasite from yourself.
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