Planning on Stopping Smoking or Other Not So Good Habits? Here are Some Useful Suggestions
[Note: Make sure to check out the New Year's special offer on counseling at the end.]
It’s that time of the year when, for some strange reason, human beings go through a curious ritual of making resolutions to change those things that didn’t work out during the just concluded year. The problem is that they might have all sorts of good intentions when they make those resolutions, but they lack most of the internal tools to keep the resolve up long enough to have any success. It’s one thing to acknowledge that a behavior has not been working for our best behalf and it’s another thing to let go of that behavior and all the short term goodies, sometimes referred to as secondary gains, that were derived from that behavior. It’s the biggest thing of all to actually make the changes.
For most folks, this won’t be the first time that they made these same resolutions. After many attempts that ended in failure there is a part of their inner mind that is as negatively powerful as the undesirable behavior. That part has a voice that says, “So what is going to be different this time? It doesn’t matter what you do, it’s just going to end in disaster as usual.” Variations of this mantra will show up in one’s internal conversations. Sometimes it will manifest itself nonverbally as defeatist behaviors such as procrastination or flat out giving up. One way or another, unless this part becomes convinced that the desired change is winnable, it will sabotage all efforts.
What follows are some concrete suggestions for how to use your mind to successfully assist you to once and for all win the resolution game. Although I am talking about stopping the use of tobacco products, the suggestions are equally applicable to any habit you might want to change.
One of the most resolutioned behaviors is the use of tobacco products. These days with fewer people smoking, a more health-conscious population whose tolerance for second-hand smoke is at an all time low, and smoking banned from all public places and public transportation, the external pressure is on to stop. External pressures, on their own, are not usually enough to get one to resolve to stop. But all that pressure on top of becoming aware of the deteriorating condition of their lungs, as evidenced by smoker’s coughs and frequent colds, makes it hard to ignore that nagging feeling that maybe the jig is up and that they had better quit now before it is too late.
Tobacco is the perfect drug. Its ingredients are both a stimulant, nicotine, and a calmative agent, acetaldehyde (the first metabolite of alcohol and the probable cause of hangovers). It is a literal smoke screen and it gives one something to do with hands. What more could you want? Well, maybe, the ability to breathe fully and live long. The problem is that those are long term goals and they are usually trumped by short-term gains because the emotional costs of giving up those short term gains are too painful to withstand. Until the cost of the short-term gains become too high or are satisfied by other means, smoking will remain as an entrenched habit.
If you are one of those who is resolved to be successful this time, here are a couple of my most useful tips:
A lot of folks use nicotine replacement aids, like the patch, to make the process easier. They work. The main reason they work has less to do with withdrawing from the nicotine — the body will be detoxed after a couple of weeks of abstinence — than giving the inner mind three months to get used to functioning without the physical act of smoking.
If you are going to be using patches or some other type of nicotine replacement source like nicotine gum, you should know the physical addiction to nicotine would be over in a matter of weeks if one was to just quit cold-turkey. The main reason why the course of treatment with patches lasts for three months is two-fold. The first is that reducing the amount of nicotine in the system in increments gradually makes it less of a jolt to the system than cold-turkey. A sudden jolt could produce sufficient anxiety to trigger the urge to resume smoking. Furthermore, an even more important reason why the patches are used for three months has to do with the other part of smoking, the secondary gains or payoffs. There will be a three month break from the physical habit of smoking during which time the person will have the opportunity to develop new behaviors that will more responsibly satisfy those needs. A third and most important reason has to do with how the inner, or sub-conscious, mind works.
The inner mind will automatically carry out whatever programs it thinks are normal and natural. After smoking for an extended period of time, the inner mind thinks that smoking is the normal program and will do everything it can to carry that program out. The longer one stays away from the physical act of smoking the better the chance of the inner mind understanding that just breathing air is the new normal program. Once it gets that that is the new program, the urge to smoke will be gone.
It is very important to understand the concept that the longer the time away from the physical act of smoking, the more solid will be the inner mind’s adoption of the new behavior. Many people will have a cigarette every once in awhile during the three months of the nicotine patch program. Every time they do that, they are effectively starting from scratch in the campaign to get the inner mind to adopt the new behavior. In coaching folks who are using nicotine substitutes to stop smoking, I have found that the success rate is way lower for those who occasionally smoked during the three months than for those who stayed cigarette free.
Regardless of what method one uses to stop smoking, those who daily visualize about their new tobacco-free lives have the most success. The easiest way to do this type of visualization is to make yourself comfortable in an environment where you will not be disturbed. Take some nice, deep breaths letting them out slowly. As you take the breaths in, notice the parts of your body that are a bit tense and tighten the muscles in those areas even more. Then, as you let the breaths out, let those muscles relax. Doing that regularly will teach the inner mind to associate slow, deep breaths with body relaxation. If you have problems with this exercise please use my free MP3 download that you will have the opportunity to download when you sign up for my hardly ever published newsletter. You can do so by clicking here.
Once you are in a relaxed state, you can then run a little mental movie in which you visualize how you are now living a smoke-free life. For each scenario where you used to use tobacco products, picture and imagine yourself easily, confidently, and happily doing that activity tobacco-free and notice how great it feels to be able to breathe freely again. Notice how much money you are now able to save or whatever are the reasons why you decided to become tobacco-free. The important ingredient of this visualization is that it needs to be done in the present tense, i.e.: “I am having……” rather than, “I will have…..” The inner mind does not distinguish past from future and only operates in the now so, even though it seems like a strange construction, say, “The next time I am in a social situation, I am totally at ease…” It works the best.
The other oddity of the how the inner mind operates is that it drops out of the sentence any negative modifiers, such as “not.” If you were to visualize “I am in this social situation where in the past I would have always smoked and now I am not smoking…” the inner mind will drop the word “not” out of that sentence and will hear it as “and now I am smoking.” Since English is usually spoken in negatives and double negatives, i.e.: “He is not unkind,” it really takes practice to be able to do a visualization totally using positive descriptors.
As a hypnotherapist, I have always known that what you imagine gets realized. As far back as the Old Testament, Job says, “What I imagined is upon me!” There is a famous study of basketball players practicing free throws where one group physically practiced doing free throws for a period of time while another group did not do anything physically — instead, only repeatedly visualized making perfect free throws. The group what did the visualization had the most improvement! This works, and if you regularly regarding visualize a life beyond tobacco, you will greatly up the chances of success.
Until the inner mind understands that smoking and the use of tobacco products is a thing of the past, thoughts will regularly occur that call for and urge you to indulge. Since it is impossible to block anything from one’s mind, the easiest way to deal with these thoughts is to acknowledge that they are there and thank that part of you that keeps bringing it up for sharing. Then remember what you were doing before the thought and go back to doing it. For persistent urges, when that voice won’t shut up, I suggest using the following NLP technique:
Since most people compartmentalize their mind when they describe what’s going on inside by giving each part a voice as in, “There’s a part of me that won’t…..” I find it useful to use that self-description as a way of explaining how the process of changing out of the smoking habit works.
As strange as this seems, there is no part of you that is trying to do you in. All parts of you have good intention, even that part that keeps you using tobacco products. They are simply attempting to satisfy your needs. The problem comes with the behaviors that some of those parts adapt to satisfy those needs. This is a very important distinction because it takes the fight, that internal, infernal battle, out of the recovery equation. Once we have acknowledged that the part keeps us using has only the best intention for us, we can start an internal conversation where we can thank that part for its concern and intention, and then suggest that it might help us explore other ways of satisfying those intentions — the ones that also allow the other parts whose intentions are to keep the body healthy, wealthy and well — to be able to support the new behavior.
The way the internal dialog or conversation would go is something like this: “Thank you very much for your wanting the best for me. Right now I am working on other ways of satisfying those needs you are so concerned about. So, for the time being, I would love your support in my explorations for more effective and healthier ways of caring out your good intentions. I welcome your feedback as we try out these new ways. I only ask you to give these new ways a good trial run before judging their effectiveness. I am told that six months would be a fair trial period. I know that since you have my best interests in mind that you will be totally on board to explore even better ways of getting your intentions met then that of smoking. Thank you…Now where was I?” That last question will bring you back to what you were doing before the thought of having a smoke or chew entered your mind. This conversation is an important one to have both before starting a tobacco-free lifestyle and regularly during the initial stages of the withdrawal process. Another way of saying that is “what you resist persists.” The best way to stop negative thoughts is to acknowledge them and then get back to the new thinking. That is what that internal conversation accomplishes.
This all might sound silly at first until we realize that we regularly talk to ourselves. Unfortunately, most of that talk is negative, especially when it comes to ceasing bad habits. There are a lot of positive payoffs or benefits that are derived from bad habits so the part that controls that habit will fiercely fight for the habit to continue until it understands that the habit is no longer needed to provide the benefits.
In the case of smoking, there are a lot of payoffs or benefits – nicotine is a stimulant; the second most active ingredient, acetaldehyde, is a calming agent; the smoke, itself provides a literal “smoke screen to ease social discomfort; and the physical act of smoking, the moving of the cigarette to the mouth and back down again and again, gives the hands something to do when doing nothing with the hands is socially uncomfortable.
This process of acknowledging the intention of the controlling part of the mind, and enlisting its cooperation in exploring new methods and behaviors to still achieve the payoffs that the old habit provided, is a great technique because it utilizes the internal conversation that most people already use to explain why they are defeated from achieving their goals by their own mind and turns it into a positive force for change.
Some people find it quite helpful to have a coach to talk to as they go through this process. The inner mind work is much easier to do with a counselor to coach and guide you through. Having gone through this process myself, I understand the feelings, the emotions, and what it takes to win. So call me and take advantage of my end of the year resolution special, 20% off of my regular rates for as long as you are my client. (When January 2017 is over, so is the special.)
©2009, 2017, Jason Wittman, MPS, CATC-IV, ILAADC
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*About The Author*
Jason Wittman, M.P.S. (aka Successful People’s Secret Weapon) has been in private practice as a Counselor and Coach for over 40 years. His practice, http://Stage2Recovery.com focuses on counseling business and professional clients, who are recovering from alcoholism and addictions, to work and live at their exquisite best. He has his master’s degree from Cornell University in counseling-psychology and is certified as a drug & alcohol counselor, a clinical hypnotherapist and a practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 818-980-2929