Natural Mind Magic

Stop smoking - and stay stopped

Kalden and Samten
Kalden and Samten

What would it be like to wake up one morning, free of the compulsion to smoke? Would it be like a being relieved of a burden? Escaping from a cage? Or would it be just the simplest thing in the world – a return to normality?

The key question to ask yourself at this stage is: 'What's important to me about being a non-smoker?' Your reasons may span several headings, such as Health, Wealth, Sociability, Family, Identity, and one or two others that are particular to you personally. Take each one in turn, and unpack the implications underlying it by asking yourself, again: 'And what's important to me about that?'

Investigating these questions enables you to establish your motivation, which will give you the determination you need to succeed in becoming a non-smoker.

Now comes the tricky bit. If you really believed that to become a non-smoker would be so wonderful, what's been preventing you from doing it long ago? Why have you found it so difficult to stop – and stay stopped?

Some smokers ascribe their difficulty to the chemically addictive quality of the nicotine in cigarettes; others accuse themselves of lacking willpower. Rather than simply blaming 'addiction' or 'weak will', let's look at what's going on in the psychology of compulsive behaviour.

Our minds are complicated processes, changing all the time and made up of many parts, rather than single stable entities. Sometimes there can be a conflict between two or more parts of the mind; as we say in everyday speech: 'It's as though part of me wants to do this, but another part wants to do that, so I don't know what to do!' This conflict can be exhausting, as the two parts fight it out. However, allthough the two parts seem to have different ideas about how to achieve it, it seems reasonable to think that they both have our wellbeing at heart. This raises an interesting idea: maybe there's a good intention underlying even those drives that manifest in destructive behaviour, such as smoking. And if so, then some kind of inner conflict resolution may be effective in changing the unwanted behaviour. This may be the key to avoiding the typical pattern experienced by so many people: heroically battling the desire to smoke, suppressing it for a few months, or even a year, and then succumbing again, only to repeat the process all over again. The fact that this pattern is so common is evidence that the physical addiction to nicotine is not the problem; anyone who has stopped smoking for a year is clearly completely over any nicotine dependency – and yet the desire to smoke is still lurking! As somebody (was it Groucho Marx?) has said: 'Stopping smoking is easy – I've done it hundreds of times!' Don't let that somebody be you! Let's find a better way forward.

Let's look further at the idea that the impulse to smoke is prompted by a positive intention. If that were so, then, if you could find other more effective ways to do fulfil the intention, you wouldn't need to smoke any more. By finding better ways to honour your needs, you'd find the old desire to smoke had lost its force and you could leave it behind you.

So you might like to reflect on what purpose your smoking is trying to fulfil for you. Is it trying to offer you a way to feel better, maybe to relax, or think more clearly, or to reduce tension or alleviate some kind of unease? If so, how might you experiment to find other, better ways to do that?

The key here is not to try to suppress the urge, or punish the part of your mind that is prompting you to smoke; but nor should you simply indulge the desire for a cigarette. Rather, you take the trouble to recognise the underlying need, and look for other ways to fulfil that need.

Here are some techniques that other people have found useful; you might like to experiment with finding out how to make them work for you.

First, be aware of the impulse as it is arising. Don't suppress it; and don't indulge it. Simply notice it. Then ask yourself: 'What do I really want?' Don't settle for the obvious answer – a cigarette! Go deeper, by asking: 'What do I want to get by smoking a cigarette? How do I want to feel?' You're asking for the emotional response that comes with the alleviation of the desire to smoke. Usually it's some kind of fulfilment, often associated with relaxation. It's what the impulse is prompting you to seek, and by being attentive to your own present moment of experience and asking yourself what you really want, it's actually possible for you to find that fulfilment now – without having the cigarette.

Secondly, the sense of relief that you're seeking is very closely linked to relaxation. So if you can train yourself to notice the increasing tension associated with the rising urge to smoke, and immediately respond by breathing deeply and physically relaxing, you'll interrupt the tension build-up. Relax repeatedly, with each breath, until the tension has dissolved. The more often you do this, the easier it gets, as you develop a kind of automatic 'relaxation response'.

Thirdly any kind of distraction can help to break a habitual sequence of steps that would in the past have led to a cigarette. For example, if you know you'd be likely to want a cigarette after dinner, leave the table as soon as you finish eating and go and brush your teeth; this will break the usual sequence of events and redirect your energy more positively. Or if your old habit has been to have a cigarette in the kitchen with your early morning cup of tea, create a new habit of going back to bed with your tea, so avoiding the danger-zone of the kitchen.

Fourthly, smoking is associated with putting something in your mouth and ingesting it; some psychologists speculate that it triggers infantile memories of comfort at the breast. It's certainly true that many smokers stop smoking only to start over-eating instead, apparently transferring from cigarettes to food. However you can turn this tendency to your advantage. Carry a small bottle of water with you, and take frequent sips. This works on several counts: not only is it a healthy and non-fattening substitute for the cigarettes, but it keeps your hands busy (which otherwise can be at a loose end without the ritual action of smoking), while also helping your body to eliminate the toxins accumulated by smoking.

Finally, how we think about and label ourselves has a big impact on our behaviour. You might like to consider how you've been identifying yourself with regard to your smoking. If you identify yourself as a smoker, then it's more difficult to stop, because if you're a smoker, it's inevitable that you smoke, because that's what smokers do! And of course it's nonsense for anyone to claim they've always been a smoker: no-one was born puffing a cigarette. It's also unwise to aim to become an ex-smoker; this means a smoker who no longer smokes, which implies a contradiction and may result in continuing inner conflict. But, just imagine for a moment: what if you were to think of yourself as someone who sometimes used to smoke? Mightn't that allow for the possibility of not smoking? And what if you were to become a non-smoker? That would mean that smoking would no longer be an issue in your life: non-smokers simply don't smoke – the thought of it doesn't even cross their minds. Wouldn't that be better?

As well as exploring and experimenting along these lines on your own, you may find it useful to enlist professional help. Employing professional assistance is not a sign of weakness; it's a matter of taking responsibility for addressing a problem and learning new and better ways to deal with it. A good therapist doesn't tell you what to do; he or she helps you find a way forward for yourself.

Think how wonderful it would be to be free of the compulsion to smoke, back in charge of your life! Not only would you be happier and feel better about yourself, but the other people in your life would also benefit.

So, remember what you need to do – the four Bs:

Be aware of how the impulse arises, and relax, and allow yourself to find the emotional response you've been seeking;

Breathe deeply to release the build up of tension;

Break any habitual sequences of steps that would in the past have led you to a cigarette; and

carry a Bottle of water with you at all times, until you're completely confident as a non-smoker.

Lastly, let me leave you with a couple of practical tips. Most people find it works better to set a date to stop, and stop completely on that day, rather than cutting down gradually. And do be sure to remove all smoking paraphernalia the day before so there's nothing lying around to tempt you. Then step forward into your new life as a non-smoker!

I hope you've found this short article useful. Thank you for reading it. I wish you well on your journey.