Quitting smoking can be hard or easy, depending on how you go about it
He was going to die. Dragged towards the tomb lying to himself. The very substance he turned into ashes every day was about to do the same to him. Ah, the powers of self-deception:
"Emphysema runs in my family! Stopping smoking won't make any difference. Anyway, I'm physically addicted; nothing I can do about it!"
Ted's wife had sent him to see me. He sat there, arms crossed; sceptical. He was reluctant, convinced his worsening health had nothing to do with the cigarettes. I spent an hour and a half feeling I was offering a rescue branch to a submerged man who, unaware of the upcoming waterfall, wasn't grasping.
Then I shocked Ted. How? I told him he most certainly should continue to smoke. Prepared for battle, this took him off guard. "What?" He looked confused.
Smoking: An appallingly bad deal
"Certainly, you should smoke," I told him. "It's one of life's pleasures. But you shouldn't just like it; you should love it. Love it more than anything else in life. It shouldn't just give you a 'bit of pleasure', it should be ecstasy-inducing. You should be singing from the rooftops every time you smoke. It should be more meaningful to you than your wife or children. If it's that important, that pleasurable, then yes, you should carry on. But anything less than that means the deal's no good."
"Deal's no good?" he echoed, mouth ajar.
"That's right, it's a bum deal. The tobacco company gets thousands from you – you are a good deal for them. Your end of the deal means that you get to age quicker; have depleted blood into your penis (seriously; this man needed a wake-up call); say goodbye forever to your wife and kids on average seven years earlier than you would have done; destroy serotonin in your brain, leading to greater likelihood of depression; dim your eyesight; incubate cancers; and pay money. That's your side of the deal. To make it worth it, you need to make sure that smoking is better than just something you 'quite enjoy'."
No one had ever spoken to Ted – big, square-jawed, man of the world – that way. I thought maybe he would hit me.
I told him how 'some people' went through life with a survivor's instinct and how others got 'taken in' by stuff that undermined and worked against them.
He told me how he hated seeing people conned. I talked about how cigarettes convince 'some people' that they are harmless, a relaxant, physically addictive, and so on. I hypnotized him. Later, I told him I'd send him an email and if he ever decided he really did want to quit smoking, stop 'pussyfooting around', he should read it – but not until he'd learned to see the deal for what it truly was.
The core of that email is as follows.
1) Don't quit smoking, 'outgrow it'
Don't think of yourself as 'quitting smoking' but rather outgrowing it. After all, it was probably something you started to do when you were an adolescent. I'm guessing there are plenty of other things you did back then which you no longer do now. When you were a child and your feet grew, you didn't have to try hard to stop wearing the shoes that were squeezing your toes. Because you'd outgrown them, it was a relief to discard them. Likewise, people grow out of smoking because it 'starts to squeeze'; squeezing lungs, heart, and time from the end of life.
Imagine someone protesting that it wasn't the too small shoes that were causing the discomfort in their feet!
Enhance this sense of outgrowing the smoking by clicking on the link below and listening to your free audio session.
2) See through the lies
One hundred million people were killed by smoking in the 20th century; killed by something they paid good money for. Many of these poor souls would have been intelligent, decent people, but somehow they remained hooked into a victim/abuser relationship with cigarettes that destroyed them. In order to do self-destructive things, human beings need to have belief systems that 'make it okay' to self-destruct. Smokers are no different. Here are more common smoking beliefs:
- "Smoking calms my nerves!" Yes, by delivering nicotine through your mucous membranes up into your brain, releasing adrenaline and raising blood pressure within 8 seconds. People may feel more relaxed if they take a break in unison with a cigarette or breathe deeply as they exhale. It is the break and the deep breathing which relax you, not the tobacco.
- "Smoking helps me concentrate." Yes, in short bursts, but like any drug there is a comedown during which your concentration will be poorer than if you hadn't smoked at all.
- "Smoking gives me something to do with my hands." Well, so does strangulation! What do non-smokers do with their hands? I have worked with other types of self-harmers (cutters) who told me that cutting gave them 'something to do with their hands'.
- "Smoking is physically addictive." But not addictive enough to stop people sleeping for hours at a time without it; or to go on long-haul flights and forget about smoking. Nicotine takes 24 hours to clear from your body and then you're free.
If you clicked your fingers a thousand times a day for 20 years, every time you had a coffee, every time you finished a meal, or after sex (if you were lucky enough to get any with such a crazy habit), then it would feel weird at first to have the coffee without the clicking. This isn't physical addiction; it's just conditioned expectation through repeated association of two behaviours. Of course it's possible to have a drink without clicking your fingers or smoking. There is no natural association between smoking and finishing a meal. Once these associations die away, you no longer feel addicted.
- "Smoking is 'cool' or 'bohemian'." This one is more easily swallowed by younger smokers. Of course, to make something acceptable when it's threatening our very existence, it needs to seem 'cool'. Some kamikaze pilots may have thought it was 'cool' or 'honourable' to die for their beliefs.
- "Smoking punctuates my day." "I need one after a meal, before and after a meeting, when I get home" and so on… Yes, we all need to 'punctuate our day', but we can do this by just taking time out to relax, have a cup of tea, or some other pleasurable activity.
- "I could get run over by a bus tomorrow; you've got to die of something!" Well, that's true. In the UK, one in 15,000 people get run down and one in two smokers are killed by smoking. Odds can be tricky things to get your head round.
- "My uncle lived to 110, ran marathons, and smoked three packs a day from the age of 3." Yes and we can remember the phrase: 'The exception that proves the rule.'
These are some common beliefs (lies!) that smokers have told themselves and one other as a way of dealing with the cognitive dissonance of doing something they know will corrode them or kill them. See through them.
3) Separate your identity from the smoking
It's far easier to quit smoking once you see it as entirely separate from you, not as a 'part of who you are'. It's no more central to you than a thieving parasite. 'Smoking' is not something your body can do unless it's set on fire. We can digest, oxygenate, eliminate but we cannot smoke – it's not a human process.
You had years at the start of your life when you didn't think about it at all but you were still you. When you again become a 'non-smoker', your identity doesn't have to be defined in this way either. You will be you. I don't canoe but I don't think of myself as a 'non-canoeist'.
Remember everybody quits smoking eventually, whether it's five minutes before they leave this Earth or thirty years. Your relationship with smoking is finite anyway.
Separate your real identity from the smoking.
4) Remember you only have to deal with three or four cigarettes
Even if you smoke 60 a day, you'll have noticed that there are only three or four that you really savour.
Maybe it's the first one of the day, the one after lunch or immediately after work. All the others just 'slip under the radar', cheating their way in when you're not even thinking about them – a rushed one in the car or a hurried cigarette in the rain.
Once you deal with the main cigarettes and hit those on the head, then, like collapsing the pillars, the whole smoking 'structure' will collapse easily.
5) Smoking is not a 'friend'
If you knew that a person was stealing your money, your looks, your health, and possibly years from the end of your life, then how much of a 'friend' would they seem to you? Would you want to associate with them?
Some smokers gaze through rose-tinted (nicotine-stained) glasses at the habit. They see their smoking as something that they can turn to when they are down, as if smoking were a friend they could have a drink and a chat with, be consoled by, have a laugh with. But what kind of friend steals all this and then one day turns around and stabs you in the back?
6) Don't become 'anti-smoking'
I'm not an anti-smoker. Really I'm not. If you hate something, you are still too emotionally involved with it. And if you really think it's a good deal and can swear you're not being conned by it, then you should do it. Hate can be as intense as love. When smoking becomes irrelevant to you, then it becomes a non-issue. You don't ever need to become a boorish anti-smoker.
7) Watch out for the sweet talk
When a person leaves a relationship, no matter how abusive and destructive it was, there may be times when they feel like backsliding. The liberated person may feel down one evening, or bored, maybe a little drunk. The ex-abuser calls them up, charms them, and says they can't live without them. And if they weaken then, before you know it, the old abuse has started up all over again.
Be prepared. Smoking will 'call you up' during these times and try to charm its way back and manipulate you. Be ready for it. The more you ignore it, the stronger you'll become and the weaker it will become.
These seven tips for quitting smoking should be read and internalized. You need to make them your own. Why not print them off and read them through – with a cigarette perhaps?
Ted called me up. "Hi, I've quit!" he said.
"Quit what?" I said, desperately trying to recall whether this was the Ted who smoked chronically or the Ted who'd been thinking about leaving his job. But then the deep gravelly voice was unmistakable.
"No one takes me for a fool!" he said.
How to get the right mindset to quit smoking
Quitting smoking is much harder when you’re not in the right mindset. I’ve created a short email course to help you adjust your mindset to approach quitting in just the right way. Click here to get your first lesson now.