So, 2012 is upon us. Traditionally, it is a time for reflection on how we have lived our lives for the past year, where we are, and where we wish to go. It is also the time of year when many people decide to give up smoking. But, come January the 4th, and most people´s new years resolutions have been broken, meaning many people start the year feeling disapointed in themselves, and vaguely depressed.
The human brain is complicated. It is hard to override deeply ingrained habits with just willpower alone. It is difficult to break that habit of slobbing in front of the TV instead of going to the gym. We are told that anything can be acheived with willpower, and we are weak if we fail, where as the reality is we are setting ourselves up for failure by setting too big a task, psychologically it is overwhelming.
A good example of this is people wanting to lose weight. They set themselves a target of losing 18 kilos by the summer. There are two reasons this fails:
But how about if you say: lose 1/2 kilo in two weeks. That seems pretty easy, right? Hardly any effort at all. So you are much more likely to achieve that goal. You have lost 1/2 kilo, you feel good about it, you are successful, it was much easier than you thought. So you do it again.
Bit by bit, you go losing little bits of weight, you eating habits slowly improve, your tiny bit of excercise gets easier, and you are doing more without even realize it.
Soon, you are losing more than 1/2 kilo in two weeks, and almost by accident. You have freed yourself from this impossible task hanging over your head, the guilt, the bad feelings, and turned it into something easy, fun, that rewards you in the short term. By the summer, you may not have lost 18 kilos by the summer, but you have lost 12. That is much better than not having lost anything, right?
So we can do the same with smoking. Instead of going through the pain and willpower battle with yourself, instead of setting yourself up to lose, set yourself up for small, quick wins, and grow from there.
Your new years resolution should go more like: I smoke 20 cigarettes a day, now. My new years resolution is so cut down to 16 cigarettes a day, within a week. Do not think further ahead with this than next week. Just aim to cut down to that level by next week. You will hardly even notice the change, and you are moving in the right direction.
When you hit your target, you will feel good. Now, you can choose your next target. Maybe you want to only cut down to 14 a day in the next two weeks, or maybe you are feeling great and want to cut down to 10. The point is, set targets you know you can acheive easily.
So in a few months, you might be down to 10 a day, or five a day, or you might have even quit completely. The point is, you have cut down on your smoking, which is good, and you have got into the habit of keeping the promises you make to yourself. When it comes to kicking the habit for good, you will find it much, much easier.
One of the favorite arguments for giving up smoking is "Think of the money you will save!". On all the stop smoking blogs, calculations are shown such as
Just think what you could buy with 50 thousand pounds! A flashy car, a holiday! If you put that into a savings account, with 7 % interest a year, you would have 103,000 pounds!
You might go a few days or a week diligently saving your smoking money, but sooner or later you will just stop.
Our brains are wired for short-term benefits, not long term ones. Most people will go for an immediate benefit instead of holding out for a future benefit, even if the future benefit is MUCH better.
There have been studies where kids are sat in a room, with a cookie on a plate in front of them. They are told they can have the cookie now, or wait for twenty minutes and then have TWO cookies. Over two-thirds of the children ate the cookie right away. You are this Kid.
You can either have the cigarette now, or wait a year and get a holiday. You are stressed, and dying for a fag, so you say "sod it!" and have the cigarette now.
The solution to this problem is not huge amounts of will power, self chastising and flagellation. The solution is to trick your brain.
In another experiment with kids, they put a cookie in front of the child, and said they could either have the cookie now, or wait twenty minutes and get a toy. Over 80% of the kids waited for the toy - because the value of the slightly longer term reward out-weighed the value of the immediate reward.
Treat yourself more often. At the end of every day you have not smoked, put the money you would have spent in a jar. Then, at the end of the week, treat yourself to something you really enjoy, but that costs less than a holiday.
So, seven quid for a packet of fag * 7 is 49 quid. What would you do if someone gave you fifty quid to spend on yourself? Go out for a meal, get a new top, get your hair done, get a cleaning lady to clean your house....
Now what you have done is taken advantage of the fact you are wired for short-term gain instead of fighting against it. It is much easier to go without cigarettes for one week than it is for one month. You can say to yourself "well, I will just hold out two more days and get my hair done, then I can have a cigarette". So you do, because the reward of getting your hair done in two days, is strong enough to outweigh the reward of having a cigarette right now.
Also, psychologically, it is easier: if someone says "You can never smoke again in your life", that seems like an insurmountable obtstacle. However, if someone says "You can´t smoke until 4 o´clock", that seems a lot easier. You think, well, I can have a cigarette after four o´clock if I choose. Then, when four o'clock comes round, you can say "well, that wasn´t so hard, I bet I can go until 6 o´clock without smoking", and you know what, I bet you can.
But, you hold out for two days, get your hair done, and you feel great. You feel pleased you did not smoke until now, and you feel great about yourself and more confident because you got your haircut and you think "You know what, that wasn´t so hard, I am so glad I didn´t smoke for those few days because now I have my hair done. What can I do next week to make myself feel great?". So starts another week. For a few days, you are walking around feeling great about your hair, so it is easier to go without smoking, because you are STILL feeling the benefits of your non-smoking reward, days later.
This is much better than the 8 minutes of reward you get with having a fag. So your brain kicks in and goes "What is better, an 8 minute reward NOW, or a reward that lasts for days and days, but I have to wait three days to get it?" and you are more likely to go with the reward you have to wait for, because the wait is ONLY a little bit more.
Now, compare this with the holiday idea. Say you use an enormous amount of willpower to go a few weeks without smoking, and you have 98 quid saved. For your holiday, you need 2 grand, so you are NOWHERE NEAR getting your reward. The last few weeks were tough, really tough, and you have to do that TWENTY MORE TIMES before you get your reward. Talk about making life difficult for yourself!
By breaking things down in to bite-size chunks, you are making it easier for yourself. You turn the whole thing around into a positive experience, instead of going to war with your will power and forcing yourself to feel guilty. No one likes to feel guilty (except perhaps catholic nuns), but everyone likes rewards.
And don´t beat yourself up too much if you break down and buy a packet, you will still have 43 quid, so you can treat yourself, just a bit less than if you had fifty. But if you break down too often, you will only have a fiver to treat yourself, which is not very much at all, its your choice.
You will soon train your brain to go for the slightly-longer term reward, automatically, and with out really trying too hard.
"But I shouldn´t be smoking at all, I can´t afford it!" I hear some of you cry, "I can´t justify spending 50 quid on a haircut, I have bills to pay!".
Well, lets be practical and realistic here. You are going to spend the money on cigarettes anyway, whichever way you look at it. You think you are going to quit, and save all money, but be honest with yourself, you are not going to quit are you? Because you are doing it wrong. You are making it impossible for yourself to quit. How many times have you tried to quit, then gone out and bought cigarettes anyway? You are going to spend that money on cigarettes, unless you spend it on rewards for yourself for not smoking.
Think of it this way: You can budget for cigarettes, knowing you are going to spend that money. If you don´t spend it on cigarettes, you can spend it on yourself, guilt free. I give you permission. Because if you do this, you are GOING to stop smoking, and much more quickly, thus saving a lot more money than prentending you are going to quit, then not quitting.
So go forth and treat yourselves, you deserve it. Forget about not smoking, and start thinking about treats and rewards for yourself!
One of the most recommended techniques for quitting smoking is hypnosis. It doesn´t work for everybody, but for those it does work for, it is an easy and painless way to help quit smoking. The important thing is to find a hypnotist that actually knows what they are doing - there are lots of charlatans out there. It is best to find someone through a recommendation, for example a friend for whom hypnotism has worked, or look for a certified hypnotist through the hypnosis association of your country.
So, what to expect when you go for a hypnosis session? The hypnotist will induct you into a trance, making sure you are relaxed, and put you in a state where you are very receptive to suggestion on an unconcious level. He or she will then use several techniques to instruct your subconcious mind not to want to smoke anymore, and not to have cravings. The whole process can be done in between 10 minutes and an hour, depending on the subject.
Hypnosis to help you stop smoking probably won´t work if you don´t really want to stop, for example if your partner is pressuring you to stop. This is because you cannot be made to do anything against your will under hypnosis.
Below is a video of a good hypnotist working with someone to help them quit smoking, which should give you an idea of what is involved.
Have you ever thought about the effect the packaging of those cigarettes have on your habit? It has long been known that people become very attached to the branding of their cigarettes, but what about the warnings on the packs?
An interesting study, reported by the independant suggests the health warnings on packs actually make smokers smoke more! You know the ones: smoking increases the cause of cancer, smoking kills, smoking causes a slow and painful death.
What is the cause for this? It is suggested that these sort of warnings bring out the rebel in us, by smoking we are defying death and illness, which is subconsciously very attractive for us. It is a variation on smoking is for rebels, smoking makes you cool. Just like daredevil stunt driving and skydiving, the sense of danger is ellicits is actually very attractive. A covert form of marketing?
The study says that messages on the packs to do with personal appearance would work better, such as "smoking makes your breath stink" and "smoking gives you horrible skin" would be more effective than death scare tactics.
It seems the Onion news site, a spoof comedy news site, already thought of this with their "smoking is gay" spoof anti-smoking campaign, shown below...
Some practical advice on quitting smoking. Break the habit, and you break the physical addiction to nicotine. How does this work? Many people are addicted to the ritual of smoking, or the habit, and once you break the habit, you realize the addiction is not as powerful as you thought, and you move forward to breaking the physical addiction of nicotine.
A little food for thought: when was the last time you had a cigarette in one of your dreams? Most people I have asked this question to look puzzled for a minute, then state that they cannot ever remember having smoked in one of their dreams. Maybe this is the true you?
Another interesting thought about sleeping is that we can go eight consecutive hours without thinking about smoking when we are asleep - if we are so addicted to smoking how come we do not wake up every hour for a smoke?
Of course, now you have thought about this, it is possible tonight you will have a dream where you are smoking. See if you can stop smoking in your dreams, and say Nicotine, NO!