You now want to finally, permanently, irrevocably quit smoking. You’re ready to take that plunge, live longer, healthier and happier. I can't really tell you how happy that makes me.
First things first. Lets address the need for habituation that your unconscious has. Your unconscious has an itch it will need to scratch and it wont let you ignore that itch for long. For example, most people smoke to relax. And there's an uncountable number of ways to relax, aren't there?
Smoking is a really weird way to relax isn't it? Breathing in hot smoke, tar, formaldehyde and all the other garbage they put in those cancer sticks doesn't seem too relaxing? Look at it this way...are you relaxing because of the smoking, or the contextual environment you find when you smoke?
People often smoke on break, with friends, on a night out, when they’re drinking or whenever they deliberately intend to relax. In fact, it's that deliberate intention to relax and the social context of relaxing activities that convinces so many people that cigarettes are relaxing.
There's a belief that the chemicals in cigarettes relax you somehow. But lets look at that real quick. Which chemical in a cigarette actually relaxes you? Does it relax you so much that you have another cigarette later just to relax...again? That's not relaxation, that's addiction. That's putting your mind in a state that fosters dependency, and that's no accident.
Big Tobacco has trained people to believe they are chemically addicted into a habit that is almost impossible to break. And thats part of the lie they spin. That you are helpless and dependent on them, until you die. And you’re also training your kids to follow that cycle. Let that sink in. Big Tobacco isn't just into tricking you….they’re after your offspring as well.
I could go on about that all day, but let’s get back to the topic – providing positive habits to support your quitting smoking. How do you do that?
The technique that I am going to describe is called 6-step reframing and was originally developed by John Grinder and Richard Bandler. It’s one of many techniques I use as a layered approach to help people quit the habit but it’s very useful as a stand alone technique as well and is one technique I leave my clients with as follow-up homework.
Here are the steps, follow them in order when you have 10-15 minutes:
1) Identify the behavior that you want to change. In this case, smoking.
2) Establish communication with your unconscious through yes and no signals. This step is very important and when I see clients privately or in remote sessions, we always do that early in the session. If we never meet privately, I will describe in another article how to create the communication signals with your unconscious. This skill sounds highly esoteric and a little woo-woo at first, but it’s really just a new way of paying close attention to your internal monologue.
The signal may be an ideomotor signal like a slight twitching of your right pointer finger for “yes” and your left pointer for “no.” Or it may be an image or memory that suddenly springs to mind. A few clients I’ve worked with experienced vivid colors appear in their mind as a yes or no. Your unconscious will make up it’s own mind how to present the answer so pay very close attention. Because it is an unconscious signal, you cannot consciously know what it is until it arrives.
On this step you can say something like this in your mind: “Unconscious, thank you for taking care of me for so long! I need your assistance and support to save my life from this habit we’ve created – smoking – and create better paths for us to live. Will you join me in this?” Wait for a yes signal. After you receive the signal, say “thank you!” to your unconscious. It’s important that this communication happens in a polite and respectful way to avoid internalizing any anger or disrespect towards yourself.
3) Confirm with your unconscious that indeed there’s a positive intention behind smoking, because there always is. Say in your mind: “Unconscious, are there reasons you keep me smoking that I am not aware of?.”
Wait for a yes signal. Understand that your unconscious knowing the reason does not mean you will consciously know it immediately. Conscious insight may come only much later or never come at all.
4) Task your unconscious with starting the creative process of generating alternative behaviors that would satisfy the positive intention that lead to this habit. Give your unconscious time and instruct it to signal when it has three alternatives that are as naturally immediate, completely effective, and easily available as the smoking itself.
I want to add a caveat for the ladies here: In many ways, your unconscious is a survival mechanism that is all about survival and biological imperatives. I have seen cases where someone’s unconscious has provided a truly time consuming habit to quit smoking: pregnancy and raising a child. Please plan accordingly if this doesn't fit into your plans.
Some non-pregnancy related options are:
a) Meditation. This can be as brief as five minutes quiet reflection or an hour long mantra session. Thats up to you.
b) Breathing exercises such as box breathing.I've described box breathing in a separate article but the trimmed down technique is to take a four count inhale, hold for a four count, exhale for a four count and hold for a four count. Repeat as the relaxation deepens. This is a powerful technique used in hospitals and the military for it’s ability to relax the body and sharpen focus under stress.
c) Exercise! I will always recommend exercise to anyone who is physically capable of movement. I dont care if you go for a walk, do pushups, lift weights, do a three minute plank or jog in place. Get up and moving and your brain, body and unconscious will thank you. As a bonus, the endorphins released can help replace the “rush” the smoking gave you and keep you on track with being a former smoker.
d) Find something to fidget with using your hands. Like shuffling cards, juggling or playing the drums.
e) Embrace your artistic side and draw, work with clay, color or paint. Simply doing something that uses your creative side can greatly relax and retrain your unconscious into some new avenues of expression and negate the old smoking habit you lost.
These are only suggestions. Your unconscious will provide it’s own choices. Be patient with this step, it may take a while.
Note that most people don’t know what these alternatives are after they receive a yes signal.
5) Task your unconscious with affirming these behaviors are healthy behaviors that will enable you to continue your life in a balanced manner.
Say something like this: “Unconscious, confirm if these new behaviors will improve my health, physically and mentally?”
If the answer is “yes,” go to the next step. If the answer is “no,” go back to the previous step to generate more alternatives and allow more specificity with the goals you set your unconscious.
6)Finally and critically, make sure that your unconscious will take responsibility for these new behaviors.
Say to your unconscious: “You came up with these alternative behaviors that will help me change this bad habit. Thank you! Are you willing to accept the responsibility to guide my life down this new path?”
If the answer is “yes,” then you successfully completed the exercise. If the answer is “no,” you will need to go back to step 4.
This concludes the technique.
You’ve likely guessed that you can use the same approach with other aspects of your life: better interpersonal relationships, stop eating unhealthy food or change any other behavior.
If you need additional support when doing this exercise, you may feel free to reach out and I’ll be happy to guide you through the complete smoking cessation program.