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Is this the most foolproof way yet to stop your bid to quit cigs going up in smoke?

Ahead of National No Smoking Day tomorrow, Belfast hypnotherapist Joseph Pond on the secret of breaking the habit

Tomorrow is National No Smoking Day, the day that many readers will take their final puff. Whether you are a smoker or not, ready to quit or not, this article will give you tips on how to overcome any bad habit.

As a hypnotist I have to be honest, right up front, and say that no one on the planet can help you to give up smoking if you do not sincerely wish to quit.

Needless to say, if you only want to quit because your spouse or your parents want you to stop, then I can't help you.

There is a simple test that I use. I tell clients and I'll tell you: if you can hold up a cigarette, look at it, and honestly say to it, "I don't like you. I don't like the control that you have on me and I don't want you in my life anymore" then I know that you are ready. (Keep in mind that you can lie to your spouse, your therapist, your kids, your doctor, your priest, etc. The only person you can't lie to is yourself, so be honest at this stage with your feelings.)

If you're not ready to give up, that's okay, too. Relax and stop blaming yourself. Blaming yourself will only cause you to feel bad, and what do smokers do to alleviate their discomfort and increase their pleasure? They smoke more!

We don't want that to happen, so just practice self-acceptance and the next time you light up, be conscious of the process and the ritual.

Be aware of what you are doing and feeling at the moment, since most of us mainly perform our bad habits while we're on auto-pilot.

Assuming that you really want to quit, here are a few understandings that you can begin to explore.

First, all of your habits, all of your behaviours, and all of your actions are controlled by two powerful motivators. In other words, as a human, you're naturally driven towards these twin goals.

One is the need for pleasure and the other is the need to avoid pain. Simple, right?

Smokers smoke because it gives them pleasure and it allows them to avoid the pain of nicotine withdrawal. So, in order to give up smoking you need to begin to associate more pleasure with breathing clean, pure air into your healthy lungs than you used to get from inhaling the tar, carbon monoxide, arsenic and other poisons that are in cigarettes.

At the same time, the thought of continuing to harm yourself in front of others must begin to cause enough emotional pain and distress that it overwhelms the temporary discomfort of withdrawal that you'll be experiencing for the first two or three days.

How does one increase the pleasure of being a non-smoker? Imagine that you have a scale in front of you. Better yet, put your hands out, palms facing up and pretend that your hands are sensitive measuring devices, which in fact is what they are.

In one hand, place of all the pro-smoking stuff - all of the pleasures and all of the justifications you use to keep the habit alive - and in the other hand put all of the pro-health stuff: a growing sense of happiness and self pride in choosing a long life for yourself and your family.

To increase the good feelings, I use a tool that's called Values Elicitation. Get a pen and paper and answer these questions. They may seem repetitive but that's only because they are designed to reach a deeper level of insight.

Values Elicitation will help you understand your ultimate values in any context, so answer them carefully and keep the answers with you. Doing so will motivate you because it feels good to be true to your own nature.

1. What's important to you about being a non-smoker?

2. Look at what you wrote for the first question. Really look at it. What's important about being able to do/have/or be the answer to question one?

3. What's important about that?

4. Because?

5. So ultimately, what would that mean to you?

6. As you accomplish this, what message would you be sending the world?

7. More importantly, what message will you be sending yourself?

8. Now look at all your answers and sum them up in one simple sentence: What's important to you about being a non-smoker?

Sign your name to the paper which means that you are committing to doing what it takes to achieve that outcome.

Fold it up, keep it with you, and look at it often to remind yourself of what's important to you. Here's a key principle of self-change: being true to yourself feels good.

Finally, you need to ridicule the reasons that you used to justify smoking.

I've heard them all and let's be honest, most of them are stupid when you weigh them up against the financial and physical costs of continuing to smoke.

I say that not to be judgemental but because nearly all the reasons that any of us use to justify a bad habit are usually pretty silly.

One common misconception that I often hear is "it helps me to relax". To that I respond, "Nonsense."

It is well documented that nicotine triggers adrenaline and noradrenalin, the "stress hormones" that cause the body to go into fight or flight.

It raises blood pressure and increases stress on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.

In fact, tobacco only seems to cause relaxation because it relieves nicotine withdrawal symptoms caused by your addiction in the first place!

Another time a client said to me that he smoked because he was a "rebel". That was his ultimate reason.

Somewhere along the way, his unconscious mind had made the decision that the best way to "rebel" would be to fall for marketing gimmicks, become addicted and hand over all his money to tobacco barons!

In fact, when you come to your own conclusion that your reasons for continuing to smoke are no longer tenable it will simply become much harder to maintain the facade.

Another way to make the act of smoking seem silly is to smoke in front of a mirror. I've never yet had a client say that this didn't profoundly change the way they viewed their tobacco habit. "I looked ridiculous - like a chimney," they report.

I'd also urge you to take a £10 note, the average amount that a smoker spends per day, and burn it.

As it disappears in a wisp of dirty black smoke, remind yourself that money is a symbol, a symbol of work, of your effort. You put in effort. You work. You struggle. You get rewarded with money. And you burn it. You use it to poison yourself. That's some powerful, self-destructive mind-magic the tobacco industry has hypnotised you into!

How to avoid discomfort. Let's face it. When you give up, you're going to have nicotine withdrawal symptoms. You are going to get cravings. It won't be pretty, but at the same time, the discomfort is never as bad as we fear it will be.

Time and again clients have said to me, "Wow, I was surprised. The self-effects were really only about as bad as that feeling you get when you've had way too much caffeine. And they wear off pretty quickly!"

However, if you do experience discomfort or cravings, try this following technique. Sit with your chin facing forward. Keep focussing on the unwanted feelings and start to move your eyes. Keep your chin still, focus on the feelings, and move your eyes from right to left. Up and down.

Diagonally and in circles. Don't strain them but give them a gentle stretch in all directions. After about 15 seconds, stop and reassess the feelings. Chances are they've reduced in intensity. Do it a couple times.

If you follow all of these steps I guarantee that the scales of pain and pleasure will start to tilt in your favour.

Good luck, I warmly wish you all the best. And if you're not ready to give up, relax, respect yourself and enjoy your life. Keep this article folded up somewhere and get it out when you're ready to stop. I'll still be here.

  • Joseph Pond is a Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Time-Line Therapy and Hypnosis. He is also a qualified acupuncturist and naturopath. To contact Joseph, email him at joseph@national-board-of-nlp.co.uk

They still have ifs (and butts) 

Rebecca Maguire (22) is a former Miss Ireland and CMPR model. She lives in Belfast and is studying for a degree in pharmacy. She says:

Usually I only smoke a couple of cigarettes a day but coming up to exams that can go up to 10 a day. I started smoking a few years ago and like many others I would just have the odd one on a night out. It's not a good thing to do but I've found since I started my degree I smoke more out of stress.

I'm in the final year now and I'm getting my teeth fixed so I've decided when I've finished my degree then I'll stop. I'll have nice white teeth by then too and I don't want to spoil them. The smoking ban has put people off as they don't want to go outside but at the same time if you need a smoke, you need a smoke. I come from a home where both of my parents smoke so it's not a strange thing to do in my family."

Gemma Garrett (33) is a model, TV presenter and former Miss GB. She lives in Belfast and says:

I'm a light smoker - I can buy a packet of 20 cigarettes and still have some left a month later or I can go through two packs in a week. It all depends on what's happening in my life because stress is a big factor.

There are some days where I don't smoke at all. I started smoking when I was about 18 and had one or two.

Smoking does relax me and back in the days when I was doing crazy diets, I would have relied on smoking to suppress my appetite. I'm a great believer in everything in moderation so although I know every cigarette is harmful, I do it so lightly I think I'm using common sense.

If I tried to stop myself from smoking I would turn into a full-time smoker because depriving yourself of things makes you want to do them more."

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