How Did Cigarettes Trap You?
So the big question for today is: Have you become too physically addicted to free yourself from cigarettes?
It's a simple but important question, and most people want to blurt out a quick YES! but before you answer, read on…. You might be surprised…
In the last chapter, we looked at smoking as a deal. There aren't any smokers, or very few, who are naive enough to assume that money is the only cost associated with cigarettes.
Your hard-earned cash is generally the least painful of the costs. And since you are still reading I'll assume you feel that the deal isn't worth it.
So how did you get here?
You know how it goes: You started smoking, probably when young, and it's just something you did. You owned it at first. It, the smoking, didn't "own" you. And, of course, you knew that you could stop any time you chose to.
But then it happened.
Bit by bit it got under your skin like a parasite. There was a point (probably the 1st time you TRIED to quit smoking) when you felt your choice had now become an addiction, and that's what we're looking at now. Its not just stopping smoking that's important but how you stop.
As one smoker, Ted, told me recently: I've stopped so many times before but this time it feels like I've finally walked away from smoking forever; it feels so different. Like I have the control back!"
I want to start this chapter with a quick story from my past. The reason for it will become clear soon...
How the sound of a key made he mouth water.
When my friend Lisa was a young kid her Mom felt guilty. Why? Because she saw Lisa as a latchkey kid. In other words when Lisa came home from school every day she had to let herself into the house because Mom was still at work.
This wasn't a big deal for Lisa though, she got to watch cartoons instead of doing chores. But in an attempt by Lisa's Mom to lessen her guilt she would bring Lisa a chocolate bar every day and pretty soon Lisa came to expect that chocolate.
In no time at all the sound of the key turning in the door would make Lisa salivate. Mom had unwittingly trained Lisa like a Pavlov's dog. I mean, keys aren't tasty, right?
For years the sound of a key in a lock would make Lisa salivate whether she was hungry or not. I want you to keep this example of the power of unconscious association in your mind as you continue to read.
So, how does this story about Lisa and her mothers guilt relate to smoking?
The truth about physical addiction.
Some people will readily jump on the idea that physical addiction is a justification for them to continue smoking. But as we're about to see there is more to it than that…
There's a new trend for medicalizing all kinds of normal human experience, everything from grief to smoking, which means millions now believe they have no choice but to be a certain way (unless they take expensive drug products of course). And mass media doesn't always help.
Every now and then we hear horror stories in the news about nicotine being more addictive than heroin and certainly some people can and do experience what feels like strong withdrawal when they quit smoking.
The so-called reward pathways in the brain become used to getting their fix. But the real question to ask is; how much is pure physical addiction and how much is actually psychological expectation? This is where it gets interesting.
Your body HATES nicotine.
The truth is nicotine is gone from the body pretty fast - it really doesn't stick around for long. Your blood pressure and pulse rate return to their normal levels a mere 20 minutes after your last cigarette. After just 12 hours your blood oxygen levels will have returned back to normal and toxic carbon monoxide levels will have fallen to within normal range.
After 48 hours, damaged nerve endings are starting to repair and your sense of taste and smell begin to return. And after only 72 hours your body will test completely, 100% free of nicotine. Any physically-based craving will have peaked after this time also (The average pack/day smoker will max out at 6 x 3 minute cravings at the 72hour mark).
Despite the abuse it suffers from smoking, the body fights back and recovers many of its losses pretty quickly - as long as its given a chance to do this before cell damage becomes too chaotic and uncontrolled.
And here comes the astonishing truth about smoking addiction…
Chain smokers who stop with few withdrawal symptoms!
Of the hundreds of smokers I've helped, some of them have smoked 60 a day for decades. When they stop many of them felt very little or in some cases, no symptoms of withdrawal.
If smoking was just a physical addiction - or even if the physical addiction side of it was as bad as they say, then you wouldn't find those hardcore smokers quitting so comfortably & easily.
But what is highly important in maintaining a smoking habit and also in the experience you have after quitting is your psychological expectation. I'm going to talk about something I'm sure you have experienced.
How unpleasant "unmet expectation" can be.
You've had this experience: You're chatting to a friend and you expect to remember some famous persons name but when you reach for it it's just not there. It's on the tip of your tongue and it feels frustrating because your expectation is being thwarted.
And when their name finally pops into your head it feels like a relief!
So if you can feel that frustrated just because you can't remember Britney Spears name, then imagine how powerful would a major long-held expectation be? The truth is that what you expect affects your body just as strongly as it does your mind.
You know your brain is powerful right? But this powerful?
You've probably heard of the placebo effect, but do you have any idea just how powerful it actually is?
A common example of the placebo effect is when a doctor prescribes a pain-killer to a patient. But when the patient gets their prescription filled, little to their knowledge, the pills they're given aren't ACTUAL pain meds. They are given an inert sugar pill. The placebo effect happens when we believe that pill is a powerful pain-killer. The expectation of pain relief causes an actual reduction in pain.
The placebo is real and has helped people recover from serious illness because they believed they had been given a wonder drug when they hadn't.
And it works the other way around too. Nocebo is the term given when a negative expectation produces a negative result. So people who wrongly believed they were sicker than they really were have died because they had been wrongly diagnosed and expected to die. Witch doctors often relied on this technique as well.
So this is why I've been talking about expectation. If it can make the difference between life and death then it can make all the difference in your experience of stopping smoking.
When you quit, you heal, you don't withdraw.
One of the lessons I've learned from taking a long hard look at how I approached helping people quit smoking was how people feel about the time after quitting.
I found that when the smoker started framing the time after they quit as healing (or re-calibrating) rather than withdrawal they had much fewer so called withdrawal symptoms.
Expectations produce powerful physical responses and when you really expect something it feels right that you are going to get it. People who expect to get drunk will feel and behave drunk when given fake alcohol by researchers.
So if we can remove a large amount of the expectation that nicotine withdrawal is going to be terrible then all a person has to deal with is the physical element of letting their body heal. This is why we use hypnosis - because it is much better at helping you change your expectations. It's much mire powerful and effective than will power.
If someone is led to believe that withdrawal from smoking has to be awful then that belief and expectation may produce a large part of what they experience. But what role does expectation play in keeping people smoking?
How expectation keeps you smoking.
Imagine you had a crazy finger snapping habit.
You snap your fingers one thousand times every day. You don't snap all the time though. You snap during breaks at work. You snap your fingers with a cup of coffee and a pint of beer or glass of wine after work when socializing or perhaps irritatingly for your partner, after your most intimate bedroom moments.
Now imagine you've snapped your fingers like this for twenty to thirty years. Just about every cup of coffee for thirty years has been consumed in conjunction to you snapping your fingers.
The thought of having a coffee, drinking or taking a break at work without snapping your fingers would feel weird! You might wonder what you would do with your hands at social gatherings if you couldn't snap your fingers. You've trained your brain and body to expect to finger snap just as Lisa's mother trained her to expect chocolate though hearing a key in the door.
I'm sure you're getting the message… the connection between smoking and having a coffee is no more natural than snapping your fingers and having a coffee. But when we do something – anything - often enough, we come to expect is as natural. This is how any learning takes place.
Of course nicotine contains thousands of toxic chemicals and finger snapping doesn't but as I've said, when you quit smoking these toxins are cleared in just 3 days as your body heals! So psychological expectation is still central to feeling addicted to smoking (or obsessive finger snapping).
Okay so back to our finger snapping analogy: When it comes time to quit that finger snapping habit you might believe you are physically addicted, you might get irritable and cranky, you might even dins yourself eating snacks to keep your hands busy. But what's really happening is you have a set of powerful psychological associations between finger snapping and certain situations. It's the same thing with smoking.
"I didn't even think about it... Until"
Even the heaviest chain-smoker will report times when they don't even think about smoking.
It might be during a long distance flight, a situation in which they have never smoked and therefore the psychological association has never been built. Most people have never smoked when swimming or in the movie theatre and so the desire only reasserts itself when they come out of these places. The majority of smokers even manage to sleep 8 hours without a cigarette. The desire is linked to the situations, not physical cravings (although this is not to say physical cravings play no part at all).
Which leads us back to you.
Are you too physically dependent to even think about freeing yourself from smoking?
Or have there ever been times like long distance flights, visits to non-smoking friends or to the movies where you hadn't really thought about smoking?
Do you ever sleep for more than two hours without your body waking you up demanding to be fed cigarettes?
Did you ever forget about smoking for longer than normal because you had become so focused on some emergency or other diversion?
If the answer is yes to any of the above then you definitely aren't too physically addicted to think about quitting for good.
Next time: Watch out for willpower!
In your next lesson we'll discuss when to quit and why willpower will only get you into more trouble.
Let me finish up by congratulating you on getting this far. Being open minded enough to take on board new ideas like this will help you a lot when you come to quit.
All the best
P.S. If you feel that you're ready to quit now you can contact me to book your Smoke-Free Life session if you haven't already. This course will continue, and it's a good idea to keep reading though it.