Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"I Could Quit Any Time I Want!"

I have questions about that statement. I hear this all the time. Someone finds out I'm a hypnotist and that person turns to their friend and says, "Hey, this person is a hypnotist. Why don't you quit?"

And the smoker says.... well, it's the title of this post. I don't know how to respond to that statement -- or if I should at all. My first reaction is to ask, "Well, why DON'T you quit?" But I'm afraid that it will be taken the wrong way. I really want to know the answer, but I think the smoker will become immediately defensive. Smokers, in general, are a defensive group. Strangers yell at them. Children and spouses nag. They have been ostracized from buildings. I'm a hypnotist, so I'm actually quite sensitive about their defensive behavior. I'd feel that way, too, but this means I don't know the answer to that question and I don't know how to ask it any other way.

Everyone knows that smoking is a stupid thing to do. So why don't you quit? People who think or know that they could quit any time are not looking for a hypnotist. They don't want to quit. But WHY NOT?

These are my ideas, but I'd love to hear from smokers.

1. I've quit before and I did fine, so it will be easy when I feel like quitting again.
2. I don't smoke that much, so it will be easy to quit.
3. I'm not ready.
4. I like smoking.
5. My aunt/uncle/grandfather - whoever - smoked until he was 95. I'll live that long, too.
6. I smoke American Spirit, (or I roll my own) so I am not putting the same chemicals in my body that other smokers do.

If you have an answer to this question, please reply!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Myth of Will Power When Quitting Smoking

"I have no will power. After a few days (hours, weeks, whatever) without a cigarette, I cave in and I feel like such a loser."

Sound like you? Please, PLEASE don't beat yourself up! It's not your fault.

We hypnotists spend a lot of time talking about your conscious and your subconscious mind. Your conscious mind is not able to process very much at any time. According to research on information processing, your conscious mind is only able to process approximately 50 bits of information per second. Your subconscious mind, on the other hand, processes approximately 11 million bits per second.1 You use your conscious mind for important things: You make decisions in your conscious mind. You choose a different driving route when you see traffic on the road in front of you or you weigh the pros and cons of making a job change in your conscious mind - the part of your mind that is rational, analytical and objective.

Your will power is in this part of your mind. Will power is a wonderful thing given to us by Mother Nature. If you are starving, weak and tired, instead of just falling over and caving in, you marshal your forces, so to speak, get up and find food. Or if you are at a party, but you are tired, you can also marshal your forces and get a second wind so that you can party for a few more hours. You made a conscious decision. The problem with will power is that it doesn't last very long. If you don't find food, you are going to fall over and die; or, after a few hours of partying, you are going to have to go home and sleep, no matter how strong your will power is.

Your subconscious is immense. You have stored everything you've ever learned in your subconscious: the multiplication tables; how to drive a car; the lyrics to your favorite songs; how to put on your pants or tie your shoes; throw a ball. These are all "programs" that you stored in your subconscious. Your subconscious mind processes information about 220 times better and more effectively than your conscious mind - you can now turn the key of your car, turn on the turn indicator and turn to your left to check for drivers behind you, all at the same time -- without having to think about it. The process is automatic. You have stored all of your habits - your programs - in your subconscious, the good ones and the bad ones. And smoking is one nasty habit.

How many cigarettes do you smoke a day? Ten? Twenty? Forty? And how long have you been smoking? Ten? Twenty? Forty years? You stored your smoking habit in your subconscious a long time ago and you have practiced being a smoker over and over again so that this program is deep in your subconscious.

Your conscious mind knows perfectly well that smoking is a really stupid thing to do. And your subconscious just goes blythely along doing what you programmed it to do all those years ago: I drink coffee, I automatically reach for a cigarette. My boss pissed me off, I automatically reach for a cigarette.
I'm in the car and I don't have anything else to do, I reach for my cigarettes. Habit. A deeply-rooted habit.

If you are having a hard time quitting smoking by using your will power, give yourself some slack. There is nothing wrong with your will power and you are not a loser. You are looking in the wrong place for help.

1. Zimmerman, M. (1989). In R. F. Schmidt & G. Thews (eds.), Human Physiology, pp. 166-173. Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag.
2. Lovitch, Michael, The Will Power Myth., Jan. 6, 2009.

Next post: "I Can Quit Any Time I Want"

Friday, November 18, 2011

Great American Smokeout - November 17, 2011

Yesterday, I hypnotized smokers for free at Occupy Wall Street (OWS) at Zuccotti Park to mark the Great American Smokeout. Altogether, 20 people quit, (I started a few days before, to iron out any kinks in my project) sitting on the wall on Liberty Street in the cold, the rain, with sounds of chanting, sirens and drums in the background. At one point, I had a line of potential ex-smokers! 
On Tuesday, when I heard that the police had "dismantled" OWS, my first reaction was, "Couldn't they wait until after the Great American Smokeout?" Coincidentally, 11/17 was also the 2 month anniversary of OWS. Undeterred, I brought my sign and my video camera and set up shop. Many people took pictures of my sign:

Among many things I learned: it's easier to hypnotize people in a park than you would think. Smokers came in many varieties. Some only smoked on the weekends when they drink, another smokes three packs a day. Predictably, he's a truck driver. (He thought I was psychic, because I guessed it. The truth is, few people can smoke that much and work -- except truck drivers.) One is on the construction crew building the 9/11 Memorial.

All in all, this was a very gratifying project. As soon as I learn how to edit my video, I'll post it!

Next blog: The Myth of Will Power

Friday, November 11, 2011

Are You Addicted? Part 2

(See Part 1!)
Nicotine is a substance.
Smoking is a behavior.
One of the first questions I ask my potential clients, on the  phone "Do you think you're addicted to smoking?"
Many of my clients say, “I am psychologically addicted to smoking.”
Now, we’re getting somewhere.
It is beneficial for the tobacco companies for you to think you are addicted to their product. Every time you repeat the “oh, I’m so addicted to smoking, It will be so-o-o-o-o hard for me to quit,” the tobacco companies hear the chich-ing of a cash register and their stock price goes up.
We had to sue the tobacco companies to discover they were putting substances into their cigarettes to make them more addictive. Now, we know.
Did they have to change the formula of their products? No.
The tobacco companies realized they could turn what should have a detriment – we manufacture a product that is addictive and kills people -- turn into a positive for them. They embraced it.
What really galls me; this new PR spin isn’t even costing them. Now that the pharmaceutical companies have created products to “cure” your addiction, the tobacco companies don’t need tell you that you have a terrible addiction. Big Pharma is doing it for them because THEY want you to think the only way to get you off your addiction is for you to buy their product.
When do smoke your first cigarette? With your first cup of coffee? Outside on the deck before you go to work? In the car? Walking to the subway?
Go through your day. You barely even think about the actual smoking. You might think about how to smoke, where to smoke, making sure you have time to smoke, but you don’t actually think about smoking.

Most smoking is habitual. I'm not saying that it's easy to change your habits - ask anyone who has quit biting their nails or eating sweets - but you can do it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Do You Think You Are Addicted to Nicotine? Part 1

All right, it's a trick question. What is your definition of addition?
Here’s one:
Addiction is a persistent, compulsive dependence on a behavior or substance. The term has been partially replaced by the word dependence for substance abuse. Addiction has been extended, however, to include mood-altering behaviors or activities.
Some researchers speak of two types of addictions: substance addictions (for example, alcoholism, drug abuse, and smoking); and process addictions (for example, gambling, spending, shopping, eating, and sexual activity). There is a growing recognition that many addicts, such as polydrug abusers, are addicted to more than one substance or process.
(From the Medical Dictionary: The Free Dictionary)

Is smoking a substance or a behavior?
Answer: Nicotine is a substance. Smoking is a behavior.

Nicotine is an addictive substance and I am not going to try to convince you otherwise.
So is heroin. So is caffeine. I know what you’ve read and heard, “Oh, nicotine is one of the most addictive substances in the world. More than heroin!” But really, is it?
Ask yourself: If you had to go to the depths of the Bronx at two o’clock in the morning, walk up stairs reeking of urine, to a rat-infested lair to score your cigarettes, would you still do it? I ask my clients that question and very few say yes.
For most of you reading this blog, you must admit, if you had to score your cigarettes that way, you would have quit a long time ago.
When I hear that “more addictive than heroin” quotation from a physician, I press him/her on the issue. What do you mean? After a few minutes of quoting the headlines of medical journals and popular media, the doctor says that it’s hard to quit smoking because cigarettes are legal, cheap and everywhere.
Tobacco is, most certainly, one of the most widely-used addictive substances in the world.
So, how addictive is it?
Lots of people, including me, are addicted to caffeine. When I get up in the morning, I look forward to my one daily cup of coffee. It smells so good and it helps me wake up. If I don’t have my caffeine fix, I get a headache and I am an absolute bitch until I do get it. I admit it; I have a caffeine addiction. When I quit drinking coffee, which I have done several times for various reasons, I progressively cut down for 5-6 days and then I’m off caffeine. No more headache; no other withdrawal symptoms -- Just a feeling of nostalgia whenever I walk past Starbuck’s. (I’m originally from Seattle, people!)
Is nicotine addictive? Sure. But I think that for most people, it is more like a caffeine addiction than a heroine addiction. I can't imagine the reaction of the doctor if I'd asked to be admitted to an addiction program when she recommended I stop drinking coffee. (and don't worry about me now, I'm drinking coffee with my doctor's approval) I’ve had too many clients who came in absolutely convinced that they had a terrible addiction, and they walked out of my office smoke free, with no withdrawal symptoms.
How can that be if smoking is so addictive?