Hopefully you started by reading Become A Non-smoker (BAN) Step 1 and you have written down your concrete, tangible, reasons for wanting to become a non-smoker. If not, please go to Step 1 now and start there. After listing your reasons, every time you light up a cigarette, until the day you become a non-smoker, you will repeat these concrete reasons many, many times over. The goal is to ingrain these new beliefs into your subconscious mind so they become automatic and that you look forward to giving up cigarettes because of all these wonderful benefits. Most importantly, repeating these reasons when you are smoking will lead to the belief that you really are looking forward to becoming a non-smoker because it is going to be GREAT!
In step 2 you are going to give some thought to what has gotten in the way of success in the past so you can prevent it getting in the way this time. To do that, you will pay attention to what you tell yourself to either not give up smoking or to go back to it when you have attempted quitting in the past. If you read my story of how I became a non-smoker you will know that my stories were things like not believing I could do it. The propaganda out there reinforced the idea that it is extremely hard to quit and that repeated failures are to be expected and I totally bought that theory. Another story I told myself is that I couldn’t quit when there was stress in my life. So what are the stories you tell yourself that keep you stuck?
Here are some questions that might help you to discover those stories: When I think about quitting I feel ……………I am not sure I can quit smoking because………….In the past I have not quit because……………….
Those are just some suggestions to help you with this task, but use any method you like for this step. It is probably easier to come up with the stories you have used to go back to smoking during previous attempts to quit. Something I have heard from a number of people is that they were at a social event and told themselves they would “just have one” or everyone else was smoking so they smoked that evening and they were right back into it. It is important to think about this ahead of time because after you become a non-smoker and one of these stories, or excuses we make up, automatically pops up you want to be prepared to talk back to it or better yet address it ahead of time, so it no longer exists. It has been my experience that just being aware of my stories (or BS as I think of it) stopped them from automatically popping up to try and trick me back into smoking as they had in past unsuccessful attempts to quit.
Now that you know what it is you tell yourself to get sucked back in to smoking or to not try to give it up, examine those thoughts and beliefs to address them before they affect your behavior after you become a non-smoker. How are you going to do that? Well I did it by using the premises of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT). Both of these therapeutic models are focused on changing thoughts to help you to change or eliminate dysfunctional behavior. CBT basically states that your thoughts drive your behavior, so changing your thoughts can change your dysfunctional behavior. REBT takes it a step further. REBT posits the idea that your thoughts, and beliefs, are related to your emotions which drive your behaviors. Your conscious and subconscious are both involved here and that is why it is important to take a look at these internal stories beforehand so if they come up you know how to respond before they sabotage you. If you want to learn more about CBT or REBT there is no lack of material available to help you learn more about these behavior change models. I will give you just some basic information here and suggest how to use it in relation to preparing to become a non-smoker.
Behavior is influenced by thoughts, feelings, physiological processes and the consequences of behavior. We need to work on all four areas to change behavior. Which sounds like a big task, but the good news is that you can control your thoughts, even the automatic ones. The most important development in all of the therapies that are out there is to know that you control your thoughts. Controlling your thoughts and reactions has an impact on your emotions so with control of your thoughts you will gain more control over emotional reactions to situations. For now, and for the purposes of being successful in becoming a non-smoker, try listening to what I’m telling you without judging it or evaluating it based on your current beliefs. The information is just there. Until you decide its value for you, or lack of value, it has no real meaning for you.
Knowing that you control your thoughts is very important to accept and can be very empowering. Using this information alone, you can change your life for the better. This knowledge puts you in the drivers seat. Lets assume for now that you accept and fully believe that you control your thoughts. If you accept this you know that your thoughts determine how you live your life. Therefore you will accept that if you want to change your life, you must change your thoughts. I know, I know, that sounds like circular thinking and frankly smacks of me trying to trick you into accepting my way of thinking. Honestly there might be a bit of that going on, but I do it to help you accept this premise because it will help you to successfully become a non-smoker permanently. Heck it might even help you in making other life changes later on, but lets stick with ban for now.
You can control your thoughts through the use of metacognitions. Metacognitions are what happens when people learn to comment internally on their own thinking patterns and thereby act as their own mentor or therapist. This is essentially what I would like you to do. After you give up cigarettes and your old thinking patterns come back to try and trick you into smoking you can use metacognitions to talk back.
Here is how I used it. One of my excuses or bs stories I told myself was that I couldn’t quit smoking when there was stress in my life. Here is how that played out cognitively.
A couple of weeks after becoming a non-smoker I had a fight with my husband. The way it played out went something like this: Antecedent- I have an argument that leaves me feeling stressed out. Belief – I believe that I can’t quit smoking when there is stress in my life. Consequence – I am stressed, therefore I need to smoke, so I go to buy cigarettes
Metacognition: when I got to the store, I had a talk with myself. First, I recognized that it is ridiculous to expect that there will never be stress in my life and that it was just an excuse to buy cigarettes. What was really going on is that my subconscious was trying to trick me into going back to smoking. I gave myself a little talking to about not buying into my own bs and I go into the store and buy myself a treat instead.
First, note the ABC’s of this process. The precipitating event, or antecedent in this example is the argument, which of course stresses me out. Conflict will typically do that. I automatically think that I need to go buy smokes, because I believe that I can’t quit smoking when I’m stressed out. Emotion plays a role here too, and lets face it our emotions often drive our thoughts and behavior. Especially, strong, negative emotions. In REBT this is known as the cause and effect paradigm. If I didn’t think “when I’m stressed I must smoke” then C would never happen. So to change C I need to change B because I have no control over A.
Stuff happens, you can only control your reaction to what happens. So to summarize: If you can figure out the sequence of events underlying the overt behavior you can design a behavioral program to change the pattern of events. I knew if I got upset or stressed my pattern was to believe I needed a smoke to calm me down. To challenge this belief I came up with what I would do if this thought came back. There are more options besides smoking for dealing with stress. Plus going back to smoking would add to the stress. Talking back to it in this way, is what worked for me this time, and the thought never came back after that because I challenged and changed the belief driving that thought.
If you know you control your thoughts and that “I need a cigarette when I’m stressed” is just a thought you created based on a faulty belief, it robs it of its power over you. Or at least it did in my case. My irrational thought was “I can’t quit smoking if there is stress in my life.” What irrational thoughts do you have around smoking? Figure out what they are now and they won’t catch you unaware after you quit, when you’re more vulnerable to them. Give them some thought to them now as a smoker so you can talk back to them as a non-smoker.
Here is a little extra information on the topic.
What is common among these thoughts or beliefs? They all represent “helpless” thinking. This helplessness is a common end result of irrational thought. (look for that helpless feeling after your thoughts, that will help you recognize them) For the next week listen to your own thoughts and to others irrational ideas. Once you recognize the irrational idea or thought confront it directly, concretely, and immediately.
To recap the A-B-C ‘s of Cognition
A – the “objective” facts, events, behaviors that an individual encounters
B – the persons beliefs about A
C – the emotional consequences or how a person feels and acts about A
As I said in my case I ended up going into the store and rewarding myself. Intermittent reward will be a good tool to help maintain change. How will you reward yourself? This is part of a having a relapse and stress management plan. I will provide some ideas about that in another post.