You ever get a bee in your bonnet? Or in your hat? In your car? All of sudden, you’re not thinking of anything, else, right? Everything in your life, except that bee, is immediately back burner. You need to do something about that buzzing bee and you need to do it now. When you have a bee in your bonnet, life is suddenly very intense, and uncomfortable, or potentially uncomfortable, and that potential makes it uncomfortable right now. You feel you need to do something.
For a lot of smokers, quitting smoking is very similar to having a bee in their bonnet, or a bee buzzing around in the car with them. Life is suddenly very intense, and uncomfortable, or potentially uncomfortable. They feel they need to do something about that buzzing, “right now.” Nothing else really matters.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not the lack of nicotine that makes a quitting smoker so jumpy. The use of nicotine patches or anti-depressant drugs such as Zyban can be helpful, but, so far, these substances lead to success in fewer than 30% of the cases. Even with nicotine levels at “ordinary,” and with stress levels reduced, the “bee in the bonnet” feeling persists, and smokers go back to smoking in order to let the bee out. The “relief ” which a smoker feels with his or her first cigarette, after an unsuccessful quitting attempt, is exactly the same relief as when the bee flies out the window. “Whew, thank goodness that’s over.”
So, what is it, exactly, that makes a smoker feel as if he or she has a bee in the bonnet, a bee in the car just as soon as the Quit Date arrives? If we could figure out where the bee comes from, we could go a long way to making it easier to quit, yes?
From careful research, and long discussions with smokers and ex-smokers, it seems clear that the “bee in the bonnet” comes in the form of a simple little question that our attention gets hooked on, that the smoker continually asks. That question is: “Should I, or shouldn’t I?”
Should I or shouldn’t I have a smoke? Should I or shouldn’t I give up on this quitting business? The answer to the question, of course, is logically no, don’t have one, don’t give up. That’s obvious, that’s easy. So the smoker answers, “no, of course not, I won’t have one, I won’t give up.” And then the question comes up again, and then again, and then again, should I or shouldn’t I?
Here’s the rub: To answer, no, is obvious, but just to answer no does not stop the question from recurring! Smokers don’t enjoy the question because they don’t enjoy either answer (yes I should smoke, no I shouldn’t smoke!) And what do smokers do when they aren’t enjoying themselves? They have a smoke! The recurring question is the bee in the bonnet!
Researchers have consistently found that the reason most smokers give for trying and failing to quit is that they were unable to resist the “cravings” they experienced shortly after stopping. A craving is basically a thought repeated over and over, LIKE A BUZZING BEE! (Good news: this bee doesn’t have a stinger! It may be a craving for chocolate pie or a craving for a ski trip or a new Ferrari. A craving is a thought repeated, again and again, until finally action is taken or— here’s the freedom– the “craver” consciously decides to change his or her thinking patterns. The key words here are consciously decides. In the minutes and hours and days after quitting smoking, the thought– in the form of a question– continually arises, “Should I or shouldn’t I?” Most smokers assume it is their job to just keep saying no long enough for the question to finally go away. Of course, that works, sometimes.
More directly, though, the conscious decision to drop the question itself, and put attention on something else, is a conscious decision to drop the craving, and thus drop the habit. We are inherently free to drop our cravings, or to drop thoughts we don’t enjoy to think! Of course, we are also free to develop or nourish our cravings.
Non-smokers don’t ask the question, “should I or shouldn’t I” The habit of asking this particular mental question is the basic habit that smokers are breaking when they quit smoking. The secret to quitting is not so much in correctly answering the question, “should I or shouldn’t I?” The secret is in not asking the question at all! Dropping the question lets the bee out of the bonnet. Then, whether to smoke or not smoke is simply no longer the question. The bee is gone!