“How to Quit Smoking” = A Very Crummy Question!

Judge a man by his questions, rather than his answers.” Pierre Marc-Caston

If you have been asking,  how can I quit smoking for many years and you are still smoking, that may suggest that the question itself is to blame. That question apparently has no power; it’s keeping you going around in circles.

           In his classic book People in Quandaries:  the Semantics of Personal Adjustment,  the psychologist Wendell Johnson  points out that a “vague question always leads to a vague answer. ” The question,  how can I quit smoking is a vague question because it has 1000 or more different answers:

  • I can get locked up in jail,
  • have my mouth duct taped,
  • cut my hands off,
  • have a stroke,
  • be kidnapped by terrorists,
  • keep a lemon in my mouth…

Johnson goes on to say, (more…)

The Happiness Experiment

People most often change their personal habits not because of health concerns or social pressure but rather because they are feeling good about themselves and want to feel still better.”

      This was the conclusion from a Gallop Poll reported in American Health Magazine. The obvious implication is that people most often find it easier, more natural to change their unwanted personal habits when they are feeling good about themselves and want to feel still better.  In other words, when they are already feeling happy with themselves, at peace with themselves, it’s easier for them to drop old habits.

So would it make quitting smoking a lot easier if we simply increased our daily experience of peace and happiness? Wouldn’t this be a fun experiment to try? What could it hurt? (more…)

One Minute Quit Smoking

A recent essay in The New York Times told about a fellow’s journey to freedom from a two-pack a day smoking habit. His friend had told him about a stop smoking program where he learned to “count to 60” whenever he wanted to have a smoke.
“That’s how long it takes for the craving to pass,” his friend had told him. The fellow thought he’d give it a try.
“On the morning of Q-day, [quit day]… he wrote, “starving, caged rats started gnawing at my gut the moment I’d finished my breakfast coffee. I felt faint. One, two, three …
“And when I got to 60, hallelujah! — a sweet, holy miracle took place and it was just like [my friend] said it would be. I didn’t need a cigarette any more. …Naturally 20 minutes later the rats attacked again, and again I drove them off with a smart 1 to 60. I must have done about 40 counts that first day — the number of cigarettes I would normally have smoked.

“The next day I only had to do 30, and progressively fewer in the following days. Also, as time went by I found I no longer had to count to the full 60. (more…)

How to Quit Smoking: Three Secrets from a Stop Smoking Coach

Hay meester, listen to this…

Here’s secret number one: How you quit smoking doesn’t make a lot of difference and actually isn’t that important.

Most smokers want to believe that there must be some specific, particular official way to quit, but there isn’t. Smokers have quit in every way imaginable. Smokers have quit by going cold turkey and they’ve quit by cutting back slowly. Smokers have quit using hypnosis, or acupuncture or pumping iron or bowling. Some smokers have used the nicotine patches or nicotine inhalers, Chantix or Zyban; others have used Tootsie Rolls and Juicy Fruit or a combination of them all. Many smokers haven’t used anything at all. (more…)

The Easiest Way to Quit Smoking

Okay folks, I’ve been away for a while— doing my day job (as a stop smoking coach!) I’m happy to report that I’ve recently cut back my hours there so I can spend more time here. Look for more regular, and more radical approaches to stepping away from the smokes. Here’s a warm-up:

Just Be ”= the Easiest, Most Natural Way to Quit
Over the year’s I’ve collected and refined over 30 different tools—or “steps”—that I share with smokers at particular points along their paths to freedom. I suggest different steps in response to a person’s own particular needs or personal concerns at the moment. Where I work they have independent evaluators who have found that what I and my colleagues have been doing has been very effective for many people. Yay.
Still, when all is said and done, quitting is in fact a “one step” process. At the physical level, that step is made when at some point you don’t pick up a smoke ever again. Physically, if you don’t have a smoke in your hands, you’re a non-smoker. (more…)

Addiction and Non-Duality: How and Why to Space Out

Here’s Why to Space Out:

• Addiction is always an addiction of attention.
• Freedom is a freedom of attention.

• Attention is love.

• Attention in its natural state is space-like. (Unbounded love.)
• Attention short-circuited, is planet like. (bounded love)

• Our education, our culture, our physical experience all lead toward short-circuiting of our attention, e.g., short-circuiting of our love, such that most of us, most of the time, experience our attention as planet-like.

• Addiction is attention in its planet-like (short-circuited) state, caught in a particular gravity pattern, revolving around a particular star or two (e.g., tobacco, sex, money, fame, booze, or daily soap operas.)

• Simply remembering our natural state, (e.g., love, space-like attention,) again and again and again until it again becomes our daily experience, is the mechanism for resolving addiction. (more…)

The Secret for Freedom from Cravings

Is it possible that the Ahh of that first puff might be a Portal to Freedom?

Let’s say you’ve been wanting to quit, and you’ve actually been doing pretty good. But now, doggone it, the craving is so strong that you’re really tempted, and in fact, you’re going to have a smoke. You tell yourself you really need a smoke, maybe just a quick, sneaky one, to help you get beyond this stupid craving. So you cave.
You find a smoke, be it near or far, find a match, quickly light up, take a deep first inhale, then exhale. Ahhh…back home again. What a relief!
Let’s freeze frame this moment, this feeling, this relief after the first exhale, because it’s this that you’ve been wanting. So let’s look at this moment, this feeling, this relief more closely.

In that moment after the first exhale, you feel relief. Why? It’s not the nicotine, because the amount of nicotine you get from one little puff is quite minimal. In fact, many people who are using the nicotine patch, or nicotine gum or lozenge still have the craving for a smoke. Yet they, too, get that same relief from the first puff. Their nicotine levels are already quite sufficient! So it’s not the nicotine that provides the “first puff relief.” It must be something else that makes us go, “ahhh.”
Let’s move now to the second puff. With the second puff, if you’ve been wanting to quit, you start to beat yourself up again. “Oh shoot, here I go again. I’m smoking! What am I doing? Why am I doing this? I wanted to quit so bad…thump, thump thump.”

Back to the “freeze frame” of the first puff, or more precisely, the exhale of the first puff. In that moment after that first exhale, you are no longer wanting a cigarette because, (duh) you’re now smoking one! In fact, you don’t want anything. In that brief half moment, you are happy to be right where you are, doing what you’re doing. We mistakenly assume that the relief came from the cigarette. In fact, however, the relief is a relief from wanting. Again, after that first puff, you are no longer wanting.
Alas, starting with the second puff, or the third or fourth, the “wanting” starts up again— this time, wanting to quit! So the relief from the smoke is no longer so sweet. So what often happens, you have another one, and another one, trying to get that “first puff relief,” that first “ahhh.” Again though, the relief did not come from the cigarette. The relief came because of the momentary absence of wanting!
Curiously, this is what we truly “crave”: the absence of wanting! We want to be “want-less!”
Sounds goofy, but isn’t absence of wanting what we also want when we envision being rich, or being in love, or being famous or in perfect health? We’re envisioning a state where our wants have all been met! We envision lying on a tropical beach in our perfect body next to our perfect lover, supported by our perfect bank account which came from our perfect job. And of course, our perfect family and perfect friends are all watching on admiringly. In such a scenario all of our wants are met! Ahh, success.

To succeed in quitting smoking we make it easier on ourselves if we magnify—and multiply– our other ordinary “ahh” moments. Ahh, a new day. Ahh, a warm shower. Ahh a cup of coffee.. Ahh, a glass of water. Ahh, a phone call from a friend. Ahh, time to go to bed.
As we practice being at ease with where we are in this moment, doing what we’re doing— not wanting something different than what is right here—our wants get light, more friendly, and effortlessly dissolve and flow away. Our “wants” will continue to come and go, rise and fall as long as we walk the earth. But maturity comes when we directly experience that what we are looking for is the “ahhh” itself, the want-less courage to be happy where we are, right here, right now. (Ahhh….) When we clearly recognize—indeed, experience—that the “relief”— the “ahhh” that we get from a smoke is relief from wanting, and that the smoke is only secondary, we begin to sense the true nature of freedom. Sensing the nature of freedom, freedom itself begins to grow. Ahhh….

A Craving is Like A Buzzing Bee

Yikes! A bee!

Yikes! A bee!

      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 IThe 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!                                                  

When That Little Thief Finally Leaves


Trust me...

The metaphor is probably the most fertile power possessed by man.” —-Ortega E. Gassett

Here’s a metaphor: Imagine as a kid you started hanging out with neighborhood pals, one of whom was a lot of fun, very likeable and adventurous, but also a little bit of a petty thief. Over the years most of the other kids moved away, or went on other paths, but you and the petty thief continued to hang out. In fact, the thief moved in with you. Again, this was okay because he (she) was a lot of fun, likeable, adventurous, and a pal whenever you needed a pal. And relative to this pal’s petty thievery— well, you’re no prude, though you yourself don’t steal things. (You know stealing’s silly.)

So here it is, all these years later. The thief/kid is still living with you. In fact, you have breakfast together every morning. You work together. He (she) comes home with you at night. Goes on vacation with you. To family reunions and funerals. Goes out to eat with you, goes to the grocery store, and to the doctor’s office. This kid— no longer a kid— goes everywhere with you.

And you’ve long recognized and accepted that your thief friend is not opposed to stealing from you. Not stealing a lot, but a little, every day. Petty thievery. First, of course, your petty thief friend regularly filches a bit of your cash: sneaks in and takes three to five bucks off your dresser, every day, including Sundays! It used to be just a couple of bucks, but in the past couple of years, the daily filch has been steadily growing, (with no end in sight!)

And then he (she) occasionally steals a shirt or a blouse, or a pair of pants – accidentally burns holes in them, then quietly returns them to your closet. But you’re used to this— you know what the thief is up to. You’re used to it.

Lately, though, you’ve started to notice that the thief is getting worse, stealing not only money and clothes, but even more valuable things. You’ve noticed that the thief regularly nabs for himself (herself) little bits of your time. He (she) doesn’t nab a whole lot of your time all at once, but he (she) steals your time regularly, five minutes here, five minutes there, throughout the day, every day. Even when you’re with friends, or family, the thief often steals time away from them. Or when you’re working on a project, the thief comes in a steals some of your project time. Or your TV time. Your movie time. This thief just won’t let up!

And now lately, and worst of all, you’ve noticed that the thief is starting to steal little bits of your breath! Starting to steal the very air you breathe! Again, not a lot, all at once. But regularly. You’re noticing you don’t have as much air as you once did. And the thief doesn’t give it back! You’re starting to suspect that, as time goes by, your thief friend wouldn’t have any qualms whatsoever about stealing all of your air, until you didn’t have any left for yourself.

So enough’s enough. You’ve grown impatient with your old friend, this petty thief. She’s not that much fun any more. She’s actually an annoyance. And an expense. Increasingly irritating and obnoxiously invasive into your life. You’ve decided to throw the thief out.

People have sometimes asked me, “What am I going to do with myself, if I don’t smoke?”

The answer: What will you do, without that petty thief in your house?
Nothing different! You’re just going to live your regular daily life, but a lot more freely, more comfortably, without all the cost and inconvenience and hassle of that long-time roommate.

It’s not rocket science. You might miss that little thief for a bit. But that little thief won’t miss you! Enough’s enough.

It’s time to evict that childhood buddy, that thieving friend. Enough’s enough!