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. Ten or 20 was quite enough. By Q+14 days I wasn’t counting at all. I no longer needed to smoke. I was clean and free.”
Later, his buddy said he had never told him that, and he had never heard of the 60 seconds technique. The fellow started researching but couldn’t find anybody anywhere who suggested the 60 second technique. He wondered how it worked. Here’s how:
It’s not just that the craving lasts only 60 seconds, although that may be true. Smoking is at root an addiction of attention. Our attention “goes there”—to smoking– out of habit. “Where attention goes, identity flows.” Whatever we put our attention on first creates and then retrieves an “identity.” (The first time we play the piano, we don’t have a piano playing identity. The more we play, the more the piano playing identity is “implanted.”) So we have created—implanted– a smoker identity that keeps coming around time after time.
Attention, we can observe, is generally quite promiscuous. Within 60 seconds, it’s off and running elsewhere. Thus within 60 seconds the smoker identity is no longer “on the scene.” When we cease recharging the smoker identity—which is what we are doing if/when we wait 60 seconds—the smoker identity slowly runs out of gas.
Quitting smoking can be a lot easier than we tend to make it. Wait just a minute—it’ll be gone!