One of the quirky challenges of helping people get free of the smoking habit is the intense privacy of this habit. On occasion, at social gatherings, I’ve experienced a smoker’s immediate withdrawal and defensiveness if I’m introduced as a stop smoking coach, as if I had been introduced as a pick-pocket or tax collector. My very presence seems to be an immediate threat to that person’s well-being.
Here’s why: the smoking habit, as with all addictions, is first and foremost a habit of attention. And as Michael Goldhaber pointed out in his seminal essay, Attention and the Net , our attention is our last bastion of privacy. (The goons might herd us at gunpoint into a stadium and broadcast propaganda at us, but we could put our attention on our shoes, denying them their audience.)
Curiously, the smoking habit is often a generally unconscious attempt at reclaiming and re-asserting privacy. Such reclaiming of privacy is in itself a very healthy and necessary activity! Smoking, obviously, is neither a very efficient nor sophisticated way of doing that.
For mature smokers, smoking has also become a tool for simply managing daily attention– — in one instance helping them keep attention focused on a particular project, or in another instance giving their attention a needed break from a particular project, or in yet another moment helping their attention to smoothly transfer from one project to another. The smoking habit is simply one way that smokers have learned to manage their daily attention.
The basic recognition that one’s personal, private attention is the operative force of the smoking habit is a large step in becoming free of this habit. After all, the basic “sign” that one is free from the smoking habit is that one’s attention is no longer caught, drawn, ensnared by these silly cylinders. With such freedom of attention, smokes no longer collect tax on the person’s daily attention, no longer pickpocket, first here then there, the personal wealth, the personal attention, which is valuable beyond measure.