Stopping smoking is about one thing, and one thing only. Control. You smoke because you are unable to control whether you smoke. It's true, isn't it? If you had complete control over your need / desire to smoke, and you wanted to exercise that control (important), then you wouldn't smoke.
One of the worst mistakes smokers make when they try to stop is to forget this important fact. It's also a mistake that is common amongst those charged with helping smokers to stop. Giving a patient a nicotine replacement product or a psychotropic drug may or may not be a good idea, but what it does not do is help that patient to exercise control. And by control we do, of course, mean self control. Taking nicotine through the skin, for example, is a way of getting a fix without smoking, fair enough, but it is not a way to learn self control. In fact it's the opposite. It says 'I have no self control so I'm going to get nicotine without smoking'. That may or may not help you to stop smoking in the long term, but it is certainly not going to help you to control your own actions.
And when we single out NRPs for these comments, we are really referring to all stop-smoking products and therapies, whether pharmaceutical products as used by the NHS or therapies provided privately. If, say, you pay a hypnotherapist to stop you smoking, they are probably going to be able to help you, but the point here is are you prepared to help yourself. One could argue that if you had complete self control you would not need to pay a hypnotherapist because you would stop smoking on your own.
So far so good, but what you are probably thinking is that you don't have self control and that's why you need help from someone else. In fact that's why you found this website. Well, that's fair enough, but how would it be if you could somehow gain more self control than you think you have at present? How would it be if you learn how to do that? Alright, perhaps not enough to stop on your own, but certainly enough to increase, greatly, the chance of success when you do use an NHS drug product, or see a private hypnotherapist or acupuncturist.
If, before you do these things, you have gained some self control, not enough to stop smoking but enough to make the process of stopping a lot easier, enough to approach it from a position of strength instead of weakness, you will probably agree that this would be a good thing. Well, this is how you do it.
Control, when it comes to smoking, means that you decide if and when to smoke a cigarette. Think about it – at present you just smoke. Whether it's ten a day or thirty, you just light up when you want one. There has probably, until now, been no reason not to. But if you are trying to stop smoking, or even if you are planning to try, the first step must surely be to take control of when and how you smoke. If you think you don't need to do this you would be wrong. If you think you either just smoke or you just stop, think about this. If you were trying to lose weight the issue wouldn't be whether you eat or not would it? It would be when, what and how much you eat. Alright, there is a difference between losing weight and stopping smoking, but the principle still applies. It all comes down to your self-control, and by that we mean training yourself to exercise that self control.
Self control is something you would be the first to say you don't have a lot of, but it's like a muscle – if you don't use it it wastes away. The reason you don't have self control is not because there is something inherently wrong with you but because you just haven't learned how to use it. Everyone HAS self control, but most people don't use it. You HAVE it, you just aren't using it. We don't mean enough self control to stop smoking, necessarily, at least at this stage, but enough to smoke when you want to and not to smoke when you don't want to, because you have started to think about this.
And by doing that, you will be starting to control your smoking. You will be controlling it instead of it controlling you. And that is inevitably going to help you when the time comes to stop altogether. So as you can see, this makes a great deal of sense.
Now for the details.
Controlling your smoking, contrary to what you might have assumed, is not about reducing the amount you smoke. That is a likely consequence of control, but it is not the point. The point is to learn how to smoke when you need nicotine, and not to smoke simply because you feel like smoking. Most smokers are quite unaware how many of the cigarettes they smoke actually serve no purpose. Remember why you smoke:
- When you are socialising
- When you are stressed
- When you are bored
- When you are happy
- When you are tired
- After a meal
- As a reward
But not one of these cigarettes is necessary. The only time a cigarette is necessary is when you need nicotine, because a cigarette is one thing and one thing only – the delivery method for nicotine. It has become associated in your mind with all the things above, but it is not why you are a smoker. You are a smoker because you are addicted to nicotine. We know this must be true because many many people are bored, stressed, happy, tired and socialise without smoking. The only ones who do these things with a cigarette are the people who are addicted to nicotine. Do think about this, because it's critically important.
You don't have control over your addiction, and so you don't (at present anyway) have control over the cigarettes you NEED. But you DO have control over the cigarettes you don't need. You do have control over the cigarettes you smoke because you are stressed, bored, happy, tired and socialising.
Now, it's time to see what a cigarette is – it is the delivery method for nicotine. The way you are going to control your smoking is by smoking when you need nicotine. What you are not going to do is smoke because you are stressed, bored, happy, tired or socialising, as a reward or after a meal. You CAN smoke at these times but, and it's a very big but, you have a choice at these times. You can choose to smoke or not smoke at these times.
And just why exactly would you do that? Because by doing that you will be controlling smoking. You will be learning to accept that you smoke when you need nicotine, when you need a fix, but not (necessarily) at other times. You can smoke any time you want, but if you make these changes you are going to learn that there have been times, countless thousands of times, that you have smoked a cigarette for the wrong reason. You have had a fix of nicotine when you haven't needed a fix of nicotine – when you have simply wanted a reward for finishing work, or you have been having a drink with friends.
If you accept that it is all right to smoke at these times, but it is also all right not to smoke at these times, you will have learned to control smoking, instead of it controlling you. As we said before the likely, if not inevitable, consequence of having this control is that you will smoke less, probably a lot less. This control and smoking less can only be a good thing. It is going to reduce the damage to your health and the financial cost. But more importantly it is going to put you in a very strong position when you decide you want to stop smoking, because you have learned self-control (without having to stop smoking). Actually, what it is also going to do is help you to overcome the fear of stopping (what is called the psychological dependence). Because you don't fear what you have control over.