Graham* was in a very familiar situation when he rang me. A thirty-a-day smoker he’d been told to stop by his doctor, his wife, his children, and his grandchildren. The problem was Graham didn’t want to stop – but he did want to cut down.
When I first started as a hypnotherapist I used to be very black-and-white about smoking cessation. People either wanted to stop, and I would help them, or they wanted to carry on, and didn’t need to see me. Over time however, as I talked to more and more smokers, I realised that for many stopping completely was unimaginable. Instead they could imagine successfully cutting down, sometimes to as few as three or four cigarettes a day.
Graham was in this position. As we spoke it became clearer and clearer that the idea of stopping all at once wasn’t realistic. However as Graham talked about smoking he realised more and more that there were only about five cigarettes a day he actively enjoyed. The rest were just habits, to the extent that he sometimes found himself smoking a cigarette without having noticed he’d started it, or not remembering smoking half of the pack.
What was right for Graham was the idea of reducing his smoking, and the way we did that was to use the fact that it was an unconscious habit. Instead of being able to light up without noticing we used a technique to make sure that he really noticed what he was doing.
Every time Graham had the impulse to smoke he learned to take a cigarette and hold it in his fingers, really noticing the sensations, like the difference between the paper and the filter. Then he brought the cigarette to his lips, noticing the increasing smell of tobacco. Putting the cigarette in his mouth he noticed the feeling, the taste and the smell. Then he took the cigarette away, noticing how he felt more relaxed, and more relaxed again as he put the cigarette back in the packet and pushed the packet away.
Graham was initially sceptical, about whether this would work, and about whether he really could cut down. I told him to listen to the recording that we had made every day, and to look back in a week’s time and see if he could notice any difference.
When I spoke to Graham seven days later he was laughing at how he had already cut out ten cigarettes a day without noticing the reduction, and without feeling any nicotine withdrawal. A month later when we spoke again he was down to five a day – the five that he’d identified as the ones he actually enjoyed. And even his wife, and his doctor, had grudgingly agreed that was a major improvement.
* Graham’s real identity has been protected, and he is happy to share his story.
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