It’s October, and I always see an increase in people who want to stop smoking prompted by the Stoptober campaign. Over the years I’ve seen all sorts of behaviours around smoking – people who started before they were ten; people who’d smoked for over fifty years; people who smoked fifty a day; people who only smoked at work or in the car; and people who smoked and believed that no-one else could tell.
What they’ve all had in common is the idea that Gill* expressed – “I should be able to give up on my own, because I know it’s not good for me.” The reason that she couldn’t wasn’t because she was weak – it’s because her decision to smoke was emotional, and logic is simply the wrong tool to use on emotional thinking.
Instead of bombarding Gill with facts that she already knew about smoking we talked instead about why she’d started, and why she carried on. She was fifteen when she started to smoke, desperate to fit in at a new school, and to look older than she was. None of that applied now – she had a solid circle of family and friends, and in her late thirties she didn’t want to look any older.
If her reasons for starting didn’t apply any more what has it that kept her smoking? Part of it was what she thought that she got out of it – a reason to get up from her desk at work, to meet her colleagues, and to keep up to date with the office grapevine. Part of it was triggers in her everyday life – driving to work, her first coffee of the day. And part of it was what she was afraid might happen – whether she was successful or not.
Gill’s benefits from smoking didn’t stand up to that much examination, and she suggested herself that she could move from her desk, and talk to colleagues, all without the excuse of having a cigarette. Her triggers in the day were easily dealt with as well – a different route to work to avoid familiar landmarks, and orange juice for a while instead of coffee to break that link.
It was what might happen that was trickier for Gill to describe and to resolve. She was afraid that stopping smoking would make her friends who smoked feel judged and rejected by her. She was also afraid that if she failed she’d be shunned by her friends who smoked and be judged herself by her friends who didn’t. She thought that even trying would spoil some of her friendships.
It was discussing these fears, and proving them to be unfounded, that was the point in the session where Gill finally became able to break free from her fears and from her old habit – free from smoking but with her friendships as strong as ever.
*Gill’s real identity has been protected, and she is happy to share her story.
If you enjoyed this why not sign up for my monthly newsletter here with three stories every month on the quirky side of relationships and psychology.