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stopping smoking with hypnosis

wanting to change but feeling pessimistic?
When people first come to me for help they know they want something in their lives to change. Most of them have already tried to make those changes themselves with limited success. Some of them have tried so hard they have become pessimistic about change being possible.

no-one wants to be told what to do
Even more sceptical are the ones who have been nagged, pleaded with and threatened into taking action. I sympathise with them - I don't like being told what to do either.

'I don't really believe in this sort of thing' is a typical opening statement, usually spoken with an apologetic smile. 'That's OK', I tell them, 'Nor did I - until I realised how well it works'.

myths about giving up smoking
Take smoking, for example. A kind of conventional wisdom exists that it's very hard to quit and even if you succeed you'll immediately eat twice as much as you did before - oh, and you'll be bad tempered and the cravings will be unbearable.

When I ask someone who thinks like this how he or she knows these things the reply is often something like 'Well it's common knowledge, isn't it' or 'Everyone says so'. On further examination, it emerges that these ideas are often based on little or no evidence, yet the more you question them the more dogged the defence.

in two minds about it all
What's going on here? Someone who doesn't believe in hypnosis is paying me to hear how I can't help them. This person wants to quit but thinks he or she probably can't succeed. It could be that they are in two minds - and of course they are.

We all have two minds: conscious and unconscious. It's the way we are meant to be. The conscious mind is the one that gives us reason. It tends to like linear thinking: x plus y equals z and so on. Most of our schooling is aimed at this mind and leads us to feel we're lacking if our lives are not rational and orderly. So why aren't they?

heart rules the head
To answer this we need to turn to the unconscious mind. While the conscious likes reasoning, the unconscious actually contains the reasons why heart so often rules head and habits tend to triumph over logic.

How come this isn't already clear to us?

Because 'Conscious' means 'Aware' and 'Unconscious' means 'Unaware'.

We constantly operate on two levels and we're only aware of one of them. That's why, after tripping ourselves up in some way, we sometimes wonder 'Why did I do that?'

pete isn't stupid
There is always an answer, of course, even if the reasoning seems strange. Take the example of the smoker who both wants to quit and has many reasons not to try. Let's call him Pete.

Pete isn't stupid - far from it - but when he started smoking, aged fourteen, he saw the world very differently. Back then his main focus was on being accepted by slightly older kids who seemed very sophisticated and confident to him. They were the in-crowd at school and, most importantly, a few of them were pretty girls.

This group would meet in the coffee bar, sometimes while playing truant, and were bound together by a few important ideas: they all smoked and made cigarettes a kind of currency, a bit like they are in prison. Smoking was a unifying symbol of rebellion that showed that they weren't afraid of being bad. Those outside the group were 'Lame' or 'Stupid' and simply didn't understand them. The only opinions that counted were their own, because no-one had ever felt like them before.

smoking to feel special
For Pete, cigarettes had now become a symbol of belonging to the elite and being different from the boring majority, a means of exchange, fashionable rebellion and sophistication. Of course, he wasn't aware of all this as he reeled from the waves of nausea after his first cigarette, but he soon learned to look nonchalant as he puffed away.

In his unconscious mind, smoking was by now an activity that gave him status and security and defined him as a special person - and his unconscious is bound to protect him, because that's its main job. What do you think controls your breathing, digestion and heartbeat - all the processes that keep you safe?

skip forward ten years
His unconscious by now was maintaining a trance - a story your unconscious tells you about what is going on that feels real - in which he was secure in being special, as long as he smoked.

Skip forward ten years and we find Pete standing in the office doorway in the rain, having another fag break. He has over-spent recently and will have to find a way of repaying the money by the end of the month. It's at times like this, when things get on top of him, that Pete feels the urge to smoke, so he can calm down.

His unconscious mind has extended the trance so that Pete perceives smoking as a relief from the pressures of life - ironically, as a breathing space, a little time just for him.

the doctor's warning
When his doctor tells the forty year old Pete that it's vital for his health that he quits smoking, it scares him. He decides to stop - and his unconscious resolves to stop him from succeeding. It has to, because it believes that smoking is part of his identity and a special time when he can relax.

Every time Pete worries about his health, his unconscious tells him 'Don't worry, have a cigarette and feel better'. When he thinks about the doctor's warning and feels scared it does the same, because logic is no part of the way it works. Instead, the unconscious makes connections between things and then turns them into habits.

Ironically, it is always doing the best it currently knows how to do to help him - and it's killing him with kindness.

old dogs and new tricks
So here we are, Pete and I, sitting together in a quiet room. My job is to help him to wake up out of his smoking trance so he can create a better one, a trance in which he has the confidence to respect himself without needing old symbols and to deal with his problems by taking action to change things, and to do that I need to help him to have a discussion with his unconscious and to make a new agreement.

The exciting thing is that once the new trance is in place it will maintain itself just as reliably as the old one did. After all, his unconscious mind can't help but do the best job it knows how to do to help him - and now it knows a better way.

Old dogs and new tricks? No problem!