Quit Smoking Painlessly

My father smoked all his life and, thus, all my life--until it killed him (as it killed my mother's father and my brother's first wife).

I never thought that I would smoke, but as soon as I left home for college, at the age of eighteen, I started smoking--replacing his second-hand smoke with my own first-hand smoke. In the beginning, I really enjoyed the smell and taste of tobacco, but within a few years, the original fresh taste was gone, replaced by a dry, harsh smell. I knew that smoking was bad for me, but somehow I couldn't stop. I tried a variety of methods: cold turkey, gradual reduction, smoking a pipe, and chewing tons of gum. Nothing worked. I would often decide that I was going to just quit. I'd throw half a carton of Camels into the trash and get ready to tough it out. Two days later I'd be out buying another carton. I had gotten up to two packs of unfiltered Camel regulars by the time I quit, at the age of twenty-eight.

One day--it must have been in 1971--I was browsing through the Post Library in the Grant Heights Family Housing Area in Narimasu-shi, Japan, when I ran across a book called either Quit Smoking Painlessly or Stop Smoking Painlessly.  I wish I could remember the name of the author, since I'd really like to thank him. On the front cover, below the title, was written, "Stop smoking in two weeks, or your money back." Since it was a library book, I had no hope of getting any money back, but I checked it out anyway.

One week later, on a Saturday morning, I got out of bed and went to the living room. As usual, I pulled a Camel of its pack and placed it between my lips. I reached for my lighter, flicked the wheel, got a nice flame, and tried to light my cigarette. I was pretty surprised to find that I couldn't get it to light--because I just couldn't bring myself to inhale. It took several attempts over the next several days for the realization to sink in that I would never smoke again. The craving was simply gone. And it took no will power, no drugs, no patches, no stress, and no agony. It was just over.

The method taught by the book was pretty simple, but it did involve a few principles that should be understood before starting. I'm going to lay the method out here the best I can, because I've had a number of people ask for the details.

1. The first thing is to realize why we start smoking in the first place. A major factor in those days was advertising. I remember all the TV commercials--dancing boxes of Old Golds with sexy legs, "L-S-M-F-T Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco", "I'd walk a mile for a Camel", "Call for Phillip Morris", etc. Later we had the Marlboro man for the guys and "You've come a long way, Baby", for the gals.

Then there were the movies and TV shows. All the he-men and femme fatales smoked. It was hip. It was cool. As it turns out, it was also stupid. And deadly. Oh, well, die and learn.

In my case, there was also a bit of peer pressure. Several of my college buddies and I started smoking at the same time, and we sort of challenged each other to see who could handle the harshest brands, as we moved from Salems to Marlboros to Viceroys, and on to Camels and Luckys, with the occasional Turkish, Mexican, and European cigs that reminded me of horse stables.

The book offered an exercise to deal with the image-related attractions. The basic technique was that every time you saw a cigarette ad or a movie scene with some attractive person smoking, you were to imagine the brown stains between their teeth, the lovely yellowish brown gunk on their tongue, and breath like an ashtray. Then you imagine that they are about to go into a coughing fit and hawk up a big wad of blackish-brown sputum. I particularly enjoyed applying this to the beautiful young girl in the Salem magazine ad, lying on a rock in a pond, surrounded by greenery.

The principle here is that you have, to some extent, been psyched into feeling that smoking is cool. This exercise is meant to bring you back to reality. It's a minor part of the method, and there's no need to be too heavy-handed. Have fun with it.

2. The next point is to pay close attention to the taste. In my case, it was obvious that the thrill was gone. As far as taste was concerned, I could have achieved the same effect by licking a dirty ashtray. If it doesn't really taste good, then why put up with it?

3. The final point was the question of why smoking seemed to offer a feeling of relaxation. The book's answer was simple:

What do you do when you smoke? You drop your lower jaw and inhale deeply. (It's a lot like yawning.)

I was stunned. I was heavily into Japanese and Chinese martial arts, which place great emphasis on breathing as a way to relaxation. Likewise for Buddhist meditation. It seemed so obvious and simple. I wondered why I hadn't figured it out myself.

"Gosh," said the book, "You can drop your jaw and breathe deeply without a cigarette in your mouth--and it's just as relaxing." Sho'nuff. It was.

The main method taught in the book was self-hypnosis. Relaxation is a key component in using this method.

1. Since trying to stop smoking tends to make smokers tense, an important, though surprising, part of this method is that you do not try to quit smoking. Also, do not try to cut down on the number of cigarettes you smoke. Doing this will make you tense. You need to relax. If smoking relaxes you, then just keep on smoking as usual.

It's also important not to try to frighten yourself into quitting. It will just make you tense. Relax. Relax. Relax. Don't worry. Take it easy. Then, relax some more.

2. Self-hypnosis turned out to be a big surprise. I had never been hypnotized, and I had no idea of what to expect. I was thinking in terms of trances and other odd mental states. It's not like that at all. It's very simple and straight-forward.

The self-hypnosis method taught by the book is best done when you go to bed for the night. It should be the last thing you do before dropping off to sleep.

The idea is to relax. Pick a comfortable position. One key ingredient is deep breathing. Breathe slowly and deeply. Try to use abdominal breathing rather than chest breathing. As you inhale, your diaphragm moves toward your navel, and your abdomen rises. As you exhale, let all your muscles relax. You're going for that nice floating feeling that often comes just before you finally drift off to sleep.

When you feel thoroughly relaxed, but before you actually fall asleep, begin talking to yourself.

Since we've been psyched into smoking, we can psych ourselves into not smoking. While in this very relaxed state, we are quite suggestible. So, what you do is to tell yourself about all the wonderful things that are going to happen when (not "if") you quit smoking. The nice thing is that these things do not have to have the slightest connection with logical possibilities. The idea is to make non-smoking appealing at a deep, emotional level--to give value to not smoking. And only you can determine what will work for you.

Statements should be on the order of:

"When I stop smoking, I'll become extremely appealing to hundreds of beautiful women (or handsome men)."

"When I stop smoking, a rich relative will give me five million dollars--tax free."

"When I quit smoking, I'll be elected World President and everyone will love me because I'll eradicate hunger and disease."

On the other hand, avoid statements that may make you tense. In particular, don't say that you are going to stop smoking. Just enumerate the wonderful things that are going to happen when you stop. And, above all, don't try to set a time by which you will quit smoking. That will just set you up for failure.

So, you don't try to quit smoking. You just talk to yourself at bedtime. And relax. Let the results come by themselves. Don't force it.

This process should only take a few minutes each night. When you've said all you need to say, add one more statement, something like "The next time I want to use self-hypnosis, I'll just breathe deeply three times and I'll be very relaxed and ready to go."

Finally, take another deep breath, release it, relax, and go to sleep.

It seems simple--because it is. As I mentioned, it took just one week for me to quit. I never had another day of craving a smoke. There was no tension involve. It was truly painless.

When you reach that stage where you simply no longer want to smoke, you can continue using deep breathing to relax at any time. Where you used to take a minute to light up a cigarette, you can just breathe deeply and relax. I got to the point where just two deep breaths were enough to put me into a totally relaxed state. It was a great secondary benefit.

If, for any reason, you find yourself unable to get in the proper frame of mind for self-hypnosis, I strongly recommend that you find a reputable professional hypnotist who can help you quit. I have friends who have had luck with this approach. Of course, the nice thing about self-hypnosis is that it's free--but then, sometimes we attach more value to things that we pay for.

Back to Mike Wright's Personal Page

Back to RaccoonBend.com Home Page