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Two Powerful Strategies that Can Change Your Life

How I gave up smoking in just three weeks

I was 19, smoking two packs a day and couldn't go out in the night air without a long and painful coughing fit. In fact, I shallow breathed and avoided the night air as much as possible to ward off the coughing. Not good strategy for a very social time of life, plus I belonged to a theatre group and was a dancer, so night meetings and rehearsals were mostly at night, after work. I had constant colds and frequent bronchitis. Is that what made me want to give up. No!

My sisters were smokers. They are all quite a bit older than me, and I admired their 'style'. At 15, I got my first job and had a little money in my pocket. Not much. Between fares and board at home - which was quite high because I had been expelled from school and wasn't meant to 'benefit' from the experience! - I had little money. We lived a long way from Melbourne so my bus fares were also fairly high. If I remember rightly, I had about ten shillings left over (that's about $1) but it was 1965 so it went further than a dollar goes today. But, not much further. I think a pack of smokes cost about four shillings and I smoked only about one a week at that stage.

I took up the habit for two reasons. One, to be 'grown up' like my big sisters, and two, out of a sense of rebellion and independence. By 19, I was turning into a breathing wreck.

So, what made me want to give up?

I was always an early riser. At an early age, I prided myself on being up, dressed and with my bed made before the alarm went off or anyone else was up. In fact, I loved to get up and go straight outside and walk barefoot on the earth, even in winter. We all had to go outside first thing anyway, because that's were the loo (toot, dunny, toilet ) was. It was a wonderful time of day, and I always tried to be up to see the sunrise.

Anyway, back to giving up smoking: I woke up one morning, half asleep still and stretched my hand out to grab a smoke and light up. Still bleary eyed, my hand landed in a very full and disgusting ashtray. Talk about a wake-up call. In that moment, I realised I was addicted and how heavily! The idea of being addicted to anything is not one I am comfortable with. It was very motivating.

I hopped up, emptied the ash tray, not just the contents, but the ashtray - which was a handmade item from a local pottery gallery where I worked on weekends serving tables - an unopened carton of cigarettes, a gold lame cigarette case and matching lighter, a leather cigarette case and matching lighter (I was earning good money by then), a gold lighter and three packs of smokes into the rubbish bin and shut the lid tight.

That, of course, doesn't deal with the addiction. I adopted two strategies sitting outside in the murky hour before daylight. One, I decided I wouldn't tell anyone I was giving up. No, I wasn't going to pretend or lie, but I'd seen too many people trying to give up and other smokers working hard to ensure they remained smoking or started again. Instead, when one of my friends offered me a smoke or if anyone asked me for a smoke or a light, I would say: 'No, thanks. I don't smoke' or 'Sorry, I don't have any because I don't smoke.'

I didn't realise at the time what a powerful strategy this was. It was aimed at stopping others, smokers, from trying to coerce or mock me, to stop them from blowing smoke in my face or trying to tantalise me. It was amazing how it worked. Because I was very firm when I made the statement, it worked like a treat, and only one or two even bothered to offer me a smoke a second time, and I had no other problems. They even went out of their way to blow their smoke away from me. And some even said, when someone new offered me a cig, 'No, she doesn't smoke.' How about that?

Another reason this strategy was so powerful is because it trained my mind to believe I was not a smoker. My subconscious really learned, firmly and quickly, that 'I don't smoke'. Every time I said, 'I don't smoke,' it reinforced it more deeply and strongly and it very quickly became fact.

The second thing I did, if I did feel the craving, or the hand habit, to light up, was tell myself I can go five more minutes before I do. The next time, I would say, well if I could go five minutes, I can go ten minutes. Ten minutes became thirty minutes, then an hour, half a day, a day, a week. Before long, keeping the waiting time became more important and satisfying than the craving for a smoke. I didn't have any smokes, but I had access to them 24/7 because in those days, everyone smoked, including four of my six siblings and most of my friends. My father had only given up two years earlier after his third heart attack! Even at work, they were available through the social club, and most of my fellow workers smoked. (This was the 60s.)

After three weeks I hardly even thought about having a smoke anymore. Three months after, even the smell of someone else smoking was disgusting. My boyfriend - who I later married and was ecstatic when I gave up - hated seeing anyone light up where they weren't supposed to, such as at the front of a bus because I became very outspoken and he was worried I'd get him into a fight. Fortunately, that never eventuated, but I learned to tone down my comments.

Maybe you will find these strategies work for you, too. They are both very powerful, but the statement 'I don't ...' is especially powerful to both your own subconscious - where our strongest beliefs reside - and to others who want to tempt you. The time delay, even for a minute initially, is also powerful because it teaches both our body and our mind how to delay gratification and that goes a long way towards leaving an addiction, or even a bad habit, behind.

I'm now using these to help me lose some extra weight I'm sick of lugging around - especially up steps! Most of my life I have said, and believed, I didn't have a sweet tooth. A few years back, around the same time I had my gall bladder removed, I past through a phase of therapy to help me overcome childhood abuse and developed a sweet tooth. At first I thought it had something to do with the operation, but now I realise it was to do with what I was dealing with in particular at the time in therapy. Since then, though, I've craved sweet things which is not good for either my dental bills or my waist line. So, I'm now saying, 'I don't like sweet things unless it is fresh fruit.' I don't want or intend to deprive myself entirely, but I am going to take control and just have the occasional treat. I already prefer to have just one or two small pieces of chocolate instead of the whole block! I'm getting more satisfaction from that than I ever did gorging the lot. A little goes a long way. It makes you take your time and relish both the taste and the sensation and the after affects of pleasure. That never happens with stuffing lots in, usually mindlessly and where you get to the bottom of the packet or the end of the bar and wonder where it all went!

And delaying eating it in the first place, for five minutes, ten minutes, until tomorrow, makes it all the more delicious and satisfying. This is something I do for lunch, as well. I wait five minutes, ten minutes, 30 minutes before I stop work and eat it. Why? Because I'm teaching myself to delay gratification and be in control of my appetite rather than the other way around. It's not like I'm going to starve in a hurry or anything. And I'm eating slower; e.g. waiting five minutes before the next bite. Chewing a further ten or twenty seconds before swallowing. My body is learning not to feel so desperate and needy and how to savour my food.

Time delay also allows the brain to send the full signal. There is a dissonance between taking the last bite and knowing we are full. It can take up to 20 minutes for the signal to occur. Imagine how much excess eating we do in that 20 minutes from actually being full and knowing we are full!

With imagination and thought, these two strategies alone can go a very long way to changing any number of things in your life that are doing you no good. Give them a try. What have you got to lose? Well, maybe a few excess pounds or a smoking habit - at the very least.

Good luck with overcoming your addictions, whatever they are.


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