In my hypnosis practice in Atlanta, I have noticed some of my clients really struggle with the idea that there could be anything good behind the urge to smoke. Given all the negatives about smoking, it goes against common sense. And, how could admitting to themselves and me that there are intended benefits to smoking be important in their stopping smoking?
One valuable way of thinking about undesirable habits, is that they all have a positive intention. For smokers, one universal positive intention is to make the discomfort of the craving to smoke go away. And frequently, at least on an unconscious level, smokers will come to generalize the sense of relief from the uncomfortable nicotine cravings going away to a sense of relief from all kinds of stressful feelings. That is why smokers will smoke more when under stress.
When a habit has a positive intention, it is easier to suggest that the unconscious mind create more healthy and satisfying alternatives. Would it be more elegant to automatically start with a sense of relaxation in response to sensations of stress, followed by a search for effective and even creative solutions to the stressful situation, for example?
Hypnosis can be used to set up new automatic healthy impulses in response to all of the situations that used to trigger the urge to smoke. It is common for my clients to tell me that instead of always smoking with their morning coffee, that instead they will just relax, and drink a cup. And, then they get on with their day with an occasional random thought of a cigarette, but no urge to smoke.
For those who are afraid to admit that there could be anything positive about smoking, the key is in appreciating the difference between an intention and a result.
For example, some years ago there was an uneducated and sincere man who was punishing his children harshly when they used profanity. He was convinced that they would go to Hell unless they stopped. His intention was to be a good father, and protect his children from harm. His punishments caused the children pain and upset, and were not even very effective.
The solution came from a social worker, who taught the man some more effective and gentle ways to discourage the children from using naughty words.
Accepting the man’s good intentions made it much easier to persuade him to change his ways. Starting with the idea that he was a bad person would leave only one choice, which would be to punish him for his harsh treatment of the children. He would have resented and resisted that, and any changes would have been temporary, because he would have not yet learned any new and better ways to prevent the children from using profanity. And, being a good father, he would still feel compelled to save them from Hell.
When my clients realize that an unhealthy and unpleasant habit like smoking is simply an old pattern of behavior that was developed to meet a need, they become open to the idea that they can learn new patterns. We do that all the time. At one time we got around on our hands and knees. Now we walk around on our two hind legs. It is interesting to notice that the old pattern (crawling) did not have to be destroyed for the new one (walking) to replace it.
Accepting, at least temporarily, that smoking has one or more positive intentions opens the possibilities of outgrowing the habit in a natural and permanent way. No struggle, or “giving up” is necessary simply because the unconscious mind has developed better ways to meet the needs behind the urge to smoke than by inhaling slow acting poisons.
Frequently the first step for a hypnotherapist working with a smoker is to satisfy his or her conscious objections to the idea that smoking could have positive intentions. Then it is possible to use hypnosis to set the stage for the unconscious mind to create new healthy habits. After all, the unconscious mind created the smoking habit in the first place. Once it has better choices, it will automatically use them instead, and the client will be a nonsmoker for good.