ARCATA, Calif., November 18, 2013 – The American Cancer Society’s annual Great American Smokeout is this Thursday, encouraging people across the country to kick their cigarette habits at least for that day.
It would be too easy to just cite the latest horrifying statistics about the health effects of cigarette smoking. We all know it makes many people get sick and die. Yet this information alone does not stop others from continuing to smoke.
So this is not an article aiming to convince people to quit. This is an article for people who want to make that change and need help to do it.
According to the American Cancer Society, the Smokeout started in 1970 and became an annual event 1976. Websites abound with ideas and resources for assisting participants in this, but ultimately each person is responsible for his or her own behavior choices.
This is so crucial for smokers to understand and believe - they do have a choice. The old habit may seem at times to be automatic. That’s the nature of habits. They become programs run by the subconscious part of the mind without requiring conscious thought.
In other contexts this is actually helpful and resourceful. Imagine if your dominant hand was broken and you had to fully concentrate on every tiny movement while brushing your teeth, starting your car, tying your shoes or doing other ordinary and mundane activities. For one thing, it would slow you down. In these examples, you might not want that.
When it comes to smoking, however, slowing down can be an important part of shifting that automatic action into one of choice. Another way to think of it is turning a mindless behavior into one that is mindful.
Mindfulness is about practicing “the art of just noticing.” That means becoming OK accepting things as they are, even if they are not ideal in that moment. This applies especially to feelings and sensations in the body. For smokers, these often come as “cravings.” The thing about sensations is that they only become emotions or feelings when the mind assigns a meaning.
Slowing down enough to “just notice” a sensation allows the mind to consider multiple possible meanings instead of automatically acting on a default meaning. This, in turn, allows a choice of possible responses, including taking no action and simply accepting the sensation as it is in that moment even if it is uncomfortable. Just notice the sensation and that it is separate from the judgmental thought that it is uncomfortable. In the next moment, both will change. Keep noticing and they will keep changing without any effort or action required.
Many people practice mindfulness as a form of meditation. This can be done in a traditional manner, seated in a quiet place with your eyes closed. But it can also be done while walking or eating or doing anything else. The benefits of mindfulness are so vast that there is now extensive research showing medical applications, including pain relief.
There are plentiful resources available to guide you into a deeper understanding and practice of mindfulness. Searching YouTube for mindfulness currently reveals 187,000 videos and “mindfulness and smoking cessation” returns over 2000 hits.
Of course, mindfulness is just one of many approaches that can assist people ready to stop smoking. Thursday’s Great American Smokeout is as good a day as any to make this change. Amazingly, the body begins to recover almost immediately.
For assistance finding a local Smokeout event in your area, check with your local chapter of the American Cancer Society or call 800-227-2345.
Dave Berman, C.Ht. is a clinical/medical hypnotherapist and life coach practicing in northern California and globally via Skype.
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