Eliminating Bad Habits

cigarette

Today’s post is an excerpt from my book “Blueprint to Beast”. It is a transcript of sorts of my work with a female client of mine, Jen, who came to me for assistance in smoking cessation. The method that I used with her is one that I frequently use with clients to help them eliminate bad habits, or learn to replace an undesirable state with a better one automatically by using a simple technique in their mind. 

This week’s podcast episode will break down this method in detail, so that you can apply it in your own life to make whatever change you would like.

“Jen the Smoker”

Jen came to me about a year ago for help in quitting a decades old habit of smoking cigarettes. She had “tried” quitting several times over the past five years, using various methods from patches and gum, to the prescription drug Chantix. Each time she had experienced limited success, either failing to quit, or picking up the habit again a short time after “successfully” giving up the cancer sticks.

Jen had heard about me through a friend who I had assisted in overcoming social anxiety and figured, in her own words, it was “worth a shot”.
The result that Jen experienced was mind blowing to her. I took her case as more or less a favor to her friend, but I quickly built a reputation as a “magic man” of sorts who could help people quit smoking in a single session. While it is not necessarily my favorite type of case to work with, I certainly do not mind the referrals and excellent reviews.

The method that I used to aid Jen in kicking the habit is a decades old technique that comes from NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming). It remains one of my “go-to” tools for helping others eliminate negative habits in a hurry. Let’s look at how it worked for Jen, and then perhaps you can identify a habit of your own that you would like to break using this simple and effective procedure.

Jen showed up at my office a few minutes late for our appointment. I had stepped outside to get some air when I saw her speed into the lot. She was obviously flustered, spilling her purse as she opened the door. In her hand was a half consumed cigarette, which she quickly tossed into the street.

“Hi, I’m Jen”, she said as she gathered the contents of her purse from the ground.

I introduced myself as I helped her pick up the remaining items, and showed her the way into my office.

Jen was about thirty-five years old. She worked as a hair stylist, and from what I had heard was very good at her job. She was an attractive girl who took great care of herself, later telling me that she had been doing “P90x” on her own each night after work.

As we sat down, I conversed with her a bit to calm her state, and made her laugh a few times. She was at ease in minutes, and I proceeded to ask her why she had come to me.

“Well, I want to quit smoking” she said.

“Ok” I added, “So why don’t you just do that?”

She looked at me confused, probably wondering if that was the extent of the “wisdom” that was to be imparted on her during our session.

“I don’t know, I mean I’ve tried everything, you know? Patches, gum, Chantix, you name it. I just always keep going back to it”.

“I can understand that” I said, “but you haven’t tried everything yet.”

“That’s why I’m here, Lauren says you’re ‘magic’”

“Lauren is a great woman” I said, “she’s doing very well now and I’m proud of her”.

“Yeah, she’s great. She’s convinced that you can help me, and I’m hoping you can”.

“I’m confident we can resolve this Jen, first I need you to tell me why you smoke”.

Jen’s eyes wandered a bit, searching for a decent answer in her mind.

“Well, I don’t actually know” she said with a laugh, “I’ve just done it for so long. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m doing it, I just am like doing something else and then all of the sudden I notice that I’ve lit another smoke”.

“How long have you smoked Jen?” I asked.

“Since I was fifteen, so almost twenty years I guess now, wow, doesn’t seem like that long until you say it, you know?”

“Why do you want to quit?” I asked.

“I don’t know, I just don’t want to do it anymore. I don’t want to smell like smoke, I don’t want to look trashy, I’m trying to get a job at a nicer salon, and it’s more of an upscale place you know? I don’t want to come off trashy there”.

“I can appreciate that” I added, “I hear you’re quite the stylist, it would be shame for others to judge you based on the fact that you’ve chosen to smoke for a good part of your life”.

“Exactly” she said, “I love what I do, and I’m good at it. I don’t need people not giving me a chance because I smoke these stupid things”.

“So what do you suppose you get out of smoking? Does it make you feel good?” I asked.

“I don’t really get anything out of it at this point. I just kind of do it out of habit I guess. That’s what I do, you know? I’m a smoker, I’ve just always been”.

“So what would it take for you to stop referring to yourself as a smoker?” I asked.

Jen laughed, shot me a confused but silly look and said,

“I would have to not smoke”.

“Now we’re on to something,” I said.

Jen laughed again, now apparently certain that I was a “quack”. I remained confident in my communication however, knowing that I’d successfully built a good deal of rapport with her, and that she was ready to move forward.

“Ok Jen, I’m going to ask you a couple of questions, and you’re going to use all of your resources to answer me as completely as possible,” I said.

“Ok… I’ll do my best” she replied.

“What do you experience just before you make the move to light up a cigarette?”

“Hmm” she said, “I don’t know”.

“It’s ok that you don’t know Jen, but if you did know what would it be? When you think about having a cigarette, what do you see in your mind?”

“Well, I suppose I see my hand opening the pack and pulling one out” she answered.

“Excellent, excellent. Now are you seeing that in your mind now?” I asked.

“Yes, I am” she said.

“And do you want to smoke now?” I asked.

“Yeah” she said with a laugh, “I’m actually kind of fiending for one now”.

“Do you want to smoke? It’s ok if you do. You can smoke in here,” I said.

Jen opened her eyes and looked at me, as confused as ever.

“Jen I don’t want you to quit smoking until you’ve used your internal resources to figure out a solution to the urge.” I said.

Jen was again confused, but was “all ears” at this point.

“Willpower is shit Jen” I said, “If you rely on willpower to break a twenty year old habit, you’re not going to be successful”.

“So how do I do it then?” she asked.

“That brings me to my next question. If you were not a smoker, how would you see yourself? Close your eyes again and tell me how you see yourself when you’re not a smoker.”

“Well, I’m confident. I look great, I don’t smell like cigarettes…”

“Positive phrasing Jen” I interrupted, “tell me what you do want, not what you don’t want”.

“Ok, well I look great, I’m dressed nice, I smell like perfume, my clothes smell like my awesome laundry detergent, I just look… successful”.

“Excellent Jen” I said, “You’re doing great”.

“I am?” she asked, a smile growing on her face.

“Yep, you’re doing great. Now we’re ready to make some change”.

Jen sat up straighter in her seat, excited at this point, and in higher spirits as a result of my arbitrary compliment on her performance in creating a representation of herself as a non smoker.

“Ok Jen, I want you to bring up that image of you reaching in your pack for a cigarette. Make it big and bright, right in front of you. Really see it as if it is real.”

“Ok, got it” she said, as I noticed her foot begin to tap.

“Now you’re going to take that image of you looking successful as a non smoker, and put that in the bottom right corner of the image in a little frame, like an old picture-in-picture TV. Make it dim, much dimmer than the big image. Tell me when you’re there”.

“Got it,” she said again.

“Now when I say ‘WOOSH’, I want you to reach out with your hand, take the small picture of you as a successful, non smoker, and pull it up to the front, nice and big, really fast, make it big and bright, make it take up the whole screen, are you ready?”

“I’m ready,” she said.

“WOOSH!” I yelled.

Jen reached up with her hand and made the motion of moving the image front and center.

“Did it!” she said excitedly.

“Excellent Jen, now we’re going to do it again.”

Over the next few minutes, I had Jen run through this process roughly twenty times, picking up the pace, and jacking up the intensity in my voice. After about the twentieth time through, I told Jen to open her eyes and tell me how she was feeling right now.

“I feel great, it’s weird,” she said.

“It’s not weird Jen, you’re supposed to feel great all the time”.

She laughed and I changed the subject by asking her a question about the location of the new salon that she was trying to get hired by.

After a few minutes of conversation, I told Jen that we were done for the day. I told her that whenever she thought about smoking, to run through that process as many times as she needed until the urge was gone.

Jen was in a great state, but seemed a bit skeptical that the method would work since she had “tried to quit” using so many other approaches. To her credit, she handed me her pack of smokes and told me that she would test it out on her drive home, since driving was an activity that she heavily anchored to smoking.

Not surprisingly I received a text message from Jen at around 11 am the following day. It read:

“Haven’t had a single cigarette since I left you yesterday!”

I responded that I wasn’t surprised seeing as how she was now a successful, non-smoker. She wrote back the obligatory,

“LOL”.

Roughly two weeks later I met with her again. I knew that she had not smoked in that period, but I wanted to check in and see how everything was going. Her and I met for lunch at a sandwich shop close to her salon. As soon as we sat down she began excitedly telling me about her last two weeks.

“So I did what you said, I did the WOOSH thing over and over. I practiced it every time I thought I wanted a smoke, and each time I would lose the urge. Then I went to my sister’s house a few days after you and I met, she’s a big smoker. We were sitting on her front porch and she offered me a cigarette. Without thinking, I took it and held it. As soon as I realized what I was doing, I handed it back to her and told her that I had to run in and use her bathroom. While I was in there I did the WOOSH thing about ten more times.
When I came out she didn’t offer it to me again, and I didn’t ask. All I could focus on was how much her house smelled like smoke. I guess I’m not used to it now. Also, I love my sister, but I couldn’t help but think that she looked ‘trashy’ with that thing bouncing up and down in her lips as she talked to me. I can’t believe I presented myself like that to everyone for so long”.

“So what does it feel like to be a non smoker?” I asked.

“It feels amazing” I just wish I had met you a lot sooner.”

“Well the important thing is that you solved your problem. I’m proud of you.”

We finished up lunch and headed back to our respective work. Jen checked in with me periodically after that. She did end up getting the job at the other salon, and was ecstatic about the change in environment and income. She talked to anyone and everyone who would listen about her “magic coach”, JP, who could solve their problems in an hour. For that I was never mad at her.

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