I think I had my first cigarette when I was 17 and became an official smoker sometime around the age of 22. Like most smokers, I never wanted to be one and never thought I would get hooked on the damn things. During the next six years, I tried to quit dozens of times. Occasionally, I would quit for a month or two — and then I’d have a stressful day, and fall right back into the trap.
Then I read a book and quit instantly.
The book is The Easy Way to Stop Smoking by the great Allen Carr. Many have probably already heard of it, but I would be remiss not to pass along what did so much good for me to as large an audience as possible (and I should note I have no affiliation with Allen Carr or his company whatsoever). Indeed, Carr’s method has even been promoted on Thought Catalog before by Paul Popov, who accurately describes the problem with the normal willpower method:
“Willpower is, contrary to the popular belief, a finite resource, which means that there is a fair possibility that a series of negative events will crush it and your no-smoking story will end in something they call “extinction burst” (look it up).”
This is the problem people have when they try to quit smoking. Willpower is like gasoline and we can only go so long before we run out. Psychologist Roy Baumeister demonstrated this quite clearly with what he calls the Radish Experiment,
“ When the college students walked into Baumeister’s laboratory, they were already hungry because they’d been fasting… The experimental subjects sat down at a table with several culinary choices: warm cookies, some pieces of chocolate, and a bowl of radishes. Some students were invited to eat the cookies and candy. The unlucky ones were assigned to “the radish condition”: no treats, just raw radishes.
“…the researchers left the students alone with the radishes and the cookies, and observed them through a small, hidden window. The ones in the radish condition clearly struggled with the temptation. Many gazed longingly at the cookies before steeling down to bite reluctantly into a radish. Some of them picked up a cookie and smelled it, savoring the pleasure of freshly baked chocolate…
“[Afterward] the students were taken to another room and given geometry puzzles to work on… in fact, the puzzles were insoluble. The test was to see how long they’d work before giving up. The students who’d been allowed to eat chocolate chip cookies and candy typically worked on the puzzles for about twenty minutes… The sorely tempted radish eaters, though, gave up in just eight minutes” (Willpower, Pg. 22-23)
In other words, the radish eaters had had their willpower drained whereas the cookie eaters had a full tank. If we constantly desire something, eventually we’ll cave, especially with something so readily available as cigarettes.
So what Allen Carr did was turn the whole thing around. Instead of asking “why shouldn’t we smoke?” he asks “why do we smoke?” Everyone already knows smoking is terrible for your health, costs a fortune and makes you stink and feel lethargic. These are obviously not the reasons people smoke.
Allen Carr notes that there are only two reasons people smoke:
- Nicotine Addiction
- The Brainwashing
We’ll start with the addiction. While nicotine is extremely addictive, it’s an extremely weak addiction. The withdrawal pangs are almost entirely illusory. As Carr notes,
“There is no physical pain in the withdrawal from nicotine. It is merely a slightly empty, restless feeling, the feeling that something isn’t quite right, or that something is missing… (The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, pg. 24)
“Most smokers go all night without a cigarette. The withdrawal “pangs” do not even wake them up. Many smokers will leave the bedroom before they light that first cigarette; many will have breakfast first. Increasingly people don’t smoke in their homes and won’t have that first cigarette until they are in the car on the way to work… These smokers have eight or maybe ten hours without a cigarette—going through withdrawal all the while, but t doesn’t seem to bother them.” (pg. 34)
So why do we smoke? Well because we think we’re giving up something precious and that feeling of deprivations causing almost all of the terrible withdrawal pangs quitters experience. After all, the mind can actually make the body physically sick.
For example, a smoker we’ll say “I smoke to alleviate boredom.” But honestly, what could be more boring than a cigarette? Many of these claims are actually contradictory. Carr again,
“The smoker himself will decide when [he smokes] and it tends to be on four types of occasions…
“Boredom/Concentration-Two complete opposites!
Stress/Relaxation-Two Complete opposites!
“What magic drug can suddenly reverse the very effect it had twenty minutes earlier?” (pg. 53)
The very first instruction in the book is to smoke until you finish. This allows Carr to obliterate every possible excuse you have for smoking and come to the realization smoking adds nothing to your life, but takes away a massive amount.
So once I realized that the withdrawal pangs were a joke and added nothing, quitting was almost embarrassingly easy for me.
And this has certainly been the experience of many others. I bought the book about two years ago the book had over 1000 ratings on Amazon.com and still had a five star rating! That is something I have never seen for a book with that many ratings. It has since fallen to 4 1/2 stars with about 1600 ratings*, but many of the negative reviews seem to have missed the mark.
For example, this one:
“I wish this book were true. Unfortunately, it is wishful thinking. It does not take into account the actual physical symptoms of quitting smoking. It assumes that all physical ills are psychological, which they aren’t. I am so disappointed with both the book and the reviews.”
Which, of course, ignores that Carr demonstrated that the physical side effects of nicotine withdrawal are extremely mild.
Furthermore, other forms of quitting don’t work anywhere close to as well (I certainly tried a few of them). For example, it’s correctly claimed that nicotine replacement therapy doubles the chance of success. But then again, it doubles your chances all the way to 7%. However, a study in the Internal Archives of Occupational Environmental Health showed Allen Carr’s seminars to have a 12 month success rate of 51.4%. Given how it seems that Carr’s message flew over many of its detractors heads. How many of those that failed just didn’t take the book (or seminar) to heart?
So if you are trying to quit smoking, do yourself a favor and give The Easy Way to Stop Smoking a try.