The act of writing down goals, to-do-lists and journaling has long been used to help motivate, keep us on track and help to detach from emotions and feelings that we may be under the weight of. So here I wanted to share how making some notes can help with quitting smoking.
Each time a craving arises, making a note of it can help us understand a behaviour that often is performed automatically. We usually light up in response to a trigger – with the morning coffee, feel stressed or finish a meal. Each time we get that nicotine hit, there is a release of dopamine (the reward chemical) and over time, the body automatically wants the reward it’s become accustom to when faced with the trigger. But usually at that point, we don’t tend to ask ourselves ‘why am I wanting this cigarette?’ or ‘do I really need (or want) this smoke now?’ The reason we smoke in response to our triggers (which are personal to each of us), is because we have taught ourselves that behaviour through repetition, and the brain has tricked us into thinking that every time that that trigger arises it’s a cue to smoke and the only thing that will make us feel better now is a cigarette. This short video by neuroscientist, Judson Brewer, can help explain this process visually:
We know deep down that we don’t need cigarettes to feel better, in fact, we’ve got through many tough times without smoking so we can do it again, despite the habit which has been shaped. Habits are created by performing a task repeatedly enough so that the behaviours are performed without thought (think driving or making a cup of tea). In order to change a habit, we need to be aware of what we’re doing; once we begin to notice our responses to situation, we have an opportunity to act differently.
So noting down a craving is an act of breaking the habit. So instead of the automatic response of lighting up when a craving arises, say when we put the kettle on, you pause and note down it’s happening. And sometimes, that slight pause in actions is all that is needed to resist and place our focus elsewhere.
Whilst you’ve got the pen in hand, it may help you even more to take the time to think more about whether you truly want to smoke the cigarette. Taking the time to explore what is going on at the time of the craving i.e. how we are feeling or what we’re thinking about can help lead us to a better understanding of what else may require some attention (venting on paper can be a relief in itself!). For example, are you feeling stressed, or bored, hungry, angry or feeling lonely – all things which can lead us to feeling like a cigarette is the only solution because we’ve come to associate those uncomfortable sensations as cravings which only cigarettes can satisfy.
Thinking about, and noting down, the feelings, situations and people that trigger cravings, we can be in a much better position to manage them.