Why you “can’t” quit smoking

There’s absolutely no argument as to whether or not smoking is bad for your health. Although smoking is one of the major causes of cancer, many people continue this toxic habit that could very well end up killing them. Why? Do you wonder why you can’t quit smoking?

The common answer that smokers give is a simple one: they’re “addicted”. They know they “need” to stop, yet they can’t quite seem to get themselves to do it. Some smokers are proud to have made the transition to e-cigarettes, even though these have been proven to be toxic and addicting.

Several years ago a patient came to me for help dealing with a difficult marriage. During the course of her therapy she stated that she was “disgusted” with herself because she “couldn’t stop smoking!” I got her attention, disbelief, and ire when I told her not to worry, because, in my opinion, she could stop whenever she wanted to! I suggested we focus on her problematic relationship and address her addiction later.

Over the next few months she was able to successfully address some of the difficulties with her marriage. When her treatment was coming to an end she asked me about my earlier statements about quitting smoking. I reiterated my belief that I could help her stop, and suggested that she call me for an appointment when she was ready to stop. I offered one proviso, however.  I told her that if she came back to my office for help with her smoking that she had to wear red shoes. My patient looked at me like I was crazy (many shrinks are), but promised to call if she wanted my help.

Months passed, maybe even a year.  One day I got a call from my ex-patient, who said that she was ready to stop smoking. I was happy to hear from her, and scheduled her appointment, reminding her that she needed to wear red shoes to her visit.

Our appointed time came a week or two later. The first thing I noticed when she walked into my smallish consulting room was her shiny red shoes!  She had held up her end of the bargain, and now it was my turn. After we exchanged pleasantries I asked her if she was sure she wanted to stop smoking. She seemed miffed that I was questioning what in her mind was so obvious, but she stated that she was ready.

I instructed her to sit back in her chair and relax. Then I told her to click her red shoes together three times. She guffawed at my suggestion, and fell back against her chair as the realization hit her that she could stop any time she wanted.  She never smoked another cigarette.

What happened? Did I hypnotize her? Trick her? No, I simply respected the fact that up until that day at least 51% of her wanted to smoke. Smokers love to smoke, people love to eat junk food, gamble, whatever.  We tell our doctors we need to stop, yet it’s very hard to admit to ourselves and our doctors the truth of the matter: We don’t want to stop.

Is change easy? No.  But where there’s a will . . .







2 thoughts on “Why you “can’t” quit smoking

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.