The curious case of the pink elephant
October sees the start of the national Stoptober campaign, run by the Department of Health and the NHS that's aimed at helping people to stop smoking. Like many fellow hypnotherapists, a large number of people who come to see me want to kick the habit. Whether they have been smoking for five or twenty five years, they usually have a few things in common: they have times and places associated with smoking; they hate the control the habit has over them; and they genuinely cannot understand why their willpower is not strong enough for them to stop by themselves.
And so I tell them about the pink elephant. If I ask you not to think about a pink elephant, what is the first thing that pops into your mind? The more you try not to think about that mischievous pink elephant, the more you do exactly the opposite. It is the same with cigarettes and any other substance.
One question I often ask clients is ‘What is the main difference between you and someone who does not smoke?’ After some discussion, they usually conclude that the biggest difference between them and Joe Public, who is completely smoke free, is that Mr Public has not the slightest thought about smoking. It simply does not enter his mind – and this is what we attempt to achieve with smoking cessation hypnotherapy.
Hypnotherapy works by communicating directly with the subconscious part of your brain that craves the cigarette. During hypnosis, your mind is more open to change, and through use of positive suggestion, reinforcement and visualisation, your therapist can help you to break your addiction. The advantage of hypnotherapy is that it can help you to quit smoking without the side-effects commonly associated with stopping. Since hypnotherapy can also help to tackle habits and cravings, we can build in elements to help prevent you turning to food or other comforts instead. We target those cravings and niggling voices inside your head that keep reminding you that it is cigarette o’clock. When those cravings disappear, so does the pink elephant, and you find yourself thinking of the positive things that you do want to achieve, not the negative things that you don’t want to do.
Hypnotherapy cannot make you stop smoking – it is not a magic wand and we cannot force somebody do something that they do not want to do. If you don't really want to quit and are grudgingly 'giving up' because a spouse or partner has talked you into it, or you are hoping that hypnosis will change your mind for you, then hypnotherapy is not for you and will be a waste of your time and money. If, however, you genuinely want to quit smoking and embark on a healthier life, then this could be what you require to help get through the chemical and emotional withdrawal stage.