How I quit smoking and have helped others quit
William L. Golden PhD
I was a cigarette smoker for about 15 years. To quit smoking cigarettes was much harder than I expected. I tried quitting “cold turkey” and failed. I finally succeeded soon after becoming a psychologist. I was then in a position to research and find the best method to quit smoking.
My research determined that there were mainly 3 approaches to treating nicotine addiction; behavior modification, cognitive-behavior therapy and hypnosis. At that time, these 3 approaches were not yet integrated. Research investigations on each method showed some degree of success. Each method by itself had its strengths as well as its limitations. What I discovered through my experimentation on myself was that the most effective treatment to quit smoking is the combination of hypnosis, behavior modification and cognitive-behavior therapy. I employed all three methods on myself, have helped many patients with the same methods and have written and published my work. My published work is listed in the References (See my chapter that I coauthored with Fred Friedberg and my book that I coauthored with Tom Dowd and Fred Friedberg).
I used self-hypnosis and cognitive-behavior therapy for motivation, stress-reduction and for reducing craving. I used several behavior modification techniques. “Wrapping,” logging, or self-monitoring involves monitoring your smoking, keeping track of each cigarette you smoke, identifying the “trigger,” and noting the time and place. It’s called “wrapping” because the paper on which you are recording this information is folded and wrapped around the cigarette pack, kept in place with a rubber band. Before you smoke a cigarette, you record your information. A delaying strategy is inherent in the unwrapping-logging-wrapping process, but additional delaying is involved. The delaying is systematic and progressive. First, as a result of self-monitoring, you are made aware of the various triggers that are associated with smoking. Some of mine were the wake-up cigarette, the waiting cigarette, the frustration one, the after meal one, the one with coffee, the cigarette while watching TV, the phone cigarette, etc.
Next you rank order how hard each one would be to eliminate and start with the easiest ones. You start to delay smoking the easy ones for 15 minutes. That means you wait 15 minutes before lighting up. The rationale for delaying is to weaken the connection between the triggers, or “cues” for smoking and the act of smoking. The term for this technique is called “cue cessation.” In addition, the delay gives you some skill at resisting giving into the urge to smoke. Some might call that “willpower.”
During the delay, coping strategies are used to get you through the wait. Delaying is easier to handle when you are using relaxation techniques, self-hypnosis, distraction or coping thoughts. Check out my other articles on this website that will teach you these skills. Most of my patients have found the most helpful tool to be the breathing techniques that I describe in my article on Cognitive-behavior therapy. My experience was the same. I found that diaphragmatic breathing reduced my craving better than any other method.
When you can delay smoking for 15 minutes in response to the easy triggers, you are ready for the next step on the road to quit smoking. The next step is to delay the easy ones for 30 minutes and start delaying some of the harder ones for 15 minutes. When you can delay them, you are ready to increase the delays to 45 minutes and eventually an hour. You progress at your own pace.
All of the delaying will result in less cigarettes and increased confidence in your ability to quit smoking. When you feel ready, you set a quite date. Pick one that involves a relatively low stress period. Try to avoid setting a quit date that puts you in the middle of tough times. If you have trouble with quitting on your quit date, be kind to yourself. Maybe you need more time, or medications to help you, or some professional help.
Create a list of reasons why you want to quit smoking. Use positive wording. Better to say “I want to be healthy” rather than “I don’t want to get cancer.” Review your reasons for quitting whenever you need a boost of motivation. Remind yourself of your reasons for quitting when you feel yourself weakening or when you feel craving.
Try to feel good about whatever progress you make. Sometimes we need to go through this process of quitting several times before we eventually succeed. That’s what I experienced when I quit smoking.
Golden, W.L. (1983). Rational-emotive hypnotherapy: Principals and techniques. British Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 1, 47-56.
Golden, W.L. (1994). Cognitive-behavioral hypnotherapy for anxiety disorders. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly, 8, 265-274.
Golden, W.L. (2012). Cognitive hypnotherapy for anxiety disorders. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 54, 4, 263-274.
Golden, W.L., Dowd, E.T., & Friedberg, F. (1987). Hypnotherapy: A modern approach. New York: Pergamon Press.
Golden, W.L. & Friedberg, F. (1986). Cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy. In W. Dryden & W.L. Golden (Eds.), Cognitive-behavioural approaches to psychotherapy (pp. 290-319). London: Harper & Row.