Smoking is one of the most common and most dangerous habits that affects our society today, and stopping can be incredibly difficult. Whilst it may seem like an impossible task, we can utilise the beauty of neuroscience to help us overcome this habitual addiction.

So how does a habit actually form?
To answer this New York Times journalist Charles Duhigg and Stanford Professor BJ Fogg have developed the idea of changing habitsa “habit loop”. The process is simply cue, routine and reward. The first step is the cue which prompts you to follow some form of action. This action will eventually become a routine, something that you do in reaction to the cue in order to alleviate or prolong its effects. This will prompt a reward in some form depending on the cue. This pattern winds up becoming a behavioral instinct in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VPC), at which point the brain runs on auto-pilot whenever confronted with this cue. When it comes to breaking the smoking habit, understanding what events trigger the process is incredibly beneficial. Unfortunately, for a large percent of smokers the trigger is stress, something that is almost impossible to avoid in real life.

 

Say that you have the habit of smoking after a long day at work. In this example the routine is smoking due to the cue of a tough day. The reward is feeling more relieved or relaxed (though recent studies have actually indicated that long term stress in smokers is often greater than that of non-smokers). Whilst this example is very general, by applying this idea to your own life you will be able to identify certain cues that are fueling your addiction and reduce the auto-pilot smoking temptations. Now, in Charles Duhigg’s book he elaborates on pinpointing the exact cues, routines and rewards and I recommend you check out “The Power of Habit” if you do get the chance. If you don’t then the main thing that I recommend you focus on is finding a new routine to get the same reward, if the cue cannot be changed. This can take the form of music, sport or even meditation. Whatever it is, it must be a substitute for whatever smoking is providing you.

 

Before we attempt to conquer our bad habits, we should try and understand how difficult they actually are to break. Research done by US psychiatrist Professor Jeffrey M Schwartz has shown that bad habits remain inside the brain even after that behavior is changed, reinforcing the idea that habits are the brain running on auto-pilot. I implore you to remember this if you ever feel like you are weak for struggling to quit. It will be difficult, but new research has shed light on a new technique to overcome this mental barrier.
So how can you take this science “babble” and convert it to real change in your life? Well, I have one more interesting piece of research that could make it possible. Research from the Department of Psychology at the University of Oregon has found that when the smoker is sent a message everyday reminding them to stop smoking and thinking of the future, they are more likely to be able to resist. By thinking about the person you would like to be at the end of the week, month or year and focusing on what you have to do to achieve this activates a part of the VPC and actively stimulates behavioral change. This technique could be instrumental towards making quitting any habit, especially smoking, a lot easier. Our unique social proof part of quitting smoking program will guide you to have this fantastic “babble” app installed  on your smart phone as our follow-up tool.
Hopefully this article has instilled in you a new hope to start quitting today and armed you with new techniques and resources to combat smoking. These ideas combined with 60 Minutes will provide you with the support you need to quit smoking forever.

 

by 60mins Evolve The I

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