Thoughts, Actions, and Pink Elephants?

Blog Post created by dr_hays on Sep 4, 2015

In my years of working to help others become tobacco-free, I have met an assortment of individuals, each with unique reasons to quit, past life experiences, and hopes and dreams for the future.  To borrow a quote “Variety is the spice of life!”

Everyone has a story, and I am fascinated to learn from another person what drives them and what they feel they need to do in order to successfully change a behavior in their life.  Interestingly, one particular theme has come up from a number of former smokers I see, and I want to share it with you – it is easier to “do” than “not do”. 

Let me explain.  People plan different replacement activities and behaviors they can use to get themselves through triggers and cravings to smoke.  However, while two people can have the same behavioral plan, how they “think” about quitting can greatly influence their feelings.  Whatever we give our attention to tends to claim more space in our minds.  The attention of the person thinking about new activities they can do to remain tobacco free will remain focused on positive action.  On the other hand, the individual who focuses exclusively on avoiding tobacco use may experience more negative feelings and a sense of deprivation. It tends to be much easier to focus on something else and allow your attention to be drawn in that direction rather than fight against the idea of smoking. 

To give you another example, if I ask you NOT to think of a pink elephant, what do you think of?  If you are like most people, you think of a pink elephant.  Your attention is being drawn to that.  What happens if I ask you to imagine that you are on a beach feeling the warm sun and hearing the waves gently lapping at the shore?  Most of us will envision that (or any other picture you find enjoyable) and  tend not to think of the pink elephant.  In this metaphor, the elephant is smoking and the beach is something that you can give your attention to so that you don’t think about smoking.  Our minds are powerful, and we can channel that power to help us achieve what it is that we desire.

So what will you choose to think about through this wonderful Labor Day weekend?