Some people smoke because they have a craving – like after a meal, or when riding in the car. For others, cravings are triggered by being around other smokers, or after they have completed a task because smoking has been paired with reward or relaxation. The intensity and frequency of cravings fade over time as those situations become decoupled from smoking; however ways of thinking, in particular irrational thinking or negative self-talk can make momentary triggers to smoke stronger and more urgent.
Negative self-talk can be characterized as very pervasive, firmly engrained messages that we have been telling ourselves for a very long time – such as “I should never make a mistake”, or “If she doesn’t acknowledge me, I must have done something wrong”. Some common examples of irrational thinking that pertain to someone trying to quit smoking may be “I can’t get through this without a cigarette”, or “If I were strong, I wouldn’t need to rely on nicotine replacement”. Thoughts can truly jeopardize someone’s ability to quit smoking. Obviously, if you are telling yourself that you can’t do something without a cigarette, it will make it that much more difficult to attempt the task without smoking.
To become more aware of your own self-talk, the A. B. C. model from Albert Ellis’ Rational Emotive Therapy provides a recipe to recognize irrational thinking, begin to debate objectively these thoughts, and finally turn them into more positive thinking patterns.
The model entails: A – the Activating Event that triggers the negative self-talk, B- the Belief or thought you have about the activating event, C- the Consequence of this belief: what you do because of this belief, D – the Debate you have regarding the accuracy of the thought as you consider information to the contrary, and E – the Exciting New Conclusion you have arrived at regarding the negative thought or belief.
An example might look like this:
A: Activating Event: You are at a party with some friends, and you are having trouble mixing with the people there.
B: Belief or Irrational Thought: “I cannot socialize without a cigarette”.
C: Consequence: You might reach for a cigarette to relieve some of the anxiety you are feeling.
D: Debate the Belief/Thought: Then you remember the time you went to your neighbor’s anniversary party (at their house where you can’t smoke), and found you were so busy talking with everyone, that it didn’t bother you not to be smoking!
E: Exciting New Conclusion: I am able to socialize without a cigarette – let’s try this again!
So next time you find yourself struggling with a particular trigger or urge to smoke, consider if rather than being behavioral, it is really based more on a negative self-talk pattern. By beginning to challenge such thoughts objectively, you may find the real key to your ultimate success in being able to quit smoking for good!