How I Stopped Smoking With Self-Hypnosis

by Bob Walsh

Here’s an article by my friend George, who quit smoking with hypnosis. Read it, it’s one of the best accounts of a smoker-turned-non-smoker with hypnosis I’ve ever read.

I quit smoking over twenty years ago using a self-hypnosis program. Much like most of the rest of the smokers in the world who make the decision to give it up, I had been having a lot of trouble quitting. This was well before patches and nicotine gum, and your choices were basically cold turkey or alcoholism, neither of which appealed to me. Perhaps I’m exaggerating a little, but that’s what it seemed like.

There just wasn’t all that much social support to quit smoking in early eighties New Jersey. In fact, it often seemed the opposite was true. Cigarette dispensing machines were ubiquitous, and every table in the diner had an ashtray, unless you sat in the non-smoking section.

The non-smoking section was usually separated from the smoking section by an invisible boundary of air, so you could pretty much count on second-hand smoke no matter where you sat. For a young man trying to quit, it was brutal.

How I embarrassed myself at Barnes & Noble

One day I wandered by a shelf in a Barnes & Noble bookstore and my attention was captured by the label. “Self-Hypnosis” it said, and the most prominently displayed title was “Stop Smoking.” I don’t even remember what the other titles were. It wasn’t very expensive, although it wouldn’t have mattered if it was. I grabbed a copy and hurried to check out. I was actually a little embarrassed at the counter, but if the clerk had an opinion, she kept it to herself.

I went straight home to try and hypnotize myself. It was an audio recording on cassette. I lay down on my bed and popped it into my Sony walkman. Now, I must confess I was highly skeptical.

Hypnotism had always seemed to me to be a big old fraud; a quasi-religious pseudo-science to be lumped in with séances and horoscopes, laughed about at parties and easily dismissed. But by that point my lungs felt almost constantly like blast furnaces and I got winded just walking up a flight of stairs. I was ready to open my mind to a new idea. And I think that is why it worked so well; I really, really wanted it to.

Hypnotized For The First Time

The first time I listened to the tape, I got all the way through without dozing off. It was relaxing, but I certainly wasn’t hypnotized. A man with a soothing voice went through about a thirty minute program, counting backwards in conjunction with some visual metaphors, all designed to lead you down into an hypnotic slumber. Once you got to that point, he would go through a litany of non-smoking messages.

“I am not a smoker,” he began. “I do NOT smoke. The smell of it repulses me. The taste of it repulses me.” And so on in that vein. The second time I listened to it, a day later, I dozed off somewhere halfway though. The next day, a little earlier still. Very soon, within the first week, I was out by the end of the first countdown every time. Side two of the cassette was the just sound of the ocean.

The narrator offered the same litany of non-smoking messages repeated in a constant loop, but then (supposedly) they were lowered to a subliminal volume so all you would hear for thirty minutes was the relaxing sound of waves crashing lazily on the beach, and you would fall asleep with those messages just outside your conscious range of hearing.

I suppose it is entirely possible that was a bit of a fraud, and the repeating messages were only being repeated inside my head, but it was a powerful suggestion nonetheless. You obviously weren’t meant to listen to either side of the tape while driving!

Strange Things Started Happening

After two weeks of daily self-hypnosis, some strange things started happening. I would go to work or school, and realize I had left my cigarettes at home. This is something a smoker never does; it’s like forgetting your wallet or (today) your cell phone. I would be at work, and I would light a cigarette and immediately snub it out, then look at the broken cigarette in the ashtray and wonder why I had just done that. After three weeks I found I had very little desire for cigarettes.

They just tasted… wrong

I would light up less and less. The important “trigger” smokes (the first of the day, after a meal) would not happen, which meant the smoking cycle was breaking down. I would run out of cigarettes completely, for the first time in years, and feel no compulsion to go buy more. By week four I had all but quit, and after a month I was a non-smoker. I didn’t even feel the urge in the diner when I smelled someone else lighting up.

It was just gone.

I have to admit I became a bit more sympathetic to hypnosis as a science after that. I am not sure how universal an application it is, though. I honestly believe that it worked for me because I wanted it to, and I genuinely desired to quit; someone with less desire might not have the same results from hypnosis. But still, after an experience like that, “The Manchurian Candidate” is a lot scarier!

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