The Psychology Of Smoking
The real reason you smoke is often unknown but you'll have a good excuse!
I know smoking is bad for me, yet I can’t seem to quit; why?
Sometimes we think like automatons, it's as if we believe that we are truly autonomous beings and somewhere inside there is this thing called the brain that takes care of the stuff we're too busy to be bothered by, e.g. breathing, pumping blood around, keeping the air conditioning working and reminding us when we are hungry etc. Nothing could be further from the truth, assuming you want to know what the truth is? The truth is, that from the day you were born, you were being conditioned. Initially conditioned to fit in with your family's, society's and cultural values or lack of them. In order to fit into those systems, you observed, albeit you had no conscious awareness that was what you were doing. As you observed, you learned new things and in order for those new things to have value, you memorised them, or at least your brain did. Then you start school and whole lots of other layers get added, how to socialise, share, care and belong. All of which should end up with you being a fully functional human being, socially and emotionally complete! OK, that doesn't sound like what happened, does it? Well, what goes wrong, is that years ago the value of being functionally, socially and emotionally adept was not a high priority, survival was. Consequently, there are very few fully functionally social and emotionally responsible families around.
As we develop we become aware of an insufficient supply of good feelings, feelings that are prerequisites to having a good life. Also, we learn that certain things provide us with good feelings, e.g. chocolate, candies, fast food, alcohol and, of course, cigarettes, albeit there is something far more stimulating and ... drugs! So, we don't eat chocolate, candies, alcohol, cigarettes and drugs because we like them, we do it because we like the way it makes us feel. Those feelings are encoded into memories that have unique attributes relating to each of these favourable behaviours. Those that come with the greatest sense of pleasure, have the strongest memories and the awareness of the lack of those feelings, activates the memories, which then stimulates desire and desire and activates behavioural traits that need satisfying, i.e. eating, drinking, smoking and fixing!
So, when it comes to quitting, we need more than just the abstinence of nicotine, we need to tackle the emotional memories that are the underpinning of the behaviour. Understanding some of the psychological reasons behind why you smoke, somehow makes it easier to quit. As alluded to above, people make subconscious decisions to smoke and this often happens when they are somewhere between 5 and 10 years old. The reasons for this are purely psychological and not within the realm of conscious thought. This is because they are driven by powers such as observation and probably involve mirror neurons. These are special neurons in key brain areas that aid learning through observing other people's behaviour.
A typical example would be to observe someone you love, say your father or mother. Because they smoke, you observe behaviours by them that appear to make smoking an attractive characteristic. If people genuinely like them, you subconsciously link being liked with smoking. It works in the opposite example, i.e. negatively too. You observe a parent or a friend being stressed or abused, be it verbally or physically, and they light up a cigarette. The link then becomes one of survival itself. That is, if I am abused, a cigarette will help me to cope etc.
There are so many reasons why we end up becoming a smoker. For example, loneliness or not having many friends. You observe people giving cigarettes to their friends; the conscious logic (subconscious illogic), cigarettes can help to create friends! This then becomes an ideal builder of social networks or physical bonding. It creates mental awareness of key social attributes, e.g. acceptance, approval and love. If this bonding occurs within a loving relationship the link to cigarettes can become even stronger.
Another reason can be trauma-based, you are involved in an accident or incident, e.g. 9/11. You are offered a cigarette maybe even ask for one? If your brain perceives some form of physical or emotional release, a link to smoking can be created. Despite the fact that there is nothing in cigarettes that helps people relax, they can feel relaxed after one! Fact, if you feel relaxed after a cigarette, any evidence to the contrary, scientific or otherwise, can be discounted.
Some reasons people start to smoke are:
Being goaded by friends, I dare you,
Being part of the in-crowd (friends do it)
It makes you feel cool
Hey look at me, I’m all grown-up
Just to be rebellious, or buck authority
OP’s (other peoples) are easy to smoke and they’re free
The influence of significant people, e.g. parents, friends actors, people you respect or admire
A way to lose weight, nicotine suppresses the appetite
To make you feel calm or relaxed
Despite the fact there's more information and evidence about the ills of smoking, people continue to take up the habit. Governments appear to be anti-smoking, at one level, yet they make millions in taxes. For sure they pay some of that back in healthcare costs. However, in many countries healthcare is paid for by some form of insurance. As a consequence, smokers pay higher premiums!
To make a bad situation worse, tobacco manufacturers have boosted the nicotine content in some tobacco products. They have also created devious ways to increase the number of draws on each cigarette. Researchers found the amount of nicotine consumed, per cigarette, rose by approx of 1.6 per cent per year between 1998 and 2005. This was across most cigarette market categories (mentholated, non-mentholated, full-strength, light, ultra-light, etc.). This represents an increase of approx. 11 per cent of nicotine content per cigarette over a seven-year period. These higher levels of nicotine and devious methods, make it harder for you to quit! Nevertheless, it is still doable!
Classical conditioning (Pavlov's dogs) creates links between behaviour and external triggers. Dr Ivan Pavlov trained his dogs to salivate by ringing a bell to align with the dog's feeding time. So, habitually the first thing you do in the morning is to light up. As such, the process of waking stimulates the conditioned response to smoking. Or, after or during a cup of coffee, you have a cigarette. The coffee (caffeine) creates the desire or need to smoke; the same goes for a beer or wine etc. Seeing friends smoking, watching movies where the actors smoke, or even the smell of cigarette smoke may trigger the psychological desire to smoke.
Some more reasons people smoke are:
To reduce anxiety or nervousness
To create calm when you are angry
To satiate the desire to smoke
To assuage feelings of angst or restlessness
The appearance of being relaxed
A distraction from mundane work
During a coffee or tea break (or at the pub)
Time passes quickly when we smoke; doesn’t it.
The greatest traffic jam release method ever invented (yeah right)
It helps you concentrate better
The apparent, perhaps undeniable truth is; that no matter what you think about smoking or any perceptual value you get from it, it's simply an illusion. The only people who really benefit from you smoking; are the cigarette Companies, retailers and Governments. Psychologically you have been conditioned and primed to smoke. That just means you've been duped but are somewhat a willing participant in your own dis-enrichment!