do you remember your first cigarette?
let’s do a little exercise.
close your eyes and take a few nice, slow deep breaths.
allow your mind to drift backwards in time…
think back to that first cigarette you had… try to recall the taste, the smell
widen your vision and reflect on what that time in your life was like
were you able to remember your first cigarette? maybe you didn’t even need to think about it.
if you’re like most people, there’s a good chance that you were pretty young the first time you tried to smoke.
it probably tasted disgusting, you probably choked and coughed and almost had to work at it.
and you were probably doing it for reasons that would never compel you to smoke now –
like maybe you were barely a teenager and you were doing it to fit in?
or rebel against your parents?
or maybe your parents were the reason you smoked, and it just seemed like a natural part of becoming an adult?
so, while even though you are older now and you don’t really think about smoking to look cool or feel accepted, there may be parts of your mind that still hold onto that original reason for smoking.
to complicate things, our minds add new experiences to memories that are related to the same behaviour. which means that every time you’ve had a cigarette again since the first time, and it wasn’t a terrible enough experience to make you stop entirely, your mind re-inforced that smoking is an okay thing to do.
and if you actually enjoyed it, or it helped you avoid stress, your mind added that to the list of reasons to keep smoking, too.
neuroscientists call this process associative learning, and it’s an evolutionary advantage that keeps animals alive. in the wild this ability helps animals remember what is safe or dangerous, or where to find food. it’s even been observed in sea slugs. (for a more detailed explanation of this process in relation to compulsive and addictive behaviour, see this paper by Houlihan & Brewer)
so if you come to see me for help with quitting smoking, i will ask you about the first time you smoked, and we might spend part of the session uncovering and addressing why you started smoking and how those reasons or motivations are no longer relevant.
you might even get re-acquainted with your inner 13 year old.
do you have an interesting or funny story about when you first tried smoking? share it in the comments!