February 28th, 2012
As a hypnotherapist, smoking cessation is an important part of my professional life. Over the past ten years I have had more clients for smoking than for any other issue. But unlike many of my colleagues, I have been a smoker myself. I know what it’s like. I know that giving up isn’t easy. But I also know that it can be done, that you can break the habit, consign it to the past and simply get on with the rest of your life without even thinking about the habit.
But I also think that it is useful to reflect upon my own experience as a smoker because, in doing so, I can empathize more deeply with those many thousands of people who feel trapped and rendered helpless by this dangerous habit. And I can give them hope. I am living proof that a one-time heavy smoker can quit smoking forever.
Why did I ever start smoking? Like most smokers I vividly remember my first cigarette. It was given to me by my grandmother. I was aged around nine or ten. Yes – this was a few decades ago, but just think how times have changed! When Nan gave me my first fag, no one thought it was a big deal. I didn’t know how to smoke it properly, I didn’t like the taste, and at the time I simply thought that having tried it and not enjoyed it I would never be a smoker.
But I became a smoker. Why?
I think that there were two reasons. Peer pressure was certainly one of them. I wanted to do what some, if not all, of my mates were doing. I wanted to take the lead over those who weren’t doing it yet because they were nervous at taking the plunge. But I think that there was another, deeper reason why I took it up.
Neither of my parents were smokers. But many relatives and family friends were. Dad used to smoke a cigar or two at Christmas or after a special meal out. Family gatherings, parties, weddings and other such special events were wreathed in cigarette smoke. So many of the good things in life became associated with cigarette smoke.
On Saturday afternoons we used to get a cleaner in to help Mum out. There were three of us kids. Dad was a coalman. There was endless amounts of washing to do and Mum needed a helping hand on a Saturday afternoon. The lady who came to clean for us was a smoker. So, even today, the combined smell of wood polish and fag smoke evokes happy memories of long summer Saturdays, when school felt like it was a million miles away and there was still Dr Who and Sunday to look forward to…
These positive associations intensified as I got older. Cigarette smoke came to represent rebellion against an impossibly dull and restrictive school regime. It became associated with booze-ups and crazy nights out. And as an undergraduate, smoking was simply a natural part of our louche student lifestyle.
So – in one way or another – smoking was associated with all the good things in life. Holidays, Christmases, family gatherings, meals out, pub visits, parties – all of these things were associated in my mind with smoking. Added to which was the attraction of the habit itself. I got to like smoking. I used to like a fag and a pint with friends. I used to like a fag with a strong pot of tea when I was studying as an undergraduate. (My tutor, and later thesis supervisor, the eminent Descartes scholar Prof. John Cottingham, was also a smoker and was often ready to share a Silk Cut during tutorials). I used to like smoking.
So the question now arises – how and why did I quit?
I remember my first attempt at quitting. It came as quite a shock. I first tried to quit at the ripe old age of seventeen. I had been smoking for four years. I decided to stop one Sunday morning. I lasted the whole of Sunday – but it was hard. I spent the whole day feeling irritated and thinking about smoking. I was at work the next day. At that time I was an apprentice plumber. The day did not go well – I caused two leaks and broke my boss’s best drill. That was it – back to the fags for me!
The next time was more successful. My schooling had been an unmitigated disaster and I had ended up in the wrong job. I had to do something. And, as I always say, one change often leads to another. I signed up for some correspondence courses but found that I couldn’t study because I couldn’t concentrate. I started to explore yoga and meditation – and I came to appreciate what a dangerous and harmful habit smoking really is. I learned some meditation techniques and did some concentration exercises. I began to change. And I gave up smoking.
At university I made the usual fatal mistake. I started to have the “occasional” cigarette in the evenings. It soon became every evening. Then every afternoon and evening. Then I was back to square one. But only for a couple of years. I knew that I could do again what I had done before, and there was never any doubt that I would, at some time, stop smoking for good. After January 1990, that was it. No more cigarettes. Do I miss it? I don’t even think about it. I can honestly say that no matter what I’m doing – walking with the kids, or having a beer, or after a meal – I don’t even think about smoking. I know – with 100% certainty – that I will never be a habit smoker again.
All this happened before I trained in hypnotherapy. But I was using mediation and concentration exercises which, I think, are pretty much the same thing in a different guise. But what also helped was that at no point in my life did I ever say that I couldn’t quit or that I would remain a smoker forever. I always knew I would stop. I never once said “I can’t quit” or “I haven’t got the willpower”. I believe that people who say those things are using a kind of hypnosis against themselves. If you tell yourself something often enough you will end up believing it.
So – as a hypnotherapist, I know that it is not an easy thing to quit smoking. I also know that if you want to quit you can. Sometimes people come to me who don’t want to give up smoking but who nevertheless want to be non-smokers. They want me to wave hypnosis as a kind of magic wand and make the habit magically disappear. Well, I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work like that. People are people, not puppets or machines. The human brain is not a passive computer program. You need to want to quit. And if you want to, then – sooner or later – you will.
How do you maximize your chances of success? First of all, you need to choose your moment. If you’re going through a period of change and transition, if your relationship is going through a rocky patch or is breaking down, if things are particularly stressful at work, or if a load of celebrations, parties or other such events are on the near horizon then it is probably best to wait until things settle down. But it is also vitally important to “psyche-up” to it. Tell people that you’re giving up. That will do two things – it will give you an added incentive to stick to your word, and the words you say to others will have an effect upon you. When you say something, you give your words a certain reality. And you must make a promise to yourself, whatever happens, never to tell either yourself or anyone else that you cannot quit, or that you do not have the willpower.
If you want to stop, you can. Hypnotherapy is not a magic wand – it is a helping hand which can make the difference between success and failure.
The struggle against the smoking habit is a conflict which you must win. And even if you lose a battle, you can always win the war.
You have to. Your life depends upon it.
February 9th, 2012
“If you want it enough, you can make it happen…”
You’re 18 years old. You’re young, healthy and good-looking. You’ve passed you’re A levels with flying colours. You’re highly motivated – you’ve passed your driving test and got yourself a car. A career in law seems to be beckoning. You’re happy. There’s not a cloud in the sky.
You’re driving back from a party to celebrate A level results. You haven’t had any alcohol and you don’t do drugs. Everything’s fine.
Suddenly – something goes wrong. It is all over so quick that you hardly know what really happened. But suddenly, and without warning, you’re in trouble. You slam on the brakes, yet some inner intuition tells you that you will not escape. For a split second before darkness falls, something inside you knows that as from now, everything is going to be different…
You wake up in hospital. Well – you don’t actually wake up. It is more like consciousness begins to return. Somewhere in the darkness you see light – maybe hear a nurse’s voice. Darkness returns. Then – somehow – you find yourself staring at an unfamiliar ceiling. Where the hell am I? What’s gone wrong? This time you remain conscious – sort of! You’re in hospital. How did I get here? What happened? People flit in and out, making reassuring noises. Anguished parents and friends start appearing. They all seem to be saying the same thing – Don’t worry. It’ll be all right. Just rest and get better. Everything else will take care of itself.
But that voice inside, that inner intuition, keeps telling you that something has changed for good. Somehow, and for some reason, things will never be the same again. Over the coming days and weeks, that inner intuition is confirmed. No- things will never be the same again. Because you were in a car accident, and it was a bad one. Because you were seriously injured. Because, as from now, you are paralysed from the waist down. You will never, ever walk again.
If you’ve never been in a wheelchair it is difficult, probably impossible, to imagine what it is really like. Suddenly the world is a far less accessible place. You can’t do steps anymore. And if you think that’s no big deal then just take a look around you and just see how many steps there are. They’ve everywhere. If you’re walking along the street where you live, or along the High Street in town you probably don’t even notice how many steps there are. But if you’re in a wheelchair then suddenly those steps are very noticeable indeed. They are an obstacle – a barrier.
If you’re in a wheelchair, suddenly everything seems to be out of reach. The item you want to buy, sitting there on the top shelf of the supermarket, might just as well be on the summit of Mount Everest! Or if you drop something, you can’t just bend down and pick it up. You suddenly find that you’re dependent upon others, to an uncomfortable degree. You have to rely upon family, friends and carers, and upon the kindness and courtesy of complete strangers, just to get through any normal day.
You can’t go dancing with your mates. You can’t run. You can’t just bound around and leap about with joy as you once used to. You can’t even just get out of the house and go for a walk down the street.
Imagine this happening to you at the age of 18. Well, this actually happened to Sophie Morgan. Yet Sophie dealt with this disaster in a way which is different, a way which is important, a way from which we – all of us – can learn. To understand and appreciate the true nature and worth of Sophie’s achievement, consider the ways in which people usually deal with life-changing events of this kind.
Some people sink into despair. They feel profoundly resentful and angry that such a thing has happened to them and not to someone else. And they feel profoundly depressed and discouraged at what they perceive as the sudden narrowing of opportunities for the future. This negative reaction is not a sign of weakness. To some extent, it is normal. Maybe everyone who is so affected goes through a phase of anger, resentment or despair. But those who remain there are simply adding to the burden which they have to bear by carrying a heavy sack-full of negative feelings on top of the physical challenges which they have to carry.
Some people come to accept their situation and carry on “as normal”. I think this is true of the vast majority of people who are afflicted by physical challenges or disabilities, either through illness or accident. They make the best of what they have got and they try not to worry too much about what they haven’t. They face their challenge with resignation or acceptance. They keep their chins up, their hearts high, and they carry on.
But a much smaller, and very special, group of people choose a third option. And it is to this group that Sophie Morgan belongs.
For such people, a disability actually becomes an opportunity, even a blessing. Such people have a special quality which enables them to turn something which would be a disaster for many people into a unique window of opportunity. In my opinion, such people are blessed with an innate understanding of the almost limitless potential of themselves as human beings.
Take Sophie. She was going to pursue a career in law, but after her accident she decided instead to follow her heart. She took a degree in art and is now a busy and productive creative artist. She has travelled around the world, and has given talks about her self and her experiences. She was able to seize opportunities in the media and television, featuring in the BBCs Beyond Boundaries and Britain’s Missing Top Model series. This in turn has lead to other broadcasting opportunities. With the launch of a project called the Mannequal Sophie has raised her profile even further in the world of fashion and has become a vital spokesperson for disabled people, especially disabled youngsters, whose voices are so seldom heard. Sophie has now become the face of Stella McCartney’s ADIDAS campaign.
Not bad for a woman in her 20s! And how different things might have been for her if she had decided to drag her disability along her previously chosen path instead of making it into a stepping stone towards the things she really wanted to do.
What next for Sophie? She might create her own fashion label, found her own fashion empire, become Prime Minister – who knows? For people like Sophie, nothing is off-limits.
To turn your greatest disadvantage into your greatest opportunity, to make the sweetest roses grow from the foulest soil, to turn Fate into your greatest ally rather than your fiercest adversary – this is a gift given only to the few.
Or is it? As a therapist I am totally and 100% convinced that we all have a capacity for self-realization, for discovering what we are really capable of. Why do we so rarely discover our true potential? Because of routine, because there seems to be no need, because the line of least resistance is easier. But sometimes the routine is shattered. It might be a physical disability caused by an accident or illness. It might be something less drastic, such as the loss of a job, or the end of a relationship. If we can only find the way to turn these “disasters” to our advantage then Life is a game we are destined to win.
Sophie Morgan, Thomas Quasthoff, Louis Braille, Ludwig van Beethoven – are these disabled people? No – they are enabled people.
February 7th, 2012
As a hypnotherapist I am increasingly aware of how we are influenced by culture. And I mean “culture” in the very broadest sense – music, film, television, books, plays and so on. Unless we are cramming for an exam, “culture” is a leisure activity, something we do when we are relaxing, when we are enjoying ourselves, when our guard is down.
As I have argued elsewhere, we are influenced in countless ways by the ordinary things we encounter in our day to day lives. These things affect our mood, our behaviour, our outlook, our choices, and yet we are, for the most part, blissfully unaware of any of this. We blame our negativity on the bleak economic outlook, our anger and frustration on our colleagues or other road users or the noisy kids next door or our family and friends. It’s someone else’s fault.
But how do we relax? We watch soap operas, in which people betray and attack each other, in which every episode contains at least one blazing row, in which violence is just beneath the surface. Or we go to a club or a gig and our ears are assailed at deafening volume by songs whose “message”, if we can generalize to this extent, seems to be one of selfishness and cheap short-term gratification. Even talent shows, even cookery programs, have degenerated into gladiatorial contests in which victory is all and egotistical “self-belief” is always the key to “success”. Read the rest of this entry »
February 1st, 2012
Although for such a beastly month as February, twenty-eight days as a rule are plenty,
One year in every four, his days shall be reckoned as nine and twenty…
W S Gilbert, The Pirates of Penzance Act Two.
Beastly? February? Well – sorry Gilbert but I have to disagree!
True, in this February of 2012, the news seems to be as bleak as any winter weather. Double-dip recession in the United Kingdom, debt crisis in the Eurozone, a record fall in the number of university applications, a stagnant housing market, the annual furore over bankers’ bonuses, tensions between Britain and Argentina – none of this is very cheering. Appropriate news for the beastly month of February, perhaps?
Yet nature seems to be singing a different song. The mornings and the evenings are getting lighter. Gone are those stygian Monday mornings when it seems as if the day will never start. February is the month of crocuses and snowdrops, of clear skies and frosty mornings, and many signs of the imminence of spring. As I wander the country paths of West Sussex there is a different feel in the air. To me it conveys a feeling that all winters have an end – not only seasonal winters but also economic and political Winters of Discontent. And, yes, it can get a bit nippy. Many a cold-snap happens in February. But you know what they say:
If February give much snow
A fine summer it doth bestow.
A fine summer, eh? That would be nice! Here’s hoping… Read the rest of this entry »
February 1st, 2012
In a previous article I explained the reasons why I don’t offer virtual gastric band treatments for weight loss. It was not my intention to suggest that treatments which include the “fitting” of a virtual gastric band are never successful. However it seems highly likely that the success in such cases is in fact due to other factors.
I referred to a Daily Mail article in which a person had, it seems, been successfully treated for weight loss using a virtual gastric band. But the article makes it clear that the person concerned had around ten sessions of hypnotherapy and was put on an extremely radical diet. It was this, I would suggest, which caused the weight loss, not the virtual gastric band. The VGB could easily have been omitted and the treatment would still have been a success, at least in the short term. This treatment package, successful though it was (in the short term) is a far cry from the one-session “magic wand” type of treatment which clients hope for when they sign up for VGB treatments. Read the rest of this entry »