Although I should preface this article by saying that when I was a hypnotherapist I stopped taking 'stop smoking' clients as they were my least favourite type of client, wanting me to wave a magic wand without them having to take any responsibility.

This is what I've found works, however. A lot of smoking is habit (we do it on autopilot) and some of it is delivering some kind of psychological benefit (e.g. calming anxiety, something to hide behind when meeting new people, reward for doing stuff they don't want to do, etc). I suspect that when people are no longer in need of whatever payoff they were getting and are just smoking out of habit, that's when they can just decide to stop and have not trouble, like some of the cases described above.

I don't believe the physical addiction is as strong as people say it is, although I did read somewhere that there may be some genetic component. Since you can't change your genes (yet) and I imagine it would be pretty hard to test what sort of genes you have, it's best to regard genetics as just an excuse. The exception would be if you're a really heavy smoker, when the additional oxygen hitting your lungs combined with the sudden lack of nicotine may be a bit overwhelming – so tail off to 20 or less per day before stopping altogether.

So this is stuff I have found works:

1. Stop thinking of it as 'giving up' – this implies that smoking is some kind of amazing pleasure and implies you will really miss it. Obviously it isn't – as a drug it's a really crap one. This is one of the main points of the Allen Carr approach. Instead, think of it as 'embracing life' or 'saying yes to the future' or something – whatever works for you.

2. Keep a diary of every cig you smoke for a week – time, what you were doing/where you are, and how you were feeling at the time. This will identify the environmental and emotional triggers, and more importantly will make you mindful of every cig you smoke. Usually people see a reduction in the number they smoke just from doing this, because it tends to cut out the 'autopilot' ones – each cig becomes a conscious decision.

It's also a good test of motivation – if you can't be bothered to keep the diary, you probably won't be bothered sticking to staying clean.

3. Sit down with a pen and paper, clear your mind, and write down why you started smoking in the first place, and what, if anything, it gives you now. Often you find that the reasons you started in the first place – to be grown up, to be cool, to be a rebel, to give you confidence or whatever – have become irrelevant to you.

If there is anything left that smoking still gives you – and it's important to be honest with yourself here – then ask yourself how else you are going to supply that payoff. Write that down too and commit to yourself that you're actually going to do it.

4. Hypnotherapy can work amazingly well, but if you do go and see one, for heaven's sake make sure it's a good one and someone that you feel comfortable with and trust that they know what they are doing, otherwise you're just throwing your money away.

If you do go and see a hypnotherapist, don't have your 'last cigarette' on their doorstep, because it doesn't give them anything to work with. You need to be in a state of craving, because that's when you need the help (an insight that seems glaringly obvious in retrospect – thanks to Andrew Austin's brilliant NLP book The Rainbow Machine for pointing it out)

The quit-smoking market attracts the most profit-focused people in the hypnotherapy world (because that's where the money is), not necessarily the best hypnotherapists. If they are claiming a 95% success rate, I would view that claim with suspicion. What they might mean is that 95% didn't come back for the free follow-up session offered if the first one didn't work, probably because the clients found the experience of the first one so unpleasant.

I once did a survey of my former stop smoking clients – about 50% of them were still smoke-free. That's a pretty good success rate when compared to any other method, but I still saw it as 50% failure on my part. So after that I stopped seeing smokers.

I hope some of this helps!

Incidentally, you may wonder why I'm bothering to post this when I no longer see hypnotherapy clients and therefore the post will not directly attract customers to my business. Well – I wrote it in response to a query from someone I know, and it seemed a shame not to share it with the wider world.

Advice on stopping smoking and staying stopped

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