Smokers and vapers often think that they will need to really want to stop smoking or vaping to be successful and I can see why they would think this. ‘No pain, no gain (or insert your own cheesy motivational quote of choice. No judgement, honest)’ summarizes much of how society mostly approaches achievement and reward. I don’t think it’s wrong to say that pain, or discomfort at least, is certainly a core part of working towards goals that people find meaningful. But as a smoking cessation hypnotist in London, I’d like to address the interchangeable use of ‘will power’, ‘wanting to stop’ and ‘motivation’ that I often see in smokers and vapers.
What is will power when it comes to smoking and vaping cessation?
The American Psychological Association defines will power as: ‘the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals’. It is what smokers or vapers practice once they have quit but then get the desire (or craving) to smoke a cigarette or vape. Even though they want to smoke/vape, they tell themselves: ‘no, I will not smoke or vape’ and perhaps practice some kind of diverting strategy to help resist the temptation until it passes.
Lots of recently-quit smokers/vapers find it very difficult to consistently sustain the will power to not smoke in the face of a raging nicotine addiction: it requires a lot of energy and resources to stay on top of. Many quitters find that eventually the nicotine addiction manages to slip under even their most robust strategies and they give in and smoke again.
What is motivation?
In this context, I define motivation as simply an active interest in achieving something. Put simply: the smoker or vaper wants to stop smoking or vaping, but isn’t yet sure how. They would think about stopping, research the best way, and try to put together a strategy and plan to achieve what they want to do. It is not necessarily the same as will power, although there is often an overlap.
Most clients who come to see me as a smoking cessation hypnotist London are motivated to stop smoking: they have either found me by actively researching or been referred to me by someone whom they asked. They want to become non-smokers, and have come to me for help.
But many of these clients have little to no will power to stop smoking when they come to me, and that is fine! It does not affect the results of the process.
It’s actually a key symptom of nicotine addiction for most people: nicotine tricks you in to thinking you want to smoke, and a part of you still believes this which is why you would need will power to overcome it. The problem is the belief, not the lack of will power.
Amusingly, I think smokers actually tend to have a lot of will power. After all, it takes a lot of effort to deliberately inconvenience yourself financially and socially to damage your health when it is completely unnecessary to do so. The issue is that you believe you want and need to smoke, so you put a lot of effort in to smoking and arranging your life so you can smoke instead of another, more productive and rewarding activity.
My work involved dispelling the belief that you need and want to smoke so you won’t need will power in order not to – the desire should just be gone and you can spend the energy and time you used to dedicate to being a smoker to doing more interesting, fun and healthy things.
So I don’t need will power – great! But do I need motivation to stop smoking?
Good question. You should ideally have a fairly strong sense that you want to stop smoking or vaping – at least strong enough that you take steps towards finding a solution to stopping.
Some red flags I look out for when screening clients are if someone else has booked and arranged a session on their behalf, or if they have only sought help to appease nagging loved ones. I usually refuse these clients as it doesn’t indicate they are invested enough to seek help of their own volition, which greatly diminishes the chance of success.
However, it is not impossible to successfully stop if you feel you don’t want to
Let me ask you this: do you regret ever starting to smoke or vape? This is fundamentally the same as wanting to stop. The issue is that you believe you cannot, or do not want to.
This is key symptom of nicotine addiction I’m afraid, no matter what you believe about how much you enjoy it or feel it relaxes you. Focussing on this and really thinking about it can often open the door to a natural feeling of wanting to stop.
Didn’t you say earlier that discomfort or pain is a core part of achieving worthwhile things?
I did, and it often is. But I generally feel that it can be easy to stop smoking or vaping because it is basically a dismantling process: we are removing something that was added to us rather than building something entirely new. However, It is possible (just possible, not guaranteed!) that you will find it hard to stop smoking or vaping, but in my experience, this is usually due to other, more complex psychological webs in which nicotine plays only a symptomatic role.
The cravings for nicotine are not usually the issue, but the feelings underneath what your nicotine addiction has been suppressing or distracting you from that could make your process uncomfortable. People addicted to nicotine often sense this but mistakenly displace the feeling on the possibility of nicotine withdrawal instead of the unresolved feelings that drive it.
However, I can promise you that you will feel fantastic once these feelings are resolved: not only will your nicotine addiction resolve but clients report increased confidence, feeling more relaxed and significantly reduced anxiety.
Also, this process only needs to be done once: Stanislav Grof wrote that ‘a feeling fully felt is the funeral pyre of that feeling’ and I consider this an almost-universal truth. I guide and support my clients through this and anything that needs to be resolved in order for them to be able to really get underneath what’s driving their nicotine addiction, so they can be free from it for good and live healthier, happier lives.
I would be remiss if I didn’t include the huge caveat that everyone is unique and the line between motivation and will power is differently drawn in each person. Some people may not even feel the distinction at all, and that is fine too. But I have consistently observed this distinction and hope it may help locate yourself and get clearer definition about what’s happening in your internal landscape.
Thanks for reading! You can read more about will power, in particular whether cutting down smoking gradually is a helpful way to approach quitting smoking, or learn more about how nicotine tricks people by making them think it helps relieve stress and anxiety. If you’d like to stop smoking or vaping and would like some help then you can book a discovery call with me to see if we would be a good fit to work together. Best wishes, Leo Thomas