So, here we are, just a few short days into October, a month designated for giving up not one, but two unhealthy habits: namely, drinking and smoking. Yep, MacMillan would like you to go sober for October (click here), while the NHS would like you to use this month to stop smoking for good (click here). But, just how hard are these habits to break?
To understand that, you only need to understand what a habit is. We are what we repeatedly do so, really, we’re a massive collection of habits. We have eating habits and behaviour habits (both of which can become very predictable). Driving is a habit, as is the journey to work, and (addictive elements aside), both drinking and smoking are habitual.
A habit is simply a neural pathway in the brain. Think of a neural pathway as an information superhighway – a massive bunch of nerve cells that transmit a specific message.
As you do something new, you build a new neural pathway and the more you travel that path, the more solid it becomes.
But, it takes just three weeks for a neural pathway to set.
So, when you started drinking and when you started smoking, you started building a neural pathway in your brain. Three weeks later, that pathway was set and so the drinking and/or the smoking became a habit. The more you engaged in that habit the more ingrained it became.
But, your brain is always changing shape. It’s forever growing and shifting and adapting to your needs. It’s building new neural pathways and creating new habits all the time. This ability is known as neuroplasticity.
So, if it took three weeks to build a smoking habit or a drinking habit, it can take just three weeks to build a new habit; the ‘I don’t smoke’ habit or the ‘I don’t drink’ habit.’
With willpower, focus, and determination, you can re-programme your brain and build new neural pathways. Pathways that build new, healthy habits and behaviours to replace the old, unhealthy habits and behaviours.
Both cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and hypnotherapy are excellent tools to help you rewire your brain and build those new habits. So, if you want to stop smoking, if you want to give up drinking, or if you are a few short days into October and are struggling with your goals, then you could find a therapist trained in either one of these techniques or, preferably, both.
As a big hint, if you are reading this, you’ve already found a therapist trained in both disciplines and I’ve helped plenty of people to give up smoking and quit drinking.
In the meantime, if it is Sober October for you, or if it’s Stoptober (or both) and you’re struggling; there are a few things you can to do to help get you back on track.
How to retrain your brain
- Focus not on what you lose by giving that habit up, but on what you gain
- Write a list of all the good things you get by quitting and read it daily
- Use your imagination over and over again. Imagine yourself saying no to that cigarette, no to that pint. Imagine yourself, instead, going outside for some fresh air, or ordering a soft drink
- Interrupt your thought patterns. If you feel the urge to smoke or drink, just say ‘no’ very loudly in your mind, and then distract yourself by going and doing something else instead, like talking to someone or doing the washing up
- While you’re at it, build a new habit, like going for a long walk, or joining the gym, or reading a book; something you’d like to do
Both CBT and hypnotherapy are excellent tools to help you break a whole host of bad habits, not just drinking and smoking.