When we try to leave old unwanted behaviors behind, we look to the thoughts and beliefs that block us, such as thinking “I can’t quit,” or “it’s too hard.”
Pleasures are not addictive. You choose to addict yourself to them. This happens when you create a set of thoughts and beliefs that fuel your actions.
Your thinking can trick you into believing that change just isn’t possible, or that you need some sort of miracle to get to a desirable outcome. But when you look closer, you’ll find fallacies, illogical thoughts, and irrational beliefs.
For instance, you may claim to have no power or control in the face of a smoking addiction, and it seems an irresistible impulse to smoke even when you say you wish you could stop.
Here’s a list of fallacies that could be working against you.
- Circular thinking: If you believe the impulse to smoke is irresistible, you don’t attempt to resist the impulse. Then, having failed, you begin to view failing to exercise control as confirmation that you have no power to quit, thus using your failure as “proof” the impulse is irresistible.
- Self-fulfilling prophesy: Because of the circular thinking above, you may continue to smoke as if you were powerless to quit.
- Illogical conclusion that you’re a special case who can’t quit: People quit regularly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 2002 the number of former U.S. smokers has exceeded the number of current smokers.
- “I just haven’t gotten around to the effort of quitting.” When you’re doing nothing to quit, you’re not doing nothing! Smoking involves this complex chain of behaviors: determining the type of business carrying cigarettes, locating a store that sells them, mapping out a route to the store, driving or walking to the store, obtaining money to purchase the cigarettes, making the transaction, finding a place to smoke, opening the cigarette pack, removing the cigarette, lighting up, inhaling. Quitting involves doing nothing.
- “I can’t resist them.” Cigarettes cannot force you to smoke: cigarettes are inanimate objects. They have no will or power of their own to force you to smoke. The only irresistible human behaviors do not involve tobacco: blinking, sneezing, convulsing, falling asleep, twitching, and others. Even a starving individual’s strong urge to eat can be resisted. In 1981 Bobby Sands, an IRA hunger-striker, died of self-imposed starvation in prison after choosing to refuse food for 66 days as part of a political protest. Certainly, then, a person experiencing the urge or craving to smoke can resist.
- “I must have the nicotine.” Smoking cigarettes is still a choice even in cases where an individual requires the regular ingestion of nicotine for some reason: It can be obtained from nicotine patches, nicotine gum, nicotine sprays, nicotine inhalers, and e-cigarettes.
About the author: Dr. Edelstein is a licensed clinical psychologist in San Francisco. He offers in-person as well as telephone and Skype sessions. He is famous as the author of Three Minute Therapy: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life (1997), with David Ramsay Steele. Recently, Dr. Edelstein created a YouTube channel with Tommy Bateman, featuring podcasts on topics of interest in REBT He also has a long-running website at threeminutetherapy.com.
You can also listen to Dr. Edelstein’s recent podcast “Self Esteem Can Be Toxic. How to Escape the Trap” by visiting the SMART Recovery podcast page.
Respectfully, Dr. Edelstein, I disagree. My belief is that pleasures ARE addictive. Our brains have evolved to repeat pleasurable experiences (see The Compass of Pleasure by David Linden and The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is not a Disease by Marc Lewis). The mechanisms are well understood. A behavior which is interpreted as pleasurable releases dopamine which has the effect of linking the pleasure-producing behavior to the desire to repeat that behavior. The motivational centers of our brains, the nucleus accumbens, the ventral temental area and the striatum, among others, create the desire to engage in the behavior again. The greater the amount of dopamine, the sooner the release of dopamine which follows the behavior and the more often the behavior is linked to the dopamine release all determine the strength of the habit/addiction. Cigarettes are a pretty good example of this pattern. The fallacies you speak of are all justifications to continue the addictive behavior after it has already been established. They come after addictions or habits are noticed. They are products of our prefrontal cortex, the logical, problem solving area of our brain, and they serve to reduce the tension which results when there is dissonance between what we do and what we think we SHOULD do. If you examine your list of fallacies you will see they will only come into play after the habits and addictions are already in place. I do agree that these fallacies must be refuted if we are to change and that executive control must be established, or at least must have a dominant influence for a period of time, if we are to change our addictive behaviors, but I also think that we must retrain the primitive areas of our brains which control those behaviors, so that triggers will lead to new behaviors.We cannot “think” our way out of addiction, but we can use our thinking to help us change. Using logic to change is a short term solution but it leads to ego fatigue. Telling yourself “No!” when trying to end a desired behavior does work for a short period of time but eventually willpower lessens and relapses occur. Study after study has proven this. This is the reason people who engage in restrictive diets will, over a long period of time actually gain weight. When compared to people who just change the foods they eat to healthier fare as opposed to limiting intake it is clear that the latter strategy is statistically doomed to failure. See The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal to explore this. Real change comes when we feel disgust at the thought of the actions which resulted from our addictions and choose, at both a logical and emotional level, to engage in alternative behaviors.
What I would say is that just because a person has a habit or an addiction does not mean they cannot break that habit or end that addiction. The natural progression of addictions is that they become less pleasurable over time with repetition. This is the reason addictions tend to escalate: in order to feel that same zing people will do more of the behavior in some way. Gamblers make higher bets and today’s highly stimulating sexual act will bore us in a year and we will look for something more. As pleasure declines, dysfunction usually rises and at some point we become motivated enough to make a change and we will learn how to live our lives without the addiction. It’s not that we value pleasure less, it’s that there is less pleasure.
Old habits truly do die hard, especially smoking. Once I decided to quit myself, I had to find an outlet for all of my anxiety and stress, which is why I turned to a new profession. By coaching and mentoring professionals in their work, it takes my focus off of my own addictions, and keeps me busy with teaching others. Your best bet is to keep the negative thoughts at bay, and focus on your ability to beat your addiction, if you choose to.
I was a little sceptcal of alcohol being put under deseise. Changing behavior first will eventually change the action of going to the store. Being in the store and starring at colorful packs of cigarettes and booze bottles is a dangerous game for addicts. Reaching for these items and buying them is part of the pleasure itself. Antisipation is a dopamine rush in it self.Even self control is worthless once you’re mind is mad up to buy the garenteed dopamine rush products you desire. You must get help to relies life is better with out the product s. Group support is critical. Thinking you have a disease is a crutch. Almost a weakness of some kind.
I would like to chime in a bit. When you first use a substance (alcohol, cigarettes, drugs) and interesting thing happens. The dopamine and adrenaline surge you experience is typically (initially) related to the events surrounding the use. This could mean feeling sneaky yet excited or having a sense of belonging with a peer group. It is what will bring you back a second, third, etc. time. Then the dopamine hijack occurs over time as our reward systems continue to seek the same feelings yet they fall short (I need this to feel happy, relaxed, etc).
With respect to quitting smoking:
Whenever on any site you ask/report that you have quit for days but still feel terrible, people respond Well, just wait till the 40 day mark, or 3 month mark. The goalposts always change, making it virtually impossible to quit. I think it’s all a bunch of hooey. You’ll feel terrible for the rest of your life, and that’s it.
True. I accept this kind of thinking is obstructing to quit smoking. Easy Availability of cigar products is also one of the the major reasons why people cannot quit even if they try to do so.
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