THE PEPSODENT PRINCIPLE AND SMOKING!
REPLACE BAD HABITS FOR GOOD!
32 years ago I used to be a very heavy smoker, nearly two packs per day. (I also had a huge amount of hair and a moustache back then). Soon after the birth of my daughter, we brought her home from the hospital following a very difficult birth which ended with an emergency caesarean. As I held her in my arms I was also just finishing a cigarette. My daughter gave a little cough and I realised if there was ever a time to give up smoking this was it!
I had tried many times before to give up smoking, but breaking a habit as strong as mine was isn’t easy and I’d failed many times before. I had tried quite a few substitutes and methods but mostly I just applying will-power to overcome it.
Nothing had worked (not even putting pepper on the end of the cigarettes). I always found a way to come back to the comfort of smoking. It was what my body craved (or so I thought) it gave my hands something to do (or so I thought) and it confirmed the image of myself as I thought I wanted to be. It turns out though that the problem has very little to do with the physical and much more with the way we form habits in our minds.
A physical addiction to nicotine lasts only as long as the chemical is in your bloodstream,- about 100 hours after the last cigarette. Many of the lingering urges that we think of as nicotine’s addictive twinges are really behavioural habits asserting themselves. We crave a cigarette after breakfast one month later not because we physically need it, but because we remember so fondly the rush it once provided each morning. (chocolate has, I think, the same sort of effect).
One part of me knew it would be better to stop and another part, but a much more persuasive voice, wanted things to carry on as they were. After all who doesn’t want the deep satisfaction of lungs filled with smoke and the pleasure of exhaling long and slow (my daughter perhaps?).
It’s the craving, the expectation of the reward, whatever that might be, that we desire and that drives the behaviour. We crave the endorphins, or the dopamine hit, or the sense of accomplishment that are all part of the reward cycle.
At first, I said to myself that I wouldn’t smoke anywhere near the baby, but I soon realised that I needed to change my thinking and my strategy if I were to kick the habit (although it’s never really over for good)!
Giving up smoking is probably easier in some ways than other habits, it’s easy to identify the routine and the desired goal. But smoking and most other habits and addictions often have deeply ingrained but simple patterns of behaviour which are extremely difficult to break.
I find it easy to dream big, to have big ideas, so big sometmes that, without a plan, my enthusiasm quickly finds that it has no way to get to the goal quickly, so it seems to decide that it’s easier to let it drop and think of another great idea. Knowing what I wanted to achieve was essential of course, but almost more important was to find the path to get there.
I decided to deceive myself, to fool myself into not being under pressure to give up and to take a very short-term view.
Firstly, I had to identify the cue that impelled me to reach for the packet of cigarettes. Whilst I didn’t know this at the time, all habits, good and bad, big and small, follow a similar cycle. Cue-routine-reward. In order to change an ingrained behaviour, you have to break the cycle. You can keep the cue, but you can substitute the routine, and change the reward.
We often put ourselves under massive pressure and think that making a huge difference quickly, with a short sharp shock, will be the one step needed to make a permanent change. Well, that’s not what I found. In fact, I found that method easy to implement but almost impossible to sustain.
One of the great problems with changing a habit like smoking is that when you try to stop, you end up thinking about nothing else, which makes it harder to change.
What I found was that very small, incremental changes gradually made a huge changes difference.
Think of it like navigation at sea; if you are one degree out, over a long distance you could be a hundred miles off course (a golf shot is also a good metaphor). Whilst very small changes may be hard to notice they can be far more meaningful. Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. Over time small changes make a huge difference.
Nevertheless, the first was to substitute the behavior after the cue that ignited my desire. So, when I felt the urge to smoke, instead of reaching for a cigarette packet and pulling out a cigarette, I drank a sip of water. This substituted the routine but answered (to some extent) the craving, and gave me something physical to do.
Craving and reward are strongly related to dopamine production in the body. We desire and crave reward. When we associate an action with a reward, anticipation creates desire and the dopamine cycle kicks in. Habits are often dopamine driven. This isn’t just about smoking. Any behaviour that is habit-forming like taking drugs, eating junk food, playing a video game, browsing social media etc. Dopamine plays a central role in the neurological processes, including motivation, learning and memory, punishment and aversion, and voluntary movement.
It’s the anticipated reward, not the fulfilment of it, that gets us to take action. The activation of the reward system in the brain is the same when you receive a reward as when you anticipate the reward. Every action is taken because of the anticipation that precedes it and motivates it. What is rewarded is repeated.
So, in order to give up smoking, I had to substitute the reward and the routine.
The reward was surprisingly simple and linked together two principles. Small changes and a payoff.
Within the first 5 minutes or so of my decision to quit I craved another cigarette, so I took a sip of water instead, knowing that I was consciously substituting one thing for another.
Then another 5 minutes passed and I craved a cigarette. The craving was very strong, particularly the physicality of it.
I told myslef if I could do 5 minutes then I could do just 5 minutes more. Then, if I could do 10 minutes without a cigarette (perhaps) I could do another 10 minutes. One small step at a time…
Although I didn’t identify it as such at the time, this is a variation of the Seinfeld Strategy. The basic idea is that if you have a calendar and you mark off the days that you turn up to do something, you gradually build up a “chain” of marks which would be a great shame to lose. The game is to make an unbroken chain and to celebrate it.
And that’s how it was with the timings. I said to myself “if I can do 5 minutes, I could do 5 minutes again and it would be a shame to lose the unbroken chain of the previous 5 minutes, and all those before them. It progressed, from 5 to 10 minutes and then to an hour and then to another. Then to a day. If I could do one day, I could probably do one more day. The chain became my reward.
The time gaps got bigger and bigger and I didn’t want to give up my chain. I continued until I forgot to take a sip of water, (because the strength of the craving began to subside) and to remember how long it had been in the previous period. The gaps got longer until I had replaced the habit and had almost completely forgotten about it.
The unbroken chain was the new reward. Like playing a video game, you progress from level to level. Every time you complete a level or a stage, that level is now passed and the worst thing would be to go back to the beginning.
However, I don’t think that just replacing the rouine was the only factor. Belief and visualization played a huge part in kicking the habit. I had to believe that I could be a non-smoker and I had a strong picture or story in my mind tha saw me as a non-smoker. This is probably what made the difference for the long-term. The mental picture was as vivid as I could make it and that fueled the belief that I was now a non-smoker.
I don’t sip water obsessively by the way. That served only as a substitute routine or ritual to replace the cigarette in my hand and the smoke in my lungs.
I would probably still enjoy smoking except that it doesn’t even occur to me anymore, but it has served me well when trying to change a behaviour or habit.
Identify the Cue, the Routine and the Reward and then substitute the routine. This pattern, unknow to me at the time, has been used in sport for many years, as has visualization and belief.
Understanding Cue-routine-reward function has been exploited for many years in advertising.
In the mid-1900’s Claude C. Hopkins realized and popularized the technique when promoting Pepsodent toothpaste. At that time very few people were using toothpaste and, in fact, dental health was a major problem in America. By developing the “Pepsodent Smile” he transformed the toothpaste into one of the best-known products on earth. He identified the film that builds up on teeth that you could feel with your tongue (the Cue) and the reward, the clean, fresh tingling sensation that gives someone a confident smile. The routine was brushing your teeth with Pepsodent. He identified the craving for a confidence-bosting smile with clean white teeth. He created the craving. The craving powers the habit loop.
Now, 32 years on, I know exactly when I stopped and that also serves as a reward and a reminder. Substituting the action, the routine and the reward (the unbroken chain) helped me to change my behaviour.
HOW TO CHANGE A HABIT YOU DON’T WANT;
1. MAKE THE CUES OBVIOUS AND EASY TO IMPLEMENT. MAKE THE ROUTINES TO YOUR BAD HABITS INVISIBLE.
2. MAKE SMALL EASY STEPPING STONES WITH SMALL EASY REWARDS ALONG THE WAY. DON’T MAKE IT TOO DIFFICULT. BELIEVE THAT YOU CAN DO ONE SMALL STEP — THEN JUST DO ANOTHER.
3. CELEBRATE THE SMALL WINS.
4. CHANGE THE RITUALS AND ROUTINES AROUND YOUR OLD HABIT. MAKE SMALL CUES AND RITUALS FOR YOUR NEW HABIT.
5. MAKE THE REPLACEMENT HABIT ATTRACTIVE, SATISFYING AND DESIRABLE