6-step reframing for smoking cessation

The research shows that up to 90% of our behavior is controlled by our unconscious mind. Unconscious behavior is something that we do without consciously thinking about that.

That includes some basic things, like your heart rate, for example. When you do some physical activity, your heart starts to beat faster. You don’t tell your heart: “Please beat faster, I think I lack oxygen in my muscles.”

If your eyes remain open for some time, very soon they will blink to bring moisture to your cornea.

The unconscious behavior also includes some mental processes like multiplication. If I ask you: “How much is 5 times 5?” The answer 25 comes out of nowhere – you didn’t have to consciously add 5 to 5 to 5 to 5 to 5, right?

Our unconscious mind also controls our habits – including good ones. For example, when you go to the bathroom to brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about what to do with your toothbrush. Your hand just grabs it and does its job – everything happens automatically.

The problems begin when our conscious mind wants to do one thing, but our unconscious mind wants to do another thing. The most common example of such conflict is bad habits, like smoking. Yes, consciously we understand that it’s bad for our health – maybe we have some unpleasant symptoms, like shortness of breath or loss of smell – but still under certain circumstances our hand reaches automatically to a pack of cigarettes and we smoke anyway.

If we really want to change the unwanted behavior and break the habit, we need the support of our unconscious mind, otherwise most likely it will sabotage our progress. We will start finding excuses why it’s ok to smoke. “I had a bad week.” “Too much stress on the job now, I’ll quit next month.”

Why is our unconscious mind sabotaging the progress? Well, because almost always smoking brings us something positive, it has some positive intention. Some people find that smoking helps them relax or find time to think about things, it’s an official excuse to take a break when they work. Other people find it easier to speak with their friends when everybody is smoking.

Notice that we may or may not be aware of that positive intention. The technique described below will work either way.

In order to succeed in quitting smoking we need to find alternative ways to satisfy this positive intention. For example, there are hundreds of ways how you can relax, but you use this pretty weird way to do that. There’s a lot of steps if you think about it:

  • first, you should buy cigarettes,
  • you should find cigarettes (are they always in the same place?),
  • you should find a place where smoking is allowed,
  • you should find a light,
  • you should light a cigarette,
  • you should inhale the smoke,
  • you should dispose of your cigarette in a safe way.

All this is a lot of trouble, not really relaxing 🙂 It’s only because people smoke in a relaxing environment, they associate smoking with relaxation. There is not one chemical in cigarette smoke that relaxes you. Think about your very first cigarette, was it relaxing??

Let’s get back to the topic – alright, we need to find alternative ways to satisfy this positive intention. How do we do that? We do that with the help of our unconscious. It knows what this positive intention is and it also is capable of generating new ways for you to satisfy this positive intention and make sure that they will work.

The technique that I am going to describe is called 6-step reframing and was originally developed by John Grinder and Richard Bandler.

This technique is an important step for you to become independent of your hypnotherapist. I will be happy to help you go through the steps once or twice, however I hope that eventually you will be able to do this process yourself – it takes only 10-15 minutes.

So if after your first or second session you still find yourself smoking in some contexts, this technique will help you further decrease the number of cigarettes.

Here are the steps:

1) Identify the behavior that you want to change. We already did this – smoking!

2) Establish communication with your unconscious through yes and no signals. It may be a slight twitching of the finger(s) on your right hand for “yes” and the finger(s) on your left hand for “no.” By the way, these signals should come from your unconscious, wich means that you cannot reproduce exactly the same signals consciously.

This step is very important and when I see my clients privately, we always do that on the first or second session. If we never met privately, I will describe in another article how to create the communication signals with your unconscious.

On this step you can say something like this in your internal voice: “Unconscious, thank you for taking care of me for so long! I need your assistance and support to change this bad habit – smoking – and find healthier ways to live my life. Will you join me in this project?” Wait for a yes signal. After you receive the signal, say “thank you!” to your unconscious. It’s important that this communication happens in a polite and respectful way.

3) Confirm with your unconscious that indeed there’s a positive intention behind smoking. Say in your internal voice: “Unconscious, can you please confirm that smoking has some positive intention? In other words, there are some benefits that I get from smoking that I may not be aware of consciously.”

Wait for a yes signal. By the way, even if you have a yes signal, it doesn’t mean that you will understand right away what this positive intention is. Conscious insight may come only much later or never come at all.

4) Ask your unconscious to start the creative process of generating alternative behaviors that would satisfy the positive intention identified on the previous step and to send you a yes signal, when it comes up with at least three alternatives.

There are several requirements for these alternative behaviors. They should be as immediate, as effective, and as available as the smoking itself.

I will list some of the possible alternatives for smoking:

a) Listening to peaceful music or nature sounds on your cell phone.

b) Doing breathing exercises. A simple one that I recommend to my clients is called box breathing, also known as square breathing. There are four steps in one breathing cycle – inhale, make a pause, exhale, make a pause – during each step you slowly count to 3 or 4.

c) Doing some physical exercises: squats or pushups. Yoga poses or taichi movements can also replace smoking beautifully.

d) Learn tricks with playing cards. Something like this:

Manipulating playing cards

By the way, these were my hands.

e) Do a short meditation or a self-hypnosis exercise.

f) Learn juggling:

Juggling balls

g) Learn polyrhythms, like 2-over-3. It’s when one hand taps 2 beats, and the other 3 beats:

Polyrhythm exercise 2-over-3

If it’s too easy, learn 3-over-4:

Polyrhythm exercise 3-over-4

h) Learn to draw. There’s a great book by Betty Edwards called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I got some amazing progress in just a couple of weeks. Even five minutes of pencil drawing may be a very relaxing and rewarding experience.

These are only suggestions. Your unconscious may come up with completely different things.

Again, on this step you ask your unconscious to create 3 possible alternatives to the smoking that would satisfy the same positive intention and send you a yes signal when it’s done. It may take a while.

Note that most people don’t know what these alternatives are after they receive a yes signal.

5) Confirm with your unconscious that these new alternative behaviors respect all parts of your being in a balanced way – we don’t want to replace one bad habit by another one, right? 😉

Say something like this: “Unconscious, can you please confirm that the alternative behaviors that you found will respect all parts of my being in a balanced and healthy way, both physically and mentally?”

If the answer is “yes,” you can go to the next step. If the answer is “no,” go back to the previous step to generate more alternatives.

6) And finally we want to make sure that your unconscious is willing to take responsibility for these new behaviors.

Say to your unconscious: “Unconscious, you came up with these alternative behaviors that will help me change this bad habit. And I thank you for that! Are you willing to accept the responsibility to implement them in my life in the next hours and days?”

If the answer is “yes,” then you successfully completed the exercise. If the answer is “no,” you will need to go back to the step 4. By the way, you can confirm how many behaviors your unconscious is willing to accept responsibility for. Sometimes one or two alternatives are acceptable, but not all three. If we want this to be 100% effective, we need at least three.

This concludes the technique.

As you probably guessed, you can use the same approach with other aspects of your life: improve your relationships with people, stop eating unhealthy food or change any other unwanted behavior.

If you need additional support when doing this exercise, you can have a look on our online smoking cessation program – we will be happy to guide you through these steps.

By Timur

I'm a certified hypnotherapist and NLP master practitioner.