If you follow me on Tumblr or Twitter, you are already aware that I quit smoking this week. On my first day, I found myself really frustrated and anxious, and asked the internets for advice, and a Tumblr friend came through and told me a friend of her’s had some success with Allen Carr’s The Easy Way to Stop Smoking. I’m not usually down with the whole self-help movement, but I came to the conclusion that it would be pretty stupid for me to turn my nose up at anything that had the potential to help.
So I read the book.
Is the advice contained within its covers good advice? Absolutely. Should you have to pay for it? Absolutely not. Essentially, Carr’s Easyway Method™ is a “power of positive thinking” gag. It’s a very simple, very common-sense cognitive therapy that you could teach a friend to coach you through in about five minutes.
Additionally, I would imagine that such techniques would be useful for those who are open to suggestion. If you can be hypnotized, or if you find that sometimes your memory of a past event changes once you hear someone tell their version of it – those are all hallmarks of suggestibility, and suggestibility is a good trait to have if you’re interested in self-help, or if you think hypnosis is a good time.
If you’re like me – someone who is not susceptible to suggestion – your brain tends to work a bit differently, and you can’t really talk yourself into feeling a certain way. For those of us who have a hard time with this kind of stuff, we can’t really imagine ourselves as nonsmokers. “Mind over matter” is not typically something that works on us. And we’ll never be much fun at a hypnotism show.
Of course, the pep-talk aspect of it is helpful. It does help to be reminded of simple things like the fact that nonsmokers don’t need to smoke, that things are going to feel better once you’ve kicked the habit, that cravings pass, that nicotine withdrawals are not painful or unbearable. But if you needed someone to remind you of that, you could just ask somebody to, or you could come back here and read this paragraph a few times.
The book literally repeats phrases word for word three or more times throughout the course of it – and it’s barely over 100 pages. I read it in an afternoon. Furthermore, his biggest piece of advice – “don’t mope” – has already failed me. Like I said – I’m not all that capable of suggestion and positive thinking. I’m a pessimist, an over-analyzer, an introvert. Carr told me that if I started feeling sad about quitting, I’d fail. And granted, I’m not too far into my quit yet, but I feel devastated by it. I feel like I’ve lost a friend. The idea of never ever lighting a cigarette again is almost enough to make me cry. I miss it. By all accounts, I should have already caved, even though it’s only been 24 hours. But I’m also stubborn, and I made the decision to quit, and now that I’ve made it this far, I feel pretty jazzed about my progress, so I will forge ahead, even while stalked by the melancholy reality that I will never have a cigarette after a really good meal again (because that’s when it felt the best).
Maybe I’ll be a little more qualified to give you advice after I’ve been smoke-free for longer than a day, but my instinct right now tells me that there’s no one right or wrong way to quit. There’s nothing you can do that will guarantee you a fail, and nothing that will guarantee you a success, either.
This is the problem that I have with the self-help movement. So much of it appears to be centered on fairly common sense principles, or pop psychology. None of this stuff is really tested, and none of it will guarantee you success. Essentially, a self-help book is the author’s story of how zie succeeded at something, accompanied by the promise that you can succeed, too. Problem is, we’re all different. Our backgrounds and privileges and experiences and personalities are different, and as such, the prescriptive tactics used by the self-help movement are entirely inappropriate.
Consider pharmaceuticals as an analogy. Yes, we can have a big discussion about how the industry is fucked up, but the idea, at least, is that once a new drug is developed, it is subjected to rigorous testing to assure that it is both safe and effective. Once researchers see statistically significant results and the drug is approved by the FDA, it goes on the market with the promise to lower your blood pressure, or make you feel happier, or help you get to sleep at night. But even after all of that vigorous testing, we all know and accept that prescription drugs don’t work the same for all people. Some people are allergic to them, or some people are taking other prescriptions and the drugs interact with each other, and some people have horrible side effects, and some people experience no treatment effects at all.
Conversely, a self-help book’s methods are completely untested, and yet we still believe that if only we follow this one person’s advice which is based upon nothing more than anecdotal evidence, our lives will suddenly change for the better. What are we? Are we completely clueless? A self-help book does nothing except help make the author and publisher a lot of money, and that’s a fact. Even if the advice contained within the book is good, as much of the advice in Easy Way is, it’s not something that is going to help everyone, and it’s not something that you couldn’t have figured out yourself if you were so inclined.
You want some advice on quitting smoking? Here it is:
Don’t fucking smoke anymore.