Nicotine. What’s yours?

A book that celebrates smoking. Interesting. Gregor Hens has just published a book entitled simply, ‘Nicotine’. He tries to explore the real reason why people take up smoking and what it achieves for them. As we know, giving up the physiological addiction to nicotine is relatively easy and it’s the psychological reasons which keep us hooked. Gregor suggests that for him, nicotine was his “…. signal, medication, a stimulant or a sedative … a plaything, an accessory, a fetish object, something to help pass the time, a memory aid, a communication tool or an object of meditation. Sometimes…all at once”. With this, I concur.

It got me thinking about the main psychological purpose of my own smoking habit, only truly kicked when I was attempting to – and then achieved – getting pregnant with my son. For me, it was ‘my’ time. The time of day when, on getting home from a responsible and busy job (code for long hours during the week and some weekends), I could switch off from corporate life, take a breath (literally) and put everything on pause. I’d like to be able to report here that I have found other and better means to find the ‘me’ time that my post work cigarette afforded me but I’d be lying. I am on a continual search to carve out the time in between being a mother and starting two new businesses to say that I have achieved that particular goal. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t stop trying. But at least I don’t still smoke.

But the principle of Mr Hens’ book is spot on. Behind every single so-called bad habit is a positive intention. A positive intention is something that we do to help a need that we have even if the effect of the behaviour is ultimately bad for us. Doesn’t make sense really, does it? How can we – as bright, logical, thinking, aware human beings – do something that supports some aspect of our lives but causes worse harm to a different part of who we are, what we stand for or even our very life? But this ‘positive intention’ rule is evident everywhere we look.

I remember the story of the woman who was very successful at losing weight. She was able every time she tried, to get to her target weight without too much hassle and in a healthy way. But even having achieved the weight loss in a sustainable way that didn’t involve starving or fads, she would soon start piling on the pounds. And this yo-yo habit became the pattern. Not only was the peak weight each time a problem for her long-term health, so was the yo-yo habit – perhaps even worse in the long run. Now, I know that this is not an uncommon story. And who knows what sits behind the multitude of stories like this. What I do know that sat behind this particular woman’s story was the positive intent of being fat. Quite simply, she hated being the centre of attention, and being her target weight put her front and centre in her group of friends. She hated being the focal point, despised the attention that it created, and was genuinely shy of having attention in this way. In other words, her psychological need to be protected and out of the limelight was achieved by the physically unhealthy habit of putting on weight. With help, she made the connection between the two and the happy ending was that she was able to create new ways to get that protection out of the limelight while keeping the weight off.

So, let me ask: what’s your ‘nicotine’ and what’s the positive intention – for you or for someone else – that that lies behind it? Identify the first, unlock the second, and you’re making great progress.

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