“You must unlearn what you have learned.” -Yoda
Learn a New Behavior
As much as I love Yoda the only way to unlearn is brain damage. And even that’s not a guaranteed fix. Not something I would recommend anyway.
New behaviors are gained by forming new pathways in the brain. The old behavior remains. Forgetfulness is not erasure, but lack of recall. It is better to focus on learning something new than to struggle with unlearning.
I quit smoking at twenty-eight. When I was twenty-seven my three year old daughter said, “Look daddy!”, as she puffed on a weed stem. Instantly, I became highly motivated. I soon found motivation was not enough. I quit four times over a one year period. The runner up method was acupuncture needles in my ear. I didn’t smoke for three months. Then I went drinking…. I learned through trail and error that quitting smoking would take a multi-layered approach.
A Multi-Layered Approach
Finally a combination of the patch, changing behaviors like not hanging out with smokers or smoking environments like bars, and mental reprogramming by repeating phrases like I am becoming a former smoker and I am former smoker, worked to shift my identity away from that of a smoker. The reprogramming part is thanks to Anthony Robbins. According to Robbins congruency with identity is related to honesty and trustworthiness in our culture. A change in behavior can be perceived as being
incongruent, and therefore, untrustworthy.
My Part Approach to Quitting Smoking:
1. Chemical – The patch
2. Behavioral – Not being around smokers or smoking environments.
3. Mental – Affirming a new identity.
My approach was to establish and reinforce new neurological pathways rather than erase old ones. Those the old neurological pathways that formed my identity as a smoker are still there along with their related physical responses even after twenty-two years. They are a lot less intense. I don’t crave a cigarette when having a drink, but there are times when the idea that a cigarette would be nice comes to mind. When that happens I remember the sick feelings I got while smoking and that is enough to counter the nostalgia.
Unlearning is a nice idea, but the reality is that any behavior change is multitiered. Change is more effective when approached through focusing on learning new behaviors instead of getting rid of old ones. Much of our identity is the result of learning. Reframing identity as something learned, instead of an inherent or inherited trait, makes it easier to change. If you learned to be who you think you are then you could always learn something different.
New learning means growth and growth means an expanded consciousness. Quitting smoking taught me more than just giving up cigarettes. It taught me a new formula for learning something new. Be it quitting smoking, losing weight, eating healthy, or anything else you want to learn, I hope my three steps are of help to you too.