As part of the art of meditation, visualization is a fascinating tool that can help you to relax, remove yourself from chronic pain, and reduce the risk of illness by settling down your body’s systems. It is a relaxation therapy that consists of finding a quiet place and picturing yourself somewhere else. It involves removing the mind from the present tense and focusing on something else entirely.
Now recent research has found a new use for visualization: smoking cessation. Every ex-smoker and current smoker can tell you how challenging it is to quit. The truth is that the addiction starts and ends with your mind, and a therapy designed to change your mind’s behavior could be the ticket to quitting. According to a study that looked at 71 smokers who found that if they envisioned themselves quitting smoking, then they just might be able to do it in real life.
Here are the telling details. The participants went through guided imagery that involved relaxing muscles and performing breathing exercises that calmed the mind. (That would be the basic meditative technique.) They then were led in a therapy that had them visualizing themselves in a healthy state, not smoking, but instead exercising, eating well, and doing meditation activities. These imagery exercises were done both in front of a counselor and at home (with the aid of 20-minute audiotapes).
All 71 smokers received smoking cessation help through education and counseling. But those who didn’t get the guided imagery didn’t show the same rate of quitting smoking. Of those visualizing themselves in a healthy state, 26% managed to quit within the next two years. Of those who did not perform visualization, just 12% quit.
Thus, according to the findings, guided imagery results in double the chance of quitting than simple counseling alone can result in. Although 26% doesn’t sound very high, it is a rate of smoking cessation that is quite good.
That’s because the rate of successful smoking cessation is extremely low. The pull of nicotine addiction is too strong for most people. But visualization — controlling the mind, really — brings newfound possibilities to kicking the habit. Visualization might trick the brain into thinking you’ve already quit, or show it how easy it is to quit.
This is because imagery can affect the brain’s processes in a way that is very similar to reality. So for some smokers in the study, the images encouraged them to give up the habit in favor of living a healthier lifestyle.
Although intriguing, visualization may not work for everyone in the same way since a certain percentage of individuals cannot be truly hypnotized. No one really knows how each individual smoker’s brain works or how hard the addiction has hit them.
If you want to try it out, ask your doctor about where to pursue visualization, and see if there are any experts in your community. (They are springing up every day.) This is a potential tool for long-term smoking cessation — the successful kind of quitting — rather than just a quick-fix scheme.