Translator: Zeineb Trabelsi proofreader: Hanan Ben Nafa Let me tell you about my mother. My mother was forty -two years old when she gave birth to me, and she started exercising for the first time in her life. I started running in the neighbourhood, then I started running the 5K, then the 10K. After that, I ran a marathon, and then I ran a triathlon. When she turned 57, she took a trek to climb the base camp on Mount Everest. Let me tell you about my dad. When I was a kid, my dad used to take me to science classes. He was also a high school calculus teacher. I wanted to hide under the desk. I learned something important from my mom: the value of health. And I learned something important from my father: the value of science. These two values have guided me on my journey in life, and helped me appreciate the pandemic we all face.
It is not Ebola. It is an epidemic of unhealthy life. Half a billion people around the world suffer from obesity. And you might think that 50 years after the publication of the first American general surgeon's report on the dangers of tobacco, we have passed the smoking problem. Today, billions of people worldwide use tobacco. Tobacco and obesity are the most important preventable causes of premature death. Solving these problems is like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle. We engage in unhealthy behavior because of our genes, because of our neurotransmitters, and because of the influence of the environment, like companions, and the media. Each piece of this puzzle is not something that you and I can solve on our own. But there is one piece of this puzzle that may be the key: our choices about how we respond to our cravings and engage in addictive behaviors, such as smoking or overeating. Our options. There is a new science of self-control that could be the key to stopping these epidemics.
This science is called "preparedness". Being prepared means allowing your cravings to come and go, without responding to them with smoking or unhealthy eating. But in fact, I am not talking about willpower nor about "controlling desires". I'm talking about a different concept of lust that looks like this: Stop resisting your lusts. Be accepting of her, let her be, and reconcile with her. Now, at this point, you may be very suspicious. That was my reaction, too, when I first heard about it years ago. My friend came to me with a book on readiness in his hand . He said, "Jonathan, this book will change your life forever!" I replied, "Oh, well...yes...yes, I'll go through it." I looked at him, and I thought, "No, this is just psychological chatter." and put it aside.
Until, some years later, my wife took me to a workshop on preparation at the University of Washington, and I was stunned. Then I read the book, and I read many books about preparedness, and I took training courses in it, and what I learned is that preparation is part of consent in therapy sessions that rely on acceptance and commitment, as a way to change behavior. It is a broad approach to behavior change used to help people with anxiety disorders and addictions, and some innovative companies are even using it to help improve the performance of their employees and reduce their stress.
Now, to understand why I was so amazed, you have to understand the world I live in. In my world of research, a common way to help people quit smoking and lose weight is to teach them to avoid their cravings. Avoid thinking about smoking, distract yourself from the craving for excessive eating. There's a song from Broadway that really captures this. It starts like this: When you start to feel confused by thoughts in your head, don't let those feelings come to you, but suppress them. Turn it off as if it were a light switch. Click on it. We always do this. When you have certain feelings that don't seem right for you , treat those disturbing feelings like a reading light and turn them off.
We all live in this world, what we hear all the time in this song is "Get rid of bad vibes." Now, let's look at these cookies. It just got out of the oven. Oh, looks so delicious. It looks very cool. Hmmm, just feel those cravings for those crackers. Oh, she's great, and so good. Now, stop this craving! Stop it! Now, you want those cookies more than ever, right? You see, then, the futility of trying to stop it.
You can't stop it! And you probably don't have to turn it off. Maybe you can leave the light on. Here's how : My research lab at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, here in Seattle, is conducting randomized clinical trials to see if teaching people how to prepare to curb their cravings is an effective way to quit smoking. We conduct face-to-face trials and interventions and receive calls to the smoking cessation hotline, a website, webquit.org, and an app called SmartQuit. These technologies have the potential to reach millions of people and carry out life-saving interventions. This is so amazing. Let me share with you the data. When we combined the results from six clinical trials, all six trials published to date, including those conducted by our colleagues, what we noticed was that some of the people who had been chosen to implement an avoidance approach quit. Smoking, and this varies according to the study. However, for people who were randomly assigned to adopt the preparedness approach, there were twice as many who quit.
Very encouraging. Of course, the data tells us only a small part of the story. So, to help you understand the preparedness approach and how to actually apply it, I'm going to knit my experiences together in terms of instructing people to quit smoking. I'm going to talk about them like they're one person I'm going to call Jane. Like anyone who comes here to help quit smoking, Jane was a 45-year-old woman who started smoking as a teenager. I tried to quit smoking several times and it didn't work. So, she was suspicious that there was anything "new" that could help her quit smoking, however she hoped this time would be different.
So, the first thing she showed to Jane was that she had to be prepared, to be aware of the desire in her body. To notice where she feels the cravings in her body. I asked her to write it down, in order to track the intensity of the desire over time. And see if she will smoke next. In the middle of explaining this to her, she stopped me and said, “What are you talking about? I don't have the cravings, I just smoke!” And I said, "Well, why don't you try that, and we'll see what happens, and if it doesn't work, we'll try something else." She came back a week later and said, "You know! I've been watching my cravings, I've been following them all along.
Now I can't stop thinking about smoking! What should I do?" Well, before I give my answer, let's read between the lines. Now, what's happening here is that Jane has been craving all the time, and like many of us, she has been living unconsciously. You get up in the morning, smoke a cigarette, have a cup of coffee, smoke a cigarette, get in the car, smoke a cigarette. Usually, we are not aware of what we are thinking and feeling before we act. So, my answer to Jane was to be prepared, and one of the ways I explained it to her was an exercise called "that comes to mind." One of the thoughts that comes to Jen's mind before she smokes a cigarette is, "I'm feeling a lot of stress right now, I really need a cigarette." So I asked her to add the sentence, "I'm thinking of that." "I'm thinking I 'm feeling a lot of stress right now. I really need a cigarette." Then I asked her to add this phrase, "I'm noticing that I'm coming to my mind." "I'm noticing that I 'm feeling a lot of stress right now.
I really need a cigarette." We can all do such an exercise whenever we have a negative thought. Like the thought of “boring you with my words” I think of you all as boring. So this exercise gave me a little space between me and my thoughts. And in this space, I can choose not to run away in front of 1,500 people. And the truth is, we don't act on every thought, because if we did, we'd all get into a lot of trouble. This was helpful for Jane, but there was something else that was very difficult for Jane. I sympathized with her very much about this.
Which is the prejudice you feel from people when you are outside smoking a cigarette. The criticism from her husband for being a smoker, and the disgust she feels towards herself about smoking. She dealt with this shame by smoking cigarettes, which temporarily helped her until the shame fell on her again. So, I said to Jane, 'What would it be like if we tried to honor this feeling of shame as part of the human experience?' to yourself, Jane?” She looked up , a look of temporary relief from her shame, which would make it easier for her next time not to act on lusts. So here is the secret of self-control: the secret to success in self-control is letting go of control. Because otherwise, he is entering a war with a monster, a monster of lusts.
And the beast of lust says, "Come on, smoke a cigarette. Come on, eat that cookie. Come on!" On the other hand, you say, "No, beast of lust, I will turn myself away from you, I will ignore you, no no no no." And the lusts beast replies, "No, no, come on, I know you want it!" At this point you try again and again and soon the monster of lust will defeat you. Eat that cookie, smoke that cigarette, until the lust monster comes back. Now you are again in a fierce war, doing what we learned to do. Until that - until you give up. And what you will discover is that if you allow a monster to exist, to occupy the space in your body, you discover after a few minutes that this monster is not as threatening as it appears. And sometimes, it just disappears. And with lunch now approaching, we'll have choices about what to eat. When you see them, try to be aware of the cravings that are hidden in your body, try to be willing to feel those cravings.