lifeshifting #4 - smoking self
Saturday, March 19, 2011 at 7:47AM
Robert Twigger

NLP is a popular self-help method that uses conditioning to achieve results. You are taught to associate pleasurable images with what you want and painful images with what you don’t want.

And this would work every time if we were unitary selves.

I know, because I tried to use it to cure myself of smoking. It worked for three months then I lapsed. Why, because the self that thought smoking was cool and indicative of a fully lived life, made an unwelcome reappearance. He did battle with the other self that had associated smoking with cancer, addiction and bad people. And after a few drinks, smoker won.

Think about it: you would never have even started smoking if there wasn’t one self in there that thought it was a cool idea.

Only when I at long last came to terms with the fact that I was many different selves, and that I would need a strategy that worked with all of them did I combat smoking and successfully quit.

Lifeshifting is about long term real change that works. NLP is a quick fix. If you haven’t identified your many selves and integrated them to some extent reprogramming yourself will fail. Why do you think people become addicted to self-help seminars and courses, sometimes spending thousands? Because those courses quieten and diminish the other ‘rebel’ selves. In the end they become addicted to that condition- but of course never actually achieve anything else.

You are your ‘rebel’ self, just as much as you are your ‘good’ self. In fact it makes more sense to say, “You are the self that observes all these disparate selves”.

To hear that observing self you have to stop identifying with your outer selves. You have to take a step back.

I quit smoking when this observing self realized ‘the smoker’ in me only appeared at certain times and places. Always the evening, always when there was alcohol and no food. So I avoided those situations as much as I could. This observing self also concluded that the reflection “You’re at risk now” served to flip me from ‘smoker’ to ‘mr sensible’. Screaming to yourself “don’t smoke- you’ll die”- doesn’t work because you know ONE cigarette won’t make you die- and of course you kid yourself you only want one. You need a ‘self-flipping’ reflection that engages your inner ‘non-smoker’ rather than fights your inner ‘smoker.’ Mr Sensible had strategies such as ordering chips and h’ors doevres so as to be able to eat rather than smoke.

If I started to think “just one cigarette won’t hurt” I knew this was only one of many selves talking. It was no more ‘the real me’ than Mr Sensible was. I could then take it less seriously and ignore the voice.

I had been hypnotized, tried patches, nicotine gum and scared myself silly talking to doctors. For fifteen years it never worked. When I worked out I was a multiple self, like a family with a black sheep, then I was on my way. As long as I didn’t pretend the black sheep didn’t exist I was fine. It has been two years now and, touchwood, so far it has worked.

One of the gravest falsehoods perpetrated by modern western culture is the myth of the single self. We have passports, id cards, driving licenses and bank accounts and they all have the same name on them. Unless you write under several pseudonyms or have several aliases you are doomed to be one person. Our whole culture underpins this notion yet it is blatantly untrue- we are not one we are many. The insights of multiple personality psychology provide a useful metaphor for us all. We house many different selves and a moment’s reflection will reveal it. One of our selves might like smoking, the rest hate it. You might have a self who is keen on sport and physical exertion, yet there is another who just loves to curl up with a book and abhors the idea of moving even to get a drink of water. One self might be interested in poetry and art another might revel in business and making money. And all this selves jostle and rapidly succeed one another throughout the day. I know from martial arts that if I’m in physical identity I will find it so much easier to do throws and falls than if I’m in withdrawn and feeling my bookish self.Sometime you can start in one self and be jerked into another- the following topic- and the results can be dramatic- suddenly you’re in the groove and really humming. Some of your selves may be good at driving and some not- it can be as simple as that when it comes to whether you have an accident or not.

The first exercise of this step is simply to accept the idea you are many, not one. Then simply observe these different selves in action, how often they crop up and what they are good at and not good at. By recognizing your multiple selfhood you will understand why lifeshifting is so essential. Perhaps like me you’ll need to do several lifeshifts just to satisfy all those inner selves, or, if careful, you will find one activity that has something for all of your main selves. This is the important lesson- when you choose the thing you want to do understand there will be days when a rogue self will nag away and say ‘this just isn’t you’. You can ignore it as the main body of selves approved this lifeshift – otherwise it wouldn’t have occurred to you in the first place. These nagging doubts can be easily controlled when you know they are not ‘the real you’ but a minority self among many others.


Article originally appeared on Learning, skills, polymathy, self development, original thinking (
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