Mystery: Read a Book, Quit Smoking Forever

June 21, 2016

The Story
Allen Carr, a British accountant, smoked 100 cigarettes a day.
For 33 years.

And then one day, he smoked his last one and never looked back.
No nicotine patches, gums, no medication, no withdrawals, no willpower, no nothing.

Cold turkey.
Didn’t smoke again the rest of his life.

He went on to write a book on how you can do the same.
Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking.
Quit smoking forever, simply from reading this book.

The book became a big hit, went on to sell over 20 million copies and is currently ranked #1 in the Smoking Recovery section on Amazon. It’s got a 4.7 out of 5 star rating (high even for a good book), with 1,209 reviews.

Allen spent the next 23yrs of his nonsmoking life helping other smokers quit, through his book and the over 100 EasyWay clinics he opened. According to his amazon page, he conservatively estimates that at least 10 million smokers have quit thanks to his method.

He passed away though from lung cancer in 2006. According to the profile, it’s because he was in smoke-filled rooms helping others quit for two decades, and that seems to be the cause.

I heard about the book from multiple sources.
I think the first source was through a podcast by Wade Keller, of Pro Wrestling Torch. He was doing a promotion for audible and mentioned that this book has helped many stop smoking. All you have to do is read the book til the end and it’s very likely you won’t pick up another cigarette again.

What?!

I then saw a video by Ellen Degeneres mentioning the book and how it helped her quit. There are many other celebrity endorsements, including Richard Branson.

By now, I was hooked.

I don’t smoke but wanted to know what the secret was.
Are there some weird things listed there that trick you into stopping? Are there odd rituals to perform? Blood sacrifices? Voodoo? Black magic? Chanting?

Nope.

All the book does is tell you to keep reading the book with an open mind, and smoke the same amount of cigs as you normally do. You do NOT have to stop smoking (this reduces fear and apprehension in the smoker).

The book then goes on to explain exactly what a cigarette does to your body. The addictive nature of nicotine, the withdrawal symptoms you experience are actually caused by smoking cigarettes, and other cold hard truths he learned the difficult way.

By the time smokers reach the final words on the last page, they no longer want to smoke again.

I’m not sure what the success rate is for the book but there are a lot of reviewers saying they quit for good. His clinics, offering a 100% money back guarantee, boast a 90% success rate for smokers quitting for 3 months and 51% quitting 12 months.

By comparison, the nicotine replacement therapy (patches, gums) have a 15% success rate after one year. Zyban, an antidepressant, has a success rate of 30% after one year.

Willpower alone, with no treatment, is listed as 5% by one website and 11.53% by another site.

(Studies and stats can be manipulated, so I don’t know if the above numbers are true and I don’t feel like doing a deep dive to figure out if it is. But we do know reading a book has probably zero side effects and much lower cost, compared to medication & other treatments.)

What’s his secret?
I’ve been thinking about this for a year or so.
I kept rereading the book, even listened to his audiobook, and watched other interviews. I didn’t get it.

It makes no sense, and there was no way to find out unless I somehow developed a smoking addiction to try this method out. Pretty heavy experiment I did not want to conduct.

But tonight, I think I’ve got a good answer to this mystery.

Lemme switch topics to Cognitive Behavior Therapy
This is something I do know about.

If you’re depressed, one of the techniques you will run into is CBT. And it’s very effective for treating depression caused by negative thinking or trauma.

All you do is take a pen and paper, write out your current (likely irrational) thought. Then you identify how that thought is irrational and which category it falls under. There are only 10 of these recognized cognitive distortions. Then you argue against your own thought. Think of this as untangling some heavily knotted cords.

You can do this by yourself at home or go to a therapist and do it with her. It doesn’t matter.

You can do an easier CBT method known as The Work by Byron Katie. You ask yourself four questions and try to prove your thoughts wrong by finding opposing examples. That’s it. And it will change your life.

These techniques are so powerful that it’ll make you feel better asap, cures some folks of depression & other mental issues, and produces serotonin in the brain.

You could have gone thru the most traumatic experience ever, with enough of these sessions, can achieve peace of mind.

How CBT Works
This works because each thought has an effect on the brain.

There are things that fire in the brain each time we think. Old repetitive thoughts end up creating large pathways, becoming a wide river. These then become our automatic way of thinking because we don’t consciously choose most of our thoughts, they simply happen as we’re trying to get through the day.

When we purposely choose to think new positive thoughts, we’re essentially creating new rivers in our brain. With enough practice, these positive thoughts become large rivers and the old negative rivers dry up. They’ve found this through brain scans (of monks, meditation practitioners, patients, etc).

Back to Allen Carr
What Allen accidentally figured out is that we create new neural pathways in the brain by simply reading words that tell us how and why a cigarette is addictive.

When we think that new thought once, and then hammer the point home page after page, new rivers of thought start to grow wider.

These new pathways replace the old automatic habit patterns of addiction. It’s basically his form of cognitive behavior therapy aimed at smokers who want to quit.

Pretty cool!

Resources:
Allen Carr’s Easy Way To Stop Smoking – book

Allen Carr – wikipedia, program philosophy & success rates
Nictoine, Zyban, willpower stats
Nictoine vs Willpower stats