This is a simple exercise that can help you break an addiction to cigarettes, alcohol, or any other substance. It’s not meant to be a stand-alone solution, but can help you build up your psychological willpower in order to better resist temptation.

Step 1: List the benefits
Over the course of a day or two, keep a piece of paper around and write down all of the benefits you can think of that will come with losing your addiction. Here’s a sample one we created for alcohol:

1.    I’ll have more money to spend on other things I would like to have.

2.    My family will think better of me.

3.    My kids will enjoy having a sober mother.

4.    I’ll earn more admiration and respect from those around me.

5.    I won’t have to endure the constant nagging about my drinking.

6.    It will lead to greater self-discipline. With my new self-confidence, I might be able to do other things I’ve always wanted to do.

7.    I’ll have more time to be productive.

8.    My health will improve. I’ll live longer.

9.    I won’t have to suffer hangovers or dramatic mood swings.

10.    I’ll have more pride and self-respect.

11.    I won’t have to walk around smelling like alcohol.

12.    I don’t have to worry about arrests or all the stupid things I do when drunk.

Once you have an exhaustive list, type it up and print it out, keeping it in a prominent place by your bed so it serves as a reminder. You might also fold it up and carry it in your pocket.

Step 2: Visualize your ideal of happiness
As you go to bed each night, fantasize about a favorite spot of yours – maybe it’s looking down from a tall mountain peak, or sitting on the beach in the sun. Add your wife/husband, kids, or a harem of beautiful women (or men) walking around. It’s your fantasy. Whatever you choose, try to think about every detail as vividly as possible – letting your body relax
and muscles unwind.

Step 3: Visualize the benefits of being sober
Keeping that image in mind, run through your list of benefits that could come with thwarting your addiction:

·    I’m finally secure because I stopped drinking

·    I can enjoy my wife and kids in this beautiful setting now that I have stopped drinking.

·    I can run along the beach without feeling short of breath because I stopped smoking

·    I can enjoy this clean, fresh air now that I’m free of addiction.

And so on.

Why this works
Some of you may be thinking in your mind right now: “This sounds corny.” It may seem that way, but I guarantee you it helps.

Our behavior follows our thoughts. When many people try to give up their vices, they typically attempt to do so through sheer force. While this sometimes works, the problem is that their thoughts are still governed by the pull of the subconscious. These subconscious pathways have plenty of practice in generating thoughts that make this substance seem appealing. You need to give your brain some practice in the allure of abstention as well.

By visualizing the appeal each night of being a non-addict, you give your mind an alternate image that can compete with the appeal of the substance. The more you strengthen this alternate image, the more powerful its appeal becomes.

Research shows that simply visualizing a pleasant experience can strengthen the reward pathways associated with it. So when you perform this exercise night after night, it can alter the chatter that goes on in your brain below the level of conscious awareness, changing the calculations that drive addiction. When you feel your willpower waning during the day, pullout this paper for a quick reminder of what you’re working towards.

Of course, this visualization technique alone is unlikely to cure you of any addiction. But if you take the time to authentically devote yourself to this practice; it very well may give you an extra 40% or 50% in terms of willpower and motivation, which can be huge when you’re trying to get over that hump.

1. Kelly Lambert, “Depressingly Easy,” Scientific American Mind, Vol. 19(4):31-37, August/September 2008