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How Learned Helplessness Can Make It Harder to Stop Smoking Cigarettes
Anyone who has been subjected to constant suffering with little hope of respite may be familiar with the phenomenon of learned helplessness. The term learned helplessness refers to when a person or animal has been subjected to an unpleasant circumstance (often a punishment) and tried to escape it multiple times, only to fail and weaken their will to resist to the point of apathy. . The ultimate proof of learned helplessness is when conditions change, allowing the subject to resist the punishment, but is unable due to their utter desperation.
The impact of learned helplessness on humans
The effects of learned helplessness are similar to the effects of clinical depression. Both situations are characterized by apathy and despair. It has been suggested that clinical depression is a form of learned helplessness caused by one’s inability to overcome the fear of death. The most common example of learned helplessness in humans is that of a child who consistently performs poorly on academic tests. If they study hard and still fail, it can make the situation worse. A pattern of failure will begin to set in and the student will soon feel unable to succeed. Even if the student is presented with easier material, he may fail because he believes that this is inevitable.
The effect of learned helplessness on smoking cessation
Most people who try to quit smoking don’t make the first attempt. Often people start smoking in response to a traumatic event or a prolonged period of boredom and soon try to quit what has become a habit. It should be remembered that even a cigarette smoker is a fundamentally rational being, and fifty or a hundred unsuccessful attempts to quit smoking will lead a person to the logical conclusion that his efforts are futile. This leads to a sense of hopelessness, which leads to depression, which leads to smoking more cigarettes.
The tragedy is, of course, that these repeated attempts to quit smoking under unfavorable circumstances will hinder attempts to quit smoking when the circumstances are on the side of the quitter. Starting to smoke cigarettes, trying to quit when the reasons for starting are still there and failing: this is a recipe for long-term addiction.
How to overcome learned helplessness
It should be considered that learned helplessness is a reaction to a set of stimuli, which usually takes the form of the environment. If you have made several failed attempts to quit smoking, you need to look at the patterns of factors present in the environments you were in when you failed. A simple example is someone trying to quit smoking who lives with other smokers. As smoke will always be present in such an environment, the temptation will be much stronger than if these factors were taken out of play.
What you need to do, then, is to change the conditions that surround you, whether they are physical or mental. If you go hiking in the mountains, tell yourself that this is a new beginning for you and don’t bring the cigarettes. If you go on vacation, see it as a golden opportunity to encourage new patterns of behavior. If you can’t change your physical environment, you can always try to change the mental one. Always look for differences in your situation now compared to all the other times you failed. Tell yourself that you are wiser now, you are stronger now, you are more desperate now, and therefore you will overcome the despair that makes it harder to quit smoking.
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