How to Quit Smoking by Using a Token Economy Method

The token economy method utilises the power of reinforcement and punishment to make you stop smoking.

The first step is to identify something that you’re interested in. It could be golf, science fiction books, collecting coins, buying shoes or clothing, music, or anything else you can think of. The only criterion is that you must be able to break this interest down into units.

For example, say that you’re interested in golf. Your equipment is getting ratty, and you would dearly like to buy some new weapons. You need some new balls, a putter, a driver and a trundler.

Set aside as much money as you think you’ll need to buy all this stuff. This might sound expensive, but compared to the cost of smoking cigarettes for decades and dying early it’s a solid investment.

Then take a piece of paper and pens of two different colours. Use whatever colours you like. Draw a table of small boxes on the paper, and number them sequentially, using the second colour for the numbers 8, 16, 32 and 48.

Once you’ve done that, think of four items of differing value that relate to your hobby. If we’re sticking to golf, you could maybe use the examples given above: a pack of balls, a putter, a driver and a trundler. Let’s assume they increase in price in that order.

Underneath the number 8, write “Balls”. Underneath 16 write “Putter”, underneath 32 “Driver” and under 48 “Trundler”.

Now pin the sheet of paper to your fridge. Look at it and smoke as much as you like. Once it’s pinned to your fridge, you cannot buy anything related to golf until you “earn” it. When you wake up tomorrow morning you can begin.

Let’s say you wake up at 8 a.m. While you’re having breakfast you can begin manipulating your subconscious. Imagine going and buying that set of golfballs. Imagine turning them over in your hands, feeling the indentations, the hardness. Imagine them rolling towards the cup and the sound they make when they fall in. You want the golfballs. You want them bad, and you’re not going to get them until they’re earned.

At 9 a.m., if you have not yet had a cigarette, take a pen and fill in the box with the “1” in it. Give yourself a pat on the back. The act of filling in a box represents victory in one battle that makes up the wider war of improving your life. As you fill it in, think of a moment from your life when you felt like a champion: your first paycheck, making love to an attractive partner, shooting your first sub 90 score, whatever. Close your eyes and try to recall how you felt in that moment. The accomplishment, the satisfaction. As you fill in the box, tell yourself that you deserve to feel the same way that you felt in your moment of glory. And you do!

If you have had a cigarette, don’t worry – the token economy method anticipates the possibility of failure. Remove the sheet from the fridge and tear it into small pieces, preferably in front of a mirror. As you rip it up, think of a moment from your life when you felt like a loser: getting beaten up at school for your lunch money or your first car accident. Don’t dwell on it for too long, just long enough to associate unpleasantness with the act of tearing up the paper. Then throw the pieces in the rubbish.

And start again, knowing that you will never buy a set of golfballs until you get to “8”.

At 10 a.m., if you still haven’t had a cigarette, fill in the second box and recall the feelings of being a champion again.

As each hour passes, fill in the next box. If at any point during the day you find your resolve weakening, come back to the sheet of paper and look at it. Look at the boxes that you’ve filled in and think to yourself “I did it then, I can do it now!” Remember how you felt when you filled in the previous boxes. Tell yourself that you want that feeling again, and that it’s less than an hour away.

And if you do have a cigarette, rip up the paper, throw it away, and start again from zero.

When you get to “8”, it’s time for action. Get down to the Pro Shop as soon as you can! Fill in the box, get in the car and claim your reward!

Then continue. Your next goal is “16”: the putter.

You might hit 16 while you’re asleep. That’s fine – you don’t have to get up in the night to fill in the boxes. But if you sleep for 8 hours, the next morning you can fill in eight boxes. Remember that the goal is to break the addiction to nicotine, and eight hours of abstinence is eight little victories, however you had to do it.

If you wake up the next morning and have gone, say, twenty hours without a cigarette, then have breakfast, fill in the boxes (all the while recalling your feelings of being a champion) and then get down to the Pro Shop immediately. You must claim your reward as soon as you’ve earned it.

Continue in this manner until you get to 48. Don’t worry if you fail once, thrice or forty times. As long as you keep associating the act of filling in the box with positive feelings you will be reprogramming your subconscious to power you to success.

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