Can Meditation Help You Quit Smoking?
Who wouldn’t want more willpower?
Considering that the ability to control our short term decisions can predict success in a number of areas in our lives, we can all use a little bit more.
This is the exact reason why researchers are looking for the keys to unlock willpower. So we can have more of it in our everyday lives.
One of the groups of people that could benefit greatly from increased self-control is addicts. Mustering up the willpower to resist cravings and break bad habits like smoking, is a tough thing to do. Especially depending on the strength of the addiction.
Smokers that are trying to quit, may have something to rejoice about. Researchers reviewed papers on addiction and have found that the intention to quit may not be a necessary factor in curbing behavior. They found that by strengthening willpower – by way of meditation – may help addicts even if they aren’t fully aware of it.
The Smoky Setup
For a smoker, enrolling in a program to stop their addiction requires that you must have the desire to quit.
However, scientists question if this should really be a requisite. When looking at brain scans of addicts, they observed that there is less activity in the brain in areas associated with self-control.
So naturally, scientists wanted to know if they could target those areas and strengthen them. And then see if that, in turn, would change behavior.
One highlighted study from the review did just that.
They invited both undergraduate smokers and non-smokers to classes that provided meditation and relaxation instruction. Naturally, the students thought they were taking the classes for stress management and cognitive improvement. When, in reality, they were secretly being tested for the effects of willpower. A sly setup on behalf of the researchers to help limit any biases from the participants.
The participants went to 30 minute classes over the course of 2 weeks. Total relaxation and meditation time was 5 hours. At the end of the two weeks everyone had brain scans, answered questions about their smoking habits, and had carbon monoxide levels measured in their lungs.
Here’s where things got interesting. When asked about their smoking habits, the students said they hadn’t changed at all. They reported smoking the same amount of cigarettes before and after the training had completed.
However, their lungs told a different story. When measured for levels of carbon monoxide, those that had received mindfulness meditation had a 60 percent reduction in smoking.
Going one step further, the scientists wanted to see if intentions had changed.
The lead author, Professor Tang said this about the result:
“We then measured intention to see if it correlated with smoking changes and found there was no correlation. But if you improve the self-control network in the brain and moderate stress-reactivity, then it’s possible to reduce smoking.”
The researchers had shown that they had unconsciously altered students smoking habits without them being aware.
More Than One Way
Even though the review outlined mindfulness meditation as a way to enhance willpower, that doesn’t mean it’s the only method available. There are other ways in which this can be accomplished.
The authors also point out that it doesn’t mean meditation is better or worse when compared to other methods that help people stop smoking.
There are a lot of questions that still need answered through further research. Questions like how long the benefits last, how long the sessions need to be, and how effective it is among different types of people.
The scientists are cautious, but hopeful.
Volkow – another author from the study – stated:
“…understanding how our brain works when we do interventions that strengthen self-control can also have multiple implications that relate to behaviors that are necessary for health and well-being.”
Their findings can be found in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences.
Image: Peter Halling Hilborg