How Habits Form

Wellness |

You’ve probably heard someone say that smoking is just a “bad habit.” While nicotine addiction and psychological dependence contribute to the problem, habit is also probably a big part of why you smoke. Let’s look at how habits are formed so you can have a better understanding of how to break them.


Not too long ago, a researcher named Ivan Pavlov did an experiment with dogs. He placed some really tasty meat powder on their tongues, and, at the same time, he rang a bell. Every time he fed the dogs the meat powder, they would salivate because it tasted so good. Next, he tried just ringing the bell to see if the dogs would still salivate — and they did. Pavlov had created a connection in the dog’s brains between the ringing bell and meat powder.

So what does all of this dog drool have to do with smoking cigarettes? Well, this is how you have created many of your smoking habits. By smoking cigarettes at certain times, you have created an association between performing that activity and smoking a cigarette. After a while, just performing that activity causes you to “salivate” for a cigarette. Here are some common situations that may be part of your smoking habit:

  • driving
  • waiting in line
  • a break at work
  • talking on the phone
  • after eating a meal

Also, the act of smoking itself strongly reinforces your habit. Each cigarette lasts for about 10 puffs. This means that if you smoke a pack a day you are bringing a cigarette to your mouth 200 times! Multiply that by the number of days you have smoked and you will get a good idea of how your habit has been reinforced.

So, now that you know how your smoking habit has been formed, you are better prepared to break it. Read next week’s article called “Breaking the Smoking Habit” and join our chat on Wednesday nights to learn how other smokers have broken their habits.

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