Triggers: Reminders From Your Executive Assistant

kattatonic1 gold4

April 19th, 2004, 2:02 pm#1

Triggers: Reminders From Your Executive Assistant
"It's all in your head" has developed a really bad rap in our culture. What's up with that? The power of the brain is remarkable. We should marvel and be impressed.
  • Has anyone told you that since physical withdrawal is over... get a grip... or get over it... or something like that?
  • What about patience with yourself? You've been informed that it's psychological after day three. Do you think the impulse to smoke should stop now, now, now?
  • Do you think impulses after you have quit for a while indicate you are weak?
Quite the contrary, actually. Your brain is working as designed.

Okay, listen up. Your brain is amazing. Every time you do anything, one function your brain performs is to try to save you time and prevent you from repeating past mistakes. So quickly and subconsciously, your brain scans the memory banks for similar circumstances whenever you do anything. When it finds comparable history, it compares that with what you are doing now and alerts you to differences, just like an efficient little assistant.

Yesterday I pulled on my day pack, went out the front door and turned left to walk up the street. Suddenly I am hit with a trigger. Why? Because I haven't turned left off my front stoop since before I quit. I quit in the winter and I have either gone out the back door to my car, or turned right to walk to the subway. Turning left means I am going to bother to walk to the grocery, which I haven't done since I quit.

The part of my brain that tries to save me time, let's call him the Executive Assistant (the EA), recalled past left turns from the stoop. He went down a checklist. What did she need / what did she use on previous excursions like this? Wallet? Check. Keys? Check. Bags? Check. Smokes? NOPE. "Ah, ah, ah, excuse me!" I could imagine him running up behind me yesterday as I set out and picked up pace. "You've forgotten your cigarettes! You're going to need your cigarettes when you get to the café!" (I treat myself to a special coffee when I bother to walk to the market.)

Remember all those times you forgot your cigarettes and kicked yourself? It was such an inconvenience when you were an active using addict. Back then, your reaction went something like this: "Memo to self. Don't forget the cigarettes!" What I'm calling the 'EA' function in your brain monitors these memos. He got the memos and he's acting on them. He got thousands of memos like that!

The poor guy is just trying to do his job. So I thanked my EA for trying to save me frustration, reminded him that I no longer smoke and that he should refer to the new Never Take Another Puff memo.

After my coffee up the street, I paused to listen to the Let's-Smoke trigger, a little different and a more uncomfortable than the Forgot-Your-Cigarettes trigger. There he was again, but this time trying to get me to actually smoke! What a guy! His reasoning? "You've eaten, walked and coffeed, you're about to shop... you are going to want a smoke before you know it and you'd always rather smoke here than while walking home. Always! Always!"

This guy is no dummy. I did in fact send him that memo many, many times. For heavens sake, I smoked for 25 years. The filing cabinets are full of those old memos.

How to teach an old dog new tricks? Well the EA in our brains can and does learn new routines all the time. We may learn slower as we age but we do still learn and adapt, especially if we do it consciously. We have to note new memos to ourselves, sometimes several times and we have to be kind to ourselves... or our 'EAs'. The kinder and calmer you are, the more chance you have of him 'getting it' each time. So what to do in the café?

I said to my EA, "Thanks! I appreciate the reminder but you have to look at the newer One = All memo again. I am not going to smoke today or ever. Please remember that coffee time is no longer smoke time."

He will get it; I know he will. It will just take a while and a walk through all my various scenarios. He is really very, very good. He learned so well the first time -- I have to give him time to learn the new mandate.

Thanks for reading my ramblings. You are doing it, Freedomites! It is doable! It does get better and it is worth it... wait! Make that, YOU are worth it. Yes, you are.


~ Kay ~
Celebrating 3 Months, 26 Days, 20 Hours and 23 Minutes of Freedom.
Forsaking 2357 doses of poison has liberated $757.90 and 8 Days and 4 Hours of my life.

Last edited by kattatonic1 gold4 on March 29th, 2009, 10:16 pm, edited 2 times in total.


April 19th, 2004, 3:54 pm#2

Thanks, Kay

I enjoyed your post. That's going into the "ammo-box" that gets opened every time one of those pesky "smoke now" thoughts comes up. It's getting so much easier.

Congrats on turning Bronze!

Nicotine-free for 4 Months 19 Hours 53 Minutes 59 Seconds. During this time I've not smoked 3070 cigarettes at a savings of $574.23. I've reclaimed 3 Wks 7 Hrs 47 Mins 17 Secs of my life.


April 19th, 2004, 5:23 pm#3

hi kay,
what a fantastic post, you have made me have sympathy for that little voice trying to get me to smoke,like a child trying to help.
i have to say i really enjoyed reading this smart are you!!!!
thank you
thank you
thank you
your quit sis
bronze today
Last edited by smurfetteirl on April 14th, 2009, 12:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Rickrob53 Gold

April 19th, 2004, 10:24 pm#4

Kay, an outstanding post! It's a great new slant on how to look at all the little triggers that'll still pop up from time to time. I wish I could fire my EA for all the times he wants to ignore my memos to him. But, like a close relative who works at the family store and can't be fired, I'm stuck with him! HOWEVER, I can retrain him ( or hold back a paycheck or two LOL).


April 19th, 2004, 10:41 pm#5

Loved it, I loved this post! Thank you so much for sharing it. What a great way to look at it. I've been thinking along the same lines lately but couldn't have stated it quite so eloquently. I've just been thinking that I smoked for 13 years and I've been quit for 5 months and 2 days. While 5 months and 2 days is substantial, it's a miniscule amount of time compared to the time that I smoked. Patience is a virtue.

Thanks again,

Quit on November 17, 2003.


April 19th, 2004, 10:42 pm#6

Hi Kay!

Thanks for the post. I like to start my day off with a good laugh! Very intertaining and well written. It is so true!

Three months, two weeks, four days, 9 hours, 42 minutes and 27 seconds. 3282 cigarettes not smoked, saving $451.29. Life saved: 1 week, 4 days, 9 hours, 30 minutes.

John (Gold)

April 19th, 2004, 11:04 pm#7

Kay, a fun read thanks! Just one note on your comment that it's all psychological after day three. Clearly all nicotine and 90% of nicotine's metabolites are out of the body within 72 hours, and it's likely that withdrawal has peaked in intensity, but most authorities assert that the actual physiological adjustment process is about ten days to two weeks and some even a bit longer.

There seems to be lots of research interest in this area - brain neuron re-sensitization and the like - and as soon as new info becomes available we'll share it. What's amazing is how much we still don't know.

The interesting part about the subconscious mind is that it doesn't debate, plan, conspire or punish but, as you note, only reacts to known input. Although we can consciously fixate during absolutely any moment in time our subconscious feeding cues get reconditioned at a most amazing pace. For most, a substantial percentage are reconditioned by a single encounter within the first ten days, with the average quitter experiencing a peak of six crave epidosdes on day three. Although we each likely developed a few remote or seasonal triggers, unless caught of guard, most should be minor in intensity and short-lived in duration.

Regardless of where each of us are there's only one rule, no nicotine today, Never Take Another Puff! John

kattatonic1 gold4

April 20th, 2004, 1:50 pm#8

Thanks for your comments on my babblings, everyone. Posting and reading is still really valuable for me. I enjoy reading you all in every thread.

Thanks John in particular. I enjoy reading the studies you post and appreciate your diligence with references. How can we possibly know it all when there are 4000 chemicals in cigarettes? Of course we pay most attention to nicotine because we are nicotine addicts, but it's not the nicotine that kills us, is it? It's the nicotine that keeps us tied to the delivery device of choice, of course. I imagine some of the other chemicals have effects we will not see understood or documented for years, if ever.

I am glad we can issue new memos to ourselves however now that we have new company policy. NTAP!

~ Kay ~
Celebrating 3 Months, 27 Days, 20 Hours and 18 Minutes of Freedom.
Forsaking 2377 doses of poison has liberated $764.34 and 8 Days and 6 Hours of my life.

John (Gold)

April 20th, 2004, 10:00 pm#9

Question: Of course we pay most attention to nicotine because we are nicotine addicts, but it's not the nicotine that kills us, is it?
I used to wonder that myself, Kay. Clearly one chemical (nicotine) and one carcinogen (the nicotine derived metabolite NNK) is preferable in number to the more than 4,000 chemicals and 43 carcinogens that we're told is present in each burning cigarette, but clearly nicotine alone destroys and has potential to kill in a number of ways.
First, but highly unlikely, is nicotine's obvious potential as a potent poison. I've read that a rabbit given one drop of nicotine will be dead in a couple of minutes and that 3 drops on the tongue of a 150 lb. human is fatal. Nicotine is anywhere from 2% - 7% of the dry weight of tobacco depending on plant strain.
Closer to home and easiest to see is effects of nicotine's carcinogen metabolite NNK, it's amazing role in being able to grow blood vessels capable of feeding tumors and thus vastly accelerating their growth rates (a process referred to as angiogenesis), and its amazing control over a cascade of fight or flight neurochemicals that actually shut down removal of bad cholesterol while pumping stored fats into the bloodstream and promoting hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). From what I've read so far all three of these properties of nicotine can accelerate our demise and early departure.
Here's a bit of reading on the above:
Nicotine's carcinogen - NNK
Nicotine & Angiogenesis
Nicotine & Atherosclerosis
Also, although each individualloy may not add up to death, there are a flood of new studies questioning nicotine's ability - on its own - to either damage the body, DNA or delay healing. The below examples are new studies released since just March. Imagine a year's worth of bad nicotine news!
  1. Nicotine Induces Mononuclear Leukocyte Adhesion and Expression of Adhesion, April 2004 - Albaugh G, Bellavance E, Strande L, Heinburger S, Hewitt CW, Alexander JB.
  2. Nicotine effects on alveolar bone changes induced by occlusal trauma: a histometric study in rats. March 2004 - Nogueira-Filho GR, Froes Neto EB, Casati MZ, Reis SR, Tunes RS, Tunes UR, Sallum EA, Nociti FH Jr, Sallum AW.
  3. Lung morphometry and MMP-12 expression in rats treated with intraperitoneal nicotine. March 2004 - Valenca SS, de Souza da Fonseca A, da Hora K, Santos R, Porto LC.
  4. Regulation of blood-brain barrier Na, K, 2C1- cotransporter during stroke conditions and nicotine exposure. April 2004 - Abbruscato TJ, Lopez SP, Roder K, Paulson JR.
  5. Exposure to low concentrations of nicotine during cranial nerve development inhibits apoptosis and causes cellular hypertrophy in the ventral oculomotor nuclei of the chick embryo. March 204 - Wielgus JJ, Corbin Downey L, Ewald KW, Hatley ME, Wilson KC, Yeilding RH.
  6. Intraportal nicotine infusion in rats decreases hepatic blood flow through endothelin-1 and both endothelin A and endothelin B receptors. April 204 - Hashimoto T, Yoneda M, Shimada T, Kurosawa M, Terano A.
  7. Maternal exposure to nicotine and chlorpyrifos, alone and in combination, leads to persistently elevated expression of glial fibrillary acidic protein in the cerebellum of the offspring in late puberty. March 204 - Abdel-Rahman A, Dechkovskaia AM, Mehta-Simmons H, Sutton JM, Guan X, Khan WA, Abou-Donia MB.
  8. Nicotine replacement therapy-associated syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone. March 2004 - Finch CK, Andrus MR, Curry WA.
  9. Does Prenatal Nicotine Exposure Sensitize the Brain to Nicotine-Induced Neurotoxicity in Adolescence? March 2004 - Abreu-Villaca Y, Seidler FJ, Slotkin TA.
  10. Nicotine induces multisite phosphorylation of Bad in association with suppression of apoptosis (lung cancer cells) - March 2004 - in Z, Gao F, Flagg T, Deng X.
  11. An assessment of the long-term developmental and behavioral teratogenicity of prenatal nicotine exposure. April 2004 - Vaglenova J, Birru S, Pandiella NM, Breese CR.
  12. Melatonin reverses urinary system and aorta damage in the rat due to chronic nicotine administration. March 2004 - Sener G, Kapucu C, Paskaloglu K, Ayanoglu-Dulger G, Arbak S, Ersoy Y, Alican I.

John (Gold)

May 22nd, 2004, 1:31 am#10

I prepared the above chart back in 2000 from data in a very detailed study that actually had smokers stopping and recording each crave episode. Although the data reflects only the average number of daily crave episodes experienced by this particular group of quitters during their first ten day, it evidences peak frequency at day three which hopefully gives every new quitter seeing it a bit of hope.
Keep in mind that which day is your peak day can, to some degree, be altered by hiding under your pillow or locking yourself in a closet and thus delaying encountering many of your everyday triggers. The opposite may be true as well in that by more fully engaging life earlier than day three you may be able to trigger a greater number of everyday triggers a bit earlier than shown above.
Assume for a second that you are not average in that you have somehow conditioned your subconscious to expect the arrival of nicotine in twice as many situations as the average smoker in this study. Let's do the math.
First, although a recent study indicates that significant time distortion during nicotine cessation appears to be an almost universal recovery symptom, if you actually time each anxiety episode that the subconscious triggers in its attempt to obtain compliance in bringing new nicotine into the body, you'll discover that unlike with conscious thought fixation, no subconsciously triggered crave episode will last longer than three minutes.
Looking back at the above chart. If you have in fact established twice as many routine nicotine feeding cues as the average nicotine addict then that is 12 episodes times (x) a maximum duration of 3 minutes, or a maximum of 36 minutes of significant challenge on your most challenging day (12 x 3 = 36 minutes).
Can you handle 36 minutes of anxiety challenge? Absolutely! Every smoker you know can! But recovery is a process, not an event, so your recovery odds will be substantially enhanced if you develop a few skills that are naturally foreign to someone who is used to sensing and feeling their dependency urges satisfied within 8 to 10 seconds of that first puff of nicotine.
First, patience and adoption of a one day at a time outlook for dealing with recovery and measuring victory. Forget about measuring success in terms of quitting FOREVER, a mighty big bite to chew upon and a standard that almost all new quitters feel impossible to achieve when first starting out.
Second, invoke complete self-honesty in beginning the process of tearing down that thick brick wall of conscious rationalizations, minimizations, and blame transference that we each built and hid behind to help insulate us from a world that never seemed to understand, and that allowed us to maintain our sanity and a wee bit of self-dignity while looking in the mirror knowing that we were engaged in our own senseless self-destruction. We knew that each and every puff was destroying a bit more of our body's ability to receive and transport life-giving oxygen and we knew that each puff allowed another attack of tobacco's 43 known carcinogens from mouth to tail.
Attitude is also important because we are what we think. If we see this amazing process as our greatest opportunity ever to engage in self-healing, as the most loving gift we've ever given to ourselves, as recovering the "real" us and taking back control of the more than 200 neurochemicals that were compliant to flowing in response to nicotine's two-hour chemical half-life clock, then it truly can be one of the most amazing adventures you've ever experienced.
Don't fear recovering you, embrace the gradually emerging you! Don't hide from your thoughts of wanting but instead analyze each under honest light. Don't fuel those deep inner primitive protective fears of change and the unknown but instead reassure and calm them.
Your norms are changing and the intelligent thinking mind needs to stay in full control while recognizing that the conditioned protective impulses and suggestions bubbling up from the subconscious are simply part of this amazing journey of healing. Expect them and smile when they arrive as each reflects a brick in a wall that you yourself had built. See each and every encounter as your opportunity to remove another brick.
If, just one day at a time, your intelligence does stay in control then you'll arrive at that magic day where new (but really old) expectations take root. I know you likely will not believe this now but you'll someday soon awake to the expectation of going your entire day without once wanting to smoke nicotine. Oh, you'll still have "thoughts" or even a remote or seasonal trigger now and then but with decreasing frequency and intensity over time. But you won't expect them, they'll take you by complete surprise and you may even wear a smile during the brief encounter as it will likely be your only remaining reminder of one of your greatest accomplishments, and your amazing journey home.
You probably won't believe this right now either but I'm going to tell you anyway. I just reached the five year mark and I have not ANY thought "wanting" to smoke nicotine since about December 2001. I know that each of us are different and that many ex-smokers tell us that they still want for a cigarette now and then. It's probably that I've worked in helping others for too long and have seen far too many horror stories like Sean, Bryan, Noni and Barb Tarbox, including the cancer death of one of my clinic participants, to still be clinging to some romantic image associated with sensing a sudden unearned burst of dopamine flowing within my brain. I'm fully content in getting my dopamine the old fashioned way. I earn it!
Regardless of how long it has been, since that last puff you have traded places with your dependency and it is now under arrest and you are the jailor. The key to trading places is and always has been just one powerful puff of one of earth's most captivating chemicals - nicotine. At times the moment may seem far from easy but it will always l be simple - no nicotine today nicotine ... Never Take Another Puff !
Breathe deep, hug hard, live long! John (Gold x5)
Last edited by John (Gold) on March 29th, 2009, 10:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.

kattatonic1 gold4

May 22nd, 2004, 12:38 pm#11

Thanks again John for another great post! (And not because you tagged it on the end of one of my ramblings.) I cannot say enough about patience. One of the great things about getting further into my quit is that I seem to be applying to other areas of my life what I have been learning and practising about patience. Time is such a gift to give yourself; it's incredible.

I did not see your post about nicotine before. Very interesting. I suspect then that more consequences will be found about NRT abuse over the next few decades. I noticed you posted a few relevant articles recently. I'm so glad I don't have to worry about it all anymore now that I NTAP.

One more note. This is our first spring long weekend in Canada; my family opens the cottage this weekend for the year. I don't have any full-fledged craves anymore but I had to write a little memo today to myself to no longer worry about packing enough cigarettes for the weekend. Nowadays I laugh at passing thoughts like "pack cigarettes". I don't even stop in my tracks. They are like echoes, just memories. There's no going back.

~ Kay ~
Celebrating 4 Months, 28 Days, 19 Hours and 7 Minutes of Freedom.
Forsaking 3016 doses of poison has liberated $971.10 and 10 Days and 11 Hours of my life.


June 2nd, 2004, 11:52 am#12

Thank you so much for your post. I found it when I was trying to stay busy fighting off an urge. Do other addicts feel this urge to go back, do you think?
Samson 3 weeks, 6 days


June 6th, 2004, 10:21 pm#13

very nice. It is good to come back and see these posts. I havnt been posting latly and it is not because I no longer feel the urge. I feel a powerfull pull towards a cig. I know it is wrong and it can kill me, but I still want the feeling back. Alas and alack that love was not meant to be.

Ace - Has been breathing fresh air for Four Months, Three Days, 11 Hours and 22 Minutes, while extending the time with my family for 11 Days and 7 Hours, and not even missing the 3262 little, smelly, stinking devices that would have cost me $459.09.

CyberQuitter GOLD

September 13th, 2004, 9:05 pm#14

Kay, I ***LOVE*** this post! I was chuckling away as I read it as it explains with 100% accuracy exactly what is going on inside my head. I love the imagery, my EA is in there with all those internal memos, effieciently filed away. Good God! If you could work out the indexing system he uses, you'd be a millionaire!

Peter - Free and Healing for Nine Days, 1 Hour and 4 Minutes, while extending my life expectancy 15 Hours, by avoiding the use of 181 cigarettes that would have cost me £43.43.


November 12th, 2004, 2:17 am#15

Thanks!!! That's a huge help. I'm at 17 days and learning the "brain" part of it makes a big difference. I don't feel like i'm going quite so crazy.


November 12th, 2004, 3:21 am#16

What can I say that has not already been said? Great perspective prividing yet another slant on the war against addiction. Great Post!!!!!!
Kevin, NicFree & Luv'n It for 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 4 Days, 4 hours, 8 minutes and 21 seconds. I quit chewing tobacco on 6/17/04, have not spent $735.86 on copenhagen.

Pindan Pearl

November 12th, 2004, 9:05 am#17

Kay, this is outstanding. Once I find out how I can mark something as my favourite post, this has got to be it.
I frequently experince "never-smokers" who have this "wasn't that yesterday?" attitude towards my quit. This really addresses all my current issues and growth.


January 23rd, 2005, 5:36 am#18

Lol...I have to admit, "Executive Assistant" sounds a lot better than "Junkie Mind". Thanks for bringing this up.

Free and Healing for Nineteen Days, 10 Hours and 36 Minutes, while extending my life expectancy 2 Days, by avoiding the use of 583 nicotine delivery devices that would have cost me $145.93.

Starshinegrl Gold

February 15th, 2005, 7:16 am#19

Thanks, Kay, for this wonderful story. I don't know how often I've read and re-read it ... especially in the first two weeks or so when my Inner Junkie (IJ) was nearly drving me mad. She tried very hard but I'm more than happy to report she didn't succeed.

I was so scared of the psychological side when I started my quit ... only recently dawned on me that this might have been why it was so hard in the very beginning. Talk about self-fulfilling phrophecies and attitudes.

Like all the golden Oldies keep saying: it gets better! It IS getting better.

Having said that ... I blame you that she now sometimes comes out and wants a promotion. What she really wanted was to put my perfectly capable EA out of her job. I'm so glad that my EA seems to have won that particular battle.

Thank you, too, for so many great posts and very belated congratulations on your golding -- the colour suits you so well.

81 days and a bit


February 21st, 2005, 2:23 am#20

Well that certainly made me smile. Thanks for the great post. I need to bring my Executive Assistant in and sit him down for a long old talk. He just doen't seem to want to get it. Never take another puff. Needs to become his new Mantra.

Thanks again for making me smile.

Day seven and still trucking on!!! 132 death sticks not smoked. 10hrs and 59 minutes of my life back!!!



March 28th, 2005, 10:55 pm#21

Thanks for bumping this one up! I"ve printed it and review it often. This is one of the articles that gave me hope I could quit and it would'nt be horrible forever. It empowers me to know all I have to do is face certain situations once or twice and I can rewrite how I respond to them.

Thanks again.


JoeJFree Gold

September 22nd, 2005, 7:42 pm#22

Printed the lead post out for my Dad who says he is still having regular 'thoughts' about smoking, even after 3 months.
Not all that unusual for somone who has smoked a lifetime!

Thanks for the wisdom & viewpoint Kay.
I'm sure your now famous article will help him with his 'Thiggers'.

yqb - JoeJ Free retraining my 'Assistant' for the last 254 days.

John (Gold)

January 7th, 2006, 5:25 am#23

As Kay shares here, we each conditioned our minds to expect nicotine at certain times, places, locations, events or when encountering certain emotions. As I've heard Joel say more than once, when phones were still tied to cords most of us wouldn't pick it up when it rang without first ensuring that we had our nicotine source handy as we didn't know how long we'd be on it.
It may be little things like ice cubes hitting a glass, our little walk, or subtle distinctions like the weekly paper being a single cigarette read while the Sunday paper was always three. Each trigger encountered means an opportunity to reclaim one additional aspect of our life, to obtain another piece of the puzzle. Soon the pieces start fitting together and before long more of the puzzle is complete than missing.
Unless we insist upon keeping a few pieces in our pocket (those lingering romantic dependency fixations) - with each passing day the challenges will grow fewer, shorter and generally less intense. Fully retrain your EA, complete the puzzle and taste the full flavor of a life where wanting for nicotine becomes the exception not the rule.
This can be one of the most interesting adventures in self discovery that we'll ever make if we'll only stop being afraid and allow ourselves to notice and smell the beauty of the slowly opening rosebud that is us.
John (Gold x6)
Last edited by John (Gold) on April 14th, 2009, 12:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.


February 10th, 2006, 2:38 am#24


Thank you for this wonderful analogy. It came to me not a moment too soon as today is one of the hardest days I've had so far.

I'm going to print it and refer to it whenever I feel my "Assistant" needs a little refresher training.

Tracy - Free and Healing for Eleven Days, 21 Hours and 11 Minutes. I have extended my life by 19 Hours by avoiding the use of 238 cigarettes that would have cost me $87.50.

April 5th, 2006, 10:17 pm#25

Last edited by Sal GOLD.ffn on March 29th, 2009, 10:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.