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Mindful : August 2013
Studies show that smoking addiction ranks right up there with addiction to hard drugs. And it can take considerably longer to shake a cigarette habit. “You hit rock bottom a lot faster with alcohol and cocaine than you do with smoking,” says Judson Brewer, the medi- cal director at Yale’s Therapeu- tic Neuroscience Clinic. With this in mind, Brewer has developed an app to assist with smoking cessation. It’s a three-week, mindfulness- based program called Craving to Quit. “We did a study comparing it to the gold-standard pro- gram for quitting smoking—the American Lung Association’s Freedom From Smoking—and we found that Craving to Quit was twice as effective,” he says. Brewer’s study found that 36% of par ticipants following the Craving to Quit program did not return to smoking after four weeks, compared to only 15% from the Freedom From Smoking group. And after 17 weeks, 31% of those from the mindfulness group still weren’t smoking, compared to only 6% for Freedom From Smoking. Craving to Quit star ts by helping users acknowledge how smoking connects with not just pleasure but stress. The goal is to notice how we fall into “habit loops”: when a cer tain stimulus arises, we have a set response, such as lighting a cigarette. “ When you get yelled at by your boss, notice how you get a craving to smoke,” says Brewer. “And then notice that smoking doesn’t fix your problem with your boss. It’s also impor tant to notice what it’s actually like to smoke—what it tastes like, what it’s like to suck fumes into your lungs.” Brewer says people star t to see that smoking is not as pleasurable as they thought it was, and that it doesn’t neces- sarily help them address or fix problems that arise in life. The app goes fur ther by encouraging self-compassion, which short-circuits the judg- ments that can come when we try to make difficult changes in our lives. “ When people have a craving, it’s good to notice if they’re resisting or beating themselves up,” says Brewer. Par t of the Craving to Quit program includes access to a closed online community for questions or peer suppor t. “This isn’t a magic pill,” says Brewer. “You have to do the practice and you have to want to quit smoking. This isn’t go- ing to work if you’re ambivalent about it. But then, I don’t think anything will work if you’re ambivalent.” ● Kick the Habit See an app demo and more from Judson Brewer at mindful.org/ cravingtoquit August 2013 mindful 15 Illustration by Gavin Potenza