Contextual memory and how it can make you want to smoke

One of the most common ways to fail in an attempt to quit smoking is to neglect the effects of the environment on your will. There are several reasons for this, one of which is the effect of contextual memory. This article examines how context-dependent memory works and how it can be used to your advantage.

What is context-dependent memory?

When the context of a memory is the same at the encoding and recall stages, it is usually easier to recall the memory. An example of this happens when it becomes easier to recall the details of a certain conversation when you are in the place where the conversation has occurred. This phenomenon arises not only for the information, but also for the moods: being in the kitchen can make you hungry, being in the room can make you sleepy. This is sometimes a good thing, but, as we will see later, this can also be very bad.

How can context-dependent memory interfere with your efforts to quit smoking?

is that some of these memories may be undesirable. The most obvious example is that visiting a smoky bar will certainly bring back many pleasurable cigarettes. The smell and the sight of smoke are pretty bad, but the presence of friends who smoke, especially if it is associated with alcohol in your system, can easily make the temptation overwhelming. The more cigarettes you smoke in a certain environment, the harder it will be. Note that friends and family can also be considered part of your environment.

How Contextual Memory Can be Used to your Advantage

Smoking cessation counselors consistently emphasize the importance of environmental management. You can, and you must believe that you can, control the thoughts in your head, and the easiest way to do this is to control the physical environment in which your thoughts are unfolding. Does your workplace have a smoking area? Do not go there. Does your house have a porch that you like to smoke? Move your ashtray elsewhere. Do you have a friend who does not smoke in his house? Hang out there a little. A long-haul flight is another good place to start a smoke-free life. Just make sure you have something to do while you wait to board.

Another point is that research suggests that the context-dependent memory phenomenon can be evoked by visualizing a certain environment. If the hike works for you in a context where you have little desire to smoke, imagine yourself on top of a mountain the next time you are tempted to light yourself up. Take only thirty seconds to imagine the view, the cool alpine breeze and the rocks under your feet. In this way, you can brave environments that would make it difficult to stop smoking.


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