thank you for not

The road to health . . . paved with the best intentions?
October 18, 2006, 11:44 pm
Filed under: language and linguistics, motivation vs. guilt

Probably. You’d think that after all my time in the habits field I’d be used to people getting it wrong, but it still gets me that the people with the best hearts and kindest of intentions use language and methodology that just isn’t helpful to the people they so dearly want to help.

It’s closing in on the Great American Smokeout (Thursday, November 16) and I was visiting the good people at the American Cancer Society website where they had this to say:

“Kicking the Habit: Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your loved ones.”

This sounds great and I *know* their heart is in the right place — it’s a seriously good cause and they are all about supporting people in need. However, those words actually provoke the exact opposite effect of what they really want to accomplish.

What it implies is “If you really cared about yourself and the people you loved …” which actually means 1. “you don’t care about yourself or the people you love” and 2. “you have control over this”. It completely avoids the difficulties that people are actually having with their habit.

What they really want is healthy people who don’t smoke. You can’t get that through motivating people through guilt. That’s probably the worst way to get someone to quit.

Even if it lasts it just brings on a host of other problems. If every smoker in the world quit through guilt, all the people who work now with smoking cessation would have to change careers and move to the obesity crisis unit or whatever the latest self-destructive behavior is.

And using phrases like “kicking the habit” just encourages people to relate to their habit in a violent way. Words are power, my friends.

Meaning well is a lot. And also not enough.