3 Steps to Quitting Your Smoking Habit (for those who keep trying, again and again)

CIGARETTE
CIGARETTE (Photo credit: Fried Dough)

You’ve been thinking about quitting for years, but it just doesn’t seem to be happening. You’ve tried patches, you’ve tried electronic cigarettes, you even tried voodoo, but nicotine keeps calling you back.

Something needs to change because you’ve got a smoker’s cough, your eyes sting, you hate the smell of your breath, and your face is breaking out.

The only reason I am not going to be smoking today is because I’ve made a crucial shift in the way I think about cigarettes and the purpose smoking serves for me, and how to address the void that nicotine leaves behind, because my withdrawal HAS left a void.

Each of us come to cigarettes with different reasons, but for some of us, the thought of quitting smoking started in the very moment we had our first cigarette, and then the pleasure and guilt as we bonded in the shared moments of cigarettes, in or outside cafes, which we shared.

Those who know me well will say, “But you haven’t had a cigarette in months!”

This is true, I haven’t. 
But then again, a drag here and there on four different occasions in varying increments, means that I’ve had the total of three cigarettes since new year’s day, 2013.
 
Before this new attempt to “quit,” I had survived 8 months without smoking once, 2 months at another point, 4 months on a third occasion. Every single time I started to feel absolutely certain that I had indeed quit, I became so overconfident that I used to beat myself up when I took the eventual drag of nicotine, hence falling into a systematic pattern of hopelessness when I broke my vow to “never smoke again,” imagining that perpetuated by restarting one cigarette, all the hard work of months prior were washed away.

Yet, something has changed this time around.

Perhaps it’s because it’s my first attempt to quit since one of my three high school best friends was diagnosed and died of lung cancer when we were 26, but perhaps it’s just survival mechanisms kicking in.

Either way, life’s rude awakening has led me to adopt some strategies that are vastly different from my previous attempts, and in doing so, I’ve had to shift the way I think about smoking and quitting. I hope sharing these strategies with you will help some of you rethink how to approach your smoking.

1. Break it Down: Focusing on the Every Day is Easier than focusing on the Larger Picture, and losing a battle doesn’t mean you’ve lost the war. 

I tell you today that I’m thinking of taking a break from nicotine, because I have learnt something crucial about myself: I’m one of those people who thinks about nicotine fairly often. I feel suffocated when a door is permanently shut, even if that door should be one of those which should never be opened in the first place. Here’s something about reverse psychology and human nature that influences me greatly: as soon as we make something out of bounds for us, we crave it more.

cigarette

cigarette (Photo credit: Fried Dough)

Hence, instead of saying that I’m quitting forever and therefore becoming tied to this reality and thinking I’m failing because I have not achieved cold turkey, I’ve left my options open. The only thing I tell myself is that I am not going to smoke today

Saying that I’m trying to cut back is easier to manage on a psychological level than saying it’s never going to happen again. I mean, remember, people do anything to alleviate their anxieties and the only person whose expectations we should be focusing on managing is our own. 
 
This means I have the option to smoke on a bad day. Just the thought that I have the option to smoke has led me to make a conscious decision not to do so. And when I really begin to crave nicotine, here’s something else I visualize: how disgusting my throat feels, and how quickly it begins to hurt the second I’ve had a taste, and how quickly I get a smoker’s cough.
 
The truth is, by telling myself I still have the option to smoke on a bad day, I am able to manage my cravings, and manage my expectations, because I reward myself for getting through the day, at the end of it. 
2. Reward Yourself Regularly

Quitting smoking is the hardest personal goal I have given myself in recent years. I reckon that for most of you who are reading this article, it’s the same thing. When I reach a milestone hence, I reward myself with ice-cream, a beach vacation, a new outfit from the moolah saved from my nicotine cravings, basically something fun, interesting and positive, and easy to accomplish.

See, every day you do not smoke is a feat. Why? Because 1 in 2 smokers will die of smoking related diseases, and 3 out of 5 of us will contract cancer at some point in their  lives.

The sooner we quit, the more long term damage we can prevent. Reward yourself, pat yourself on the back, and do jump up and down in joy, if you’ve even gone a week without smoking, even a day for some of y’all.

Going through a day without smoking is a big deal, and you deserve to give yourself this much credit if you do so. Reward yourself with the money you’re not spending on cigarettes: Buy candles, enjoy lovely music, relax in a spa, or go for a walk in a park, be with nature, be alone.

Learn how to enjoy yourself. This is the only way to survive. Know your quirks and laugh at yourself.

These things are helpful.

English: Main side effects of nicotine (See Wi...

English: Main side effects of nicotine (See Wikipedia:Nicotine).

Also, did you just have a cigarette after months of not having one? That doesn’t mean you automatically negated all your hard work and need to reinvent the wheel all over. It means that you’re having an off day. Tomorrow will be a better one!

3. Figure out What Triggers you and pick up an Alternative Activity to Replace this

The funny thing and the triggers were influenced by the silliest excuses, as often our cues tend to be: the proximity of a coffeehouse in Vienna, an encounter with an old friend and smoking buddy, a stressful meeting, an upcoming exam. In each circumstance, “rewarding” my stressed mind with a cigarette shared in the joy of an abstract time when smoking is awesome, that is still possible.

When I’ve allowed myself this luxury of being able to smoke in an “unusual circumstance,” I have found myself still refusing cigarettes, and the feeling of refusing- there’s nothing better than the power that comes with it, it’s truly quite epic.

If I’m smoking to “cope” instead of smoking for “pleasure,” or  I’m already in the group of individuals who have found that something feels relatively absent, it’s because the possibilities of anxieties emerging from withdrawal are a physical response, and the joy I feel at getting through a day, just today, is in itself a gift and I’m focusing on the issue: anxiety itself.

Let’s think for a minute about the cues that affect our smoking desires. British researchers from  Oxford, Cambridge, and Kings College London published  a study in the British Journal of Psychiatry’s January 2, 2013 issue, where they stated, 
The belief that smoking is stress relieving is pervasive, but almost certainly wrong. The reverse is true: smoking is probably anxiogenic (causes anxiety) and smokers deserve to know this and understand how their own experience may be misleading.”
So how do you cope with your stress if you don’t have cigarettes as a distraction? I had to find alternative things that make me happy. To simulate smoking conditions, I chew sugar-free gum, and to induce the comfort felt by having a cigarette in my hands, I play with golf pencils- a pencil that’s the approximate shape of a cigarette is reassuring. 
Additionally, I’ve begun to write much more, take photographs, go out on walks, look at art in museums, and generally foster positive triggers that help combat the negative energy of taking a break and addressing what keeps me stressed.

It’s been about eight weeks since my last nicotine fix.

Yes, I won’t tell you that I’ve quit because quitting can take years, but I will tell you one truth: I will not have a cigarette today. I made this decision when I woke up today, and I plan to make this same decision tomorrow even if I slip up today, but I don’t think I will. My lungs feel as good as they could be in polluted Dhaka. 

I will reward myself for upholding my decisions by going to the beach on Friday, and I will also be gripping my golf pencils tightly between now and then, while I take copious photographs and write profusely.

You see, I refuse to adhere to the words  “never,” “always,” and “forever,” and in doing so, I refuse to succumb to the guilt of sliding, because this detracts from the fact that progressing towards a desired goal is achieved, that there is room for improvement..

My goal is to get through today. I make this my one goal, every day. Perhaps, if you’re having a hard time, like I have, like I sometimes do, this is something you should make your goal too.

Good luck quitting, and I hope these words help.

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