“A year from now, you will wish you had started today.” – Karen Lamb
In How to Quit Smoking: Are Irrational Beliefs Getting in Your Way? – we talked about how your beliefs about smoking may be preventing you from ending your habit.
In How to Quit Smoking: Know Your Enemy, we explored physical addiction to cigarettes.
In How to Quit Smoking: Know Yourself, we discussed the psychological side of smoking.
Now we’ve finally come the conclusion of this series – where we will talk about HOW to become a non-smoker.
Being honest with yourself, understanding your triggers and reasons for smoking, taking personal responsibility, and realizing that the power to stop smoking is YOURS and yours alone are the keys to becoming a non-smoker.
Preparing to Become a Non-Smoker
Before you become a non-smoker, you’ll need to prepare your mind and your environment.
Preparing your mind
Take a minute – yes, right now – to make a short list of words or phrases that describe you. Don’t overthink it – do it quickly. Write down whatever words come to mind.
Now, look over your list.
The words and phrases you wrote are good indicators of your self-concept.
Is “smoker” (or some variation) one of them?
Here’s why I asked: The first – and perhaps most important – step to becoming a non-smoker is to stop thinking of yourself as a smoker.
In fact, it would greatly benefit you to consider yourself a non-smoker NOW.
That’s because there is power in “faking it until you make it.”
If you see yourself as a smoker, it is part of your self-image, or self-concept.
Your self-concept started developing in early childhood, and everything you have done and experienced throughout your life has contributed to its formation.
If you have tried to stop smoking in the past and have not succeeded, it is very likely that a negative self-concept – one of failure – has been reinforced in your mind.
You will always act – and can ONLY act – like the type of person you SEE yourself to be in your mind.
If you see yourself as a smoker, you will behave like a smoker.
If you see yourself as a non-smoker, you will behave like a non-smoker.
In order to become a non-smoker, you DO have to change your behavior, but changing the self-image that CONTROLS your behavior is the real secret to success.
Create your desired self-image as a non-smoker in your mind. Get detailed. Write it down – in PRESENT tense. You are not going to BE a non-smoker – you ARE a non-smoker.
Carry that note with you, so you can refer back to it when you feel yourself slipping. Put copies of it in places where you used to carry cigarettes (in your purse, your pockets, your car, your office).
BECOME the part you’ve written. Live it. Step into your new role. Take actions that are consistent with your new self.
Next, decide when you are going to PHYSICALLY quit.
If you haven’t already chosen a quit date, do that now. Write it down.
Timing matters – a lot. Don’t schedule your quit date during a stressful time for you if you are a stress-smoker, for example.
Do you have a support system in place? It is a good idea to schedule your quit date around a time when someone you can count on will be available to provide you with help if you need it.
While it is smart to plan your quit date at a time that increases your chance of success, don’t use that as an excuse to keep putting off the big day. There will never be a perfect time.
Don’t wait too long. Strike while the iron is hot. Studies have shown that people who don’t spend TOO much time planning how they are going to quit have higher success rates.
And, don’t fall into the procrastination trap.
Procrastination is the voluntary delay of some important task that we intend to do, despite knowing that we’ll suffer as a result. It isn’t simply laziness or poor time management. Procrastination is a gap between intention and action. The desire to start or complete a task exists – but it loses to less important but more instantly rewarding activities.
It can serve as a coping mechanism. When we procrastinate, we are avoiding emotionally unpleasant tasks and replacing them with activities that provide a temporary mood boost. But, the procrastination itself causes anxiety, shame, and guilt, which in turn leads us to procrastinate even further, creating a vicious cycle.
We want to eliminate the negative mood or emotions now, so we put off the task until later, when our “future self” will deal with it. What this means is that we treat our future self as a stranger – one that is more likely to complete the unpleasant tasks we are postponing. We trust our future selves far too much.
You might find yourself using these unproductive responses when you procrastinate:
- Distracting yourself, and thinking about other things
- Forgetting what you have to do, either actively or passively
- Downplaying the importance of what you have to do
- Giving yourself affirmations, focusing on your other values and qualities that will solidify your sense of self instead of facing the problem
- Denying responsibility to distance yourself from what you have to do
- Seeking out new information that supports your procrastination (example: when you tell yourself you need to have more information before you get started on something)
Here’s what you can do to stop putting off becoming a non-smoker:
- Be kind to yourself. Beating yourself up for slipping is counterproductive.
- Just get started. Don’t wait any longer.
- List the costs of procrastinating. How much has putting off your quit date cost you – financially, physically, and mentally?
- Become better friends with future-you. Understand that when your quit day arrives, it is YOU who will be doing the quitting, not some other person.
- Write a statement of intention – a commitment to yourself. Promise yourself that no matter how difficult you perceive quitting to be (especially in the first few days), you will not pick up another cigarette – ever.
If you find yourself thinking about smoking, remember that it is important to confront those thoughts. That’s because an odd thing happens when we try to suppress thoughts: they come back stronger. Thought suppression is counter-productive. Studies of people trying as hard as they can not to think about white bears show the thought just comes back stronger.
The same occurs with habits: if you try to push the thought of cigarettes out of your mind, suddenly they will be everywhere.
You are not going to be able to avoid all people, situations, and locations that you associate with smoking. It is best to accept that fact and view it in a positive light.
As Allen Carr, author of Allen Carr’s Easyway to Stop Smoking, puts it:
Do not try to avoid smoking situations or opt out of life. Go out and enjoy social occasions right from the start and do not envy smokers, pity them. Realise that they will be envying you because every single one of them will be wishing they could be like you: free from the whole filthy nightmare. No smoker wants to see their children start smoking which means they wish they hadn’t started themselves. Remember it’s not you who are being deprived but those poor smokers. They’re being deprived of their health, energy, money, peace of mind, confidence, courage, self-respect and freedom. If you’re offered a cigarette, just say: “No thanks – I don’t smoke”, rather than start a long conversation about how long it has been since you stopped.
Carr also says to be careful about the “just one cigarette” trap. Do not keep ANY cigarettes around “just in case” – if you do, it means you are doubting your decision to become a non-smoker. One of the many joys of being free is not having to worry about having cigarettes and a light on you, of ending that slavery, Carr adds.
Remember, you aren’t giving anything up. Smoking does nothing positive for you. By kicking the habit, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Preparing your environment
Non-smokers don’t have cigarettes, lighters, matches, and ashtrays in their homes, cars, or offices.
So before your quit date, you’ll need to throw all of those things away.
Get rid of every sign of smoking that you see – anything and everything that reminds you of the habit needs to go. Yes, everything.
Clean your home and your car. Make everything smell nice and fresh.
When you stop smoking, it is normal to feel moods and emotions more deeply, especially if smoking has been used as a way to blunt feelings. When you become a nonsmoker, you’ll need to take a different view and learn how to cope in other ways. If you don’t, you’ll reach for a cigarette the first time you feel stressed, anxious, or unhappy.
This is where your support system comes in. Writing in a journal can also help you work through your feelings. So can doing other activities. Prepare a list of things you can do to preoccupy yourself if cravings strike.
Here are some ideas:
- Call a friend
- Take a walk
- Go to the gym
- Do yoga
- Take deep, relaxing breaths
- Get a massage
- Write a letter
- Knit or sew
- Do a crossword puzzle, play Sudoku, or do a word search
- Put together a puzzle
- Draw or color
- Begin a new project: Organize your bookshelves, drawers, and closets. Paint your bedroom. De-clutter your desk drawers.
- Learn something new: Have you always wanted to learn how to play guitar, paint, speak French, or write computer programs? This is a great time to start.
- Remember the mantra NOPE- Not One Puff Ever.
It is very likely that you pair smoking with other activities, like drinking coffee in the morning, or driving to work. Instead of thinking, “Well, I can’t have a cigarette now,” remember that you are now able to enjoy those other activities without being surrounded in a cloud of smoke. A lot of people say that their senses of taste and smell improve after they stop smoking, so your coffee will likely be even more enjoyable now.
Now that you know how to mentally and physically prepare yourself to be a non-smoker…
What is the BEST way to quit?
In a 2013 Gallup poll, the vast majority of those who stopped smoking said they did so by a method that might surprise you: cold turkey.
That’s right: historically, smokers who have quit have largely done it on their own, despite the fact that nicotine addiction is considered by addiction experts as the hardest to kick. It has not always been easy to determine how effective quit-smoking treatments are, because those who seek help are often a self-selected group of smokers who typically have had a harder time quitting without treatment.
Nicotine patches, gum, e-cigarettes, vaping, and medications designed to assist with smoking cessation are popular, but can do more harm than good. They can prolong the process and lead you to become dependent on external sources of support. Does it make sense to trade cigarettes for an e-cigarette, or a vaporizer, or a patch or gum? Why trade one habit for another?
Those methods also reinforce the belief that nicotine is a powerfully addictive substance that you can’t quit on your own. It makes the psychological part of kicking the habit more difficult.
Many people seek outside support because they are afraid.
That fear is likely what has kept you hooked on smoking all this time. A major fear that many smokers have is that they will experience painful, miserable withdrawals from nicotine once they put out their last cigarette. But that simply isn’t true: the physical withdrawal (if any is truly experienced at all) is short-lived and is usually quite mild. It is the PERCEPTION of nicotine as a potently addictive substance that is nearly impossible to resist that makes it challenging for so many to quit.
That fear is what leads many to rely on external crutches like patches, gum, and smoking cessation medications.
Do not use any substitutes. They all make it more difficult to stop because they perpetuate the illusion that you’re making a sacrifice. Substitutes that contain nicotine, i.e. so-called Nicotine Replacement Therapy – patches, gums, nasal sprays and inhalators – are particularly unhelpful as they simply keep the addiction to nicotine alive. It’s like advising a heroin addict who’s smoking the drug off foil, to start injecting it instead.
Population studies consistently show that a large majority of smokers – up to three-quarters – who permanently stop smoking do so without any form of assistance.
A study published in 2010 found:
In 1986, the American Cancer Society reported that, “Over 90% of the estimated 37 million people who have stopped smoking in this country since the Surgeon General’s first report linking smoking to cancer have done so unaided.” Today, unassisted cessation continues to lead the next most successful method (nicotine replacement therapy [NRT]) by a wide margin.
A review of randomized controlled trials of NRT found that while 51% of industry-funded trials reported significant cessation effects, only 22% of non-industry trials did. Could that be because pharmaceutical companies have a lot to gain if people seeking to become non-smokers believe they need to rely on NRT products to achieve their goal?
The truth is, there isn’t much research done on non-NRT smoking cessation methods because no one stands to profit from those studies.
Some research firms estimate that the global smoking cessation and nicotine de-addiction market will reach $16 billion by 2019.
Prior to the development of NRT products, there was a massive decline in smoking rates.
The persistent message that nicotine addiction is stubborn and nearly impossible to overcome without some kind of external pharmaceutical aid sets you up for failure. It conditions you to believe that you are up against a hopeless monstrosity of a task. It takes away your power.
It deflects attention away from what is by far the most common story of becoming a non-smoker: people doing it without professional or therapeutic help.
As the study authors state:
But the steady erosion of human agency as populations lose confidence in their own ability to change unhealthy practices is perhaps of greater concern. Several negative consequences arise from smokers being increasingly imbued with the message that serious efforts at cessation require treatment.
Indeed, the message that is being spread was crafted to take power from the individual and give it to the pharmaceutical industry:
It is understandable that smokers might feel it would be foolish to attempt to stop unaided when unassisted cessation is dismissed in pharmaceutical industry–supported demonstrably misleading propaganda by statements such as: “It is hopelessly outdated to suggest: ‘willpower alone is enough to quit’. … Quitting ‘cold turkey’ does not generally translate into sustained abstinence from tobacco, and results in unnecessarily low rates of success for most smokers.”; and “[the] narrow ‘de-medicalized’ view of nicotine addiction …[has] conceivably perpetuated the epidemic [and] contributed to innumerable deaths”.
Because most assisted cessation attempts end in relapse, such “failure” risks are interpreted by smokers as “I tried and failed using a method that my doctor said had the best success rate. Trying to quit unaided – which I never hear recommended – would be therefore sheer folly.”
Such reasoning might well disempower smokers and inhibit quit attempts through anticipatory, self-defeating fatalism.
Wrapping it all up
Perhaps the most important things for those who want to become non-smokers to understand are:
- Cold turkey and reducing-then-quitting are the methods most commonly used by successful ex-smokers.
- More smokers find it unexpectedly easy or moderately difficult than find it very difficult to quit.
- Many successful ex-smokers do not plan their quitting in advance.
- “Failures” are a normal part of the natural history of cessation and are rehearsals for eventual success.
- Serious attempts at stopping do NOT require using NRT, drugs, or professional help.
- NRT products can prolong nicotine addiction. Some call this “slow torture.”
When it comes down to it, the only thing that is going to make you a non-smoker is YOU.
What are you waiting for?