No Butts: breaking the habit
As you may have gathered from the last post, quitting smoking can be tough. But, it doesn't have to be. And it’s got a lot less to do with the cigarettes themselves than we think. Nicotine is addictive, but smoking is 10% nicotine and 90% habit. After just 3 days all nicotine is out of your body. In other words, if you make it 3 days you can be smoke-free for a lifetime; the rest is just you against your habit. “If you want to achieve your goals, don’t focus on them”. That’s Reggie Rivers’ advice at least. It seems illogical, it’s the opposite of everything we’ve ever been told, but it’s true. What he really means is, start focusing on the things that you can control – like your behaviours – and stop focusing on everything that you can’t. If you think about it, whatever you want achieve in life – making your first million by 30, marrying the person of your dreams, hiking the Himalayas, getting cut like Chris Hemsworth (Ladies!) - starts with changing behaviour.
How? Where? When?
Decide that you want to do it and plan it out. Without proper planning, 50% of smokers relapse in the first week. Planning is essential to success. “A dream written down with a date becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps is a plan. A plan backed by action makes your dreams come true”. Always break your goals down into smaller steps. It’s so much easier to fail and get demotivated if your time frame is ‘the rest of forever’. Aim not to smoke until next week. Then the next. Then next month. You’ll experience greater drive and get a little confidence boost every time you meet one of these mini-milestones.
Get ready for the change that you’re about to make; get excited! Throw away your old lighters, ashtrays and cigarettes. Next, pick a date - always one in the near future. The further away it is the easier it’ll be to come with up with excuses. Besides, you won’t be fooling anyone but yourself and that’s always the most dangerous game to play… Pick a date and stick to it.
Once you’ve chosen your day, ask yourself three questions: what time are you going to stop? Where will you be when you smoke that last cigarette? And, what will you be doing beforehand? Obama’s campaign used this to nudge voters the year that he became president. Behavioral Science tells us that the more clearly you can picture yourself doing something, the more likely it’ll actually happen. This is called an ‘implementation intention’, or an ‘if-then’ plan.
Having goals is great, it’s incredibly important. But knowing when, where and how you’re going to achieve them is even more so. Not only will these ‘if-then’ plans give you more drive to get going - and keep at it when you’re slipping up - but they’ve also been proven to minimise distractions and save a little of the cognitive effort that quitting will require. Don’t believe me? Read one of the 94 studies proving it, like these former heroin addicts. If it works for heroin withdrawal, you and your cigarettes don’t stand a chance!
So, before you quit, plan. Think long and hard about each of the times that you ordinarily smoke, where, when, how and why; all of the triggers and routines that have become so intertwined. Then make your ‘if-then’ plans. Say, for example, “IF I am stressed out in rush hour traffic…” THEN, instead of smoking, “I’ll suck a mint”. There are so many ways to relieve your stress without cigarettes. Take a walk, go for a run, have a bubble bath, make some tea or Milo, stretch, do some yoga, take a deep breath. Find what works for you. Or, “instead of my crack-of-crack cup of coffee, I’ll have a smoothie every morning”. You can’t suck on a protein-packed smoothie and stompie at the same time. Choose wisely. Come up with these solutions and actively imagine yourself implementing them. In no time they’ll become so habituated – like your smoking once was – that you won’t even notice you’re doing it.
Day one (to three) is the toughest. Believe it or not, it just gets easier from there. But, at first, you are going to be irritable, anxious, frustrated, restless, distracted and probably battle sleeping too. Prepare for this (and warn the people that you’d like to keep around). Make these first few days as easy for yourself as possible. EXERCISE! It helps. A LOT! It pumps up your natural endorphin production, tires you out, releases your frustrations, increases blood flow and improves concentration. It’ll also make you realise the benefits of smoking less, more. Avoid stressful situations and the places, people and routines that you associate with smoking – like up in the club at 3 a.m. or the smoking section of a restaurant. Remember to HALT the habit; most people smoke when they’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. Halt the HALT, to halt the habit. At least for the first week.
You may have heard of Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking. It’s been an international bestseller for decades. What makes it so easy? A little behavioral intervention and cognitive therapy. We all know why we shouldn’t smoke. But, we still do. So Carr turns it around. Instead of telling you why you shouldn’t, he asks why you do? And one by one debunks those myths.
Think about the reasons YOU smoke…
Be brutally honest with yourself.
Any ‘benefits’ start to fall away quite quickly, or at least are outweighed by the cons. Realise what it is about the rituals that you like. It could be the time away from your desk. The excuse to get a ‘breather’ on a night out in town, or having something to do while you wait around awkwardly. Keep what you enjoy about the routine – like taking regular breaks – and remove what it is you don’t: the cigarette.
And then there are the cues, the triggers that get you craving. Coffee, meals, places, drinking, friends, family, your car, waking up, taking breaks, even exercising – all of those moments that you used to associate with a cigarette. All of these things are more than manageable. In fact, they’re better without cigarettes. You’ve just got to learn to unlink and prepare for them.
Confront your cravings, don’t try to ignore them. They’re going to happen. Don’t pretend, prepare. Each one only lasts a maximum of three minutes, and they’re reallynot that bad. Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night, sweating, shaking, writhing and screaming for a cigarette? No. No-one has. So why are these cravings ‘so much worse’ or ‘too much to take’ when you’re awake? Don’t focus on the deprivation; you’re not missing out!! And, if you continue to smoke, you’re guaranteed to miss out on a whole lot... A whole ten years of your life, in fact.
The good, the bad and the new
Always remember: it’s a process, ‘failure(s)’ are a part of it. Smoking, like other drugs, is a relapse condition. Most people try to quit, on average, three to four times before they succeed. Relapse is not failure. Every day that you don’t smoke is a win. Focus on improvements, not perfection. Other people go years before they smoke another cigarette. Learn from your past attempts, the good and the bad. Improve. Never have ‘just one’, but if you do, make sure it really is JUSTone. Get to the core of why you did and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
And don’t forget to TREAT YO’SELF, you’ve earned it! In whatever way you can. Habits work in a cycle:
Find a more rewarding reward. You can’t replace smoking with 50 pull-ups or burpees if you hate them. Chances are you’ll choose to smoke instead. Steal an extra five minutes in bed, indulge in a stress-relieving massage, save room for dessert, do what you love. If it’s all downers and deprivation you’re going to cave much faster. Just enjoy!
Change the way that you understand it. Do you want to ‘not smoke’ or do you want to be a ‘non-smoker’? Scratch that, do you want to ‘not smoke’ or do you want to be healthy. Because, essentially, that’s the change that you’re making. I wouldn’t mind smoking, but I 100% want to be healthy. And we know that we can’t do both. Specify it even further than that. Be real with yourself. Even ‘being healthy’ may not be enough. Surely all of us have some desire to be healthy. But healthy doesn’t get all of us on the treadmill. So, let’s get down to it. What do you really want. To not always smell like smoke, to be there for your kids, to have some extra money for adventures..? It can be big, it can be small, it can sound strange to anyone else, it just has to be real.
And, if you need even more encouragement, remember there’s an app for everything these days and at least 20 to help you quit smoking. From tracking your basic progress – recording the time, cigarettes, money and health you’ve saved day-by-day such as Kwit – to community chat rooms, in-app hypnosis, suggestions of all of the things that you can buy with all of the money that you’ve saved, and even in-app games to play every time you crave. There’s sure to be a Silicon Valley solution for you.
The truth is that there’s just never going to be a perfect time to quit. You think it’ll be hard now? It’ll be exponentially harder in 2 or 3 years’ time. No matter what it is you want to achieve in your life, chances are you’re never going to feel like it. There’s never a perfect time. The longer you wait, the more it becomes a part of your regular, core behaviors, the harder and harder it’ll be to change. Trust me on this one. So… why not now?
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