I had tried to quit smoking at least five times in my life and every attempt unsuccessful. This time I had found real motivation to quit. Not only did my wife hate it but I didn’t want to be a dad that smoked. I had to approach smoking differently than my weight loss. When I lost weight I had discovered a formula, a recipe. I looked at it very stoically and calculated. I took emotion out of it. I just had to follow the recipe. Sure, discipline and determination were two of the main ingredients in that recipe, but it was a recipe nonetheless.
Smoking was an entirely different beast to tackle. There was no recipe. It is all mental. The habit of smoking had become hard coded into my mind. I’ve heard that tobacco is more addicting than heroin and I believe It. I think one of the hardest parts of quitting smoking is that smoking is a part of people’s daily routines. Smoking with coffee, smoking while driving, etc. with weight loss, you are still following your routine. For example: Eating breakfast. You’re still following the routine of eating breakfast, you’re just eating something different now. With something like quitting smoking, you are changing your routine entirely. Human beings are creatures of habit because habits are comfortable. That, for me was the hardest part.
I knew a deep psychological change was required in order to successfully quit. There were many aids to quit smoking. Patches, gums, etc. but I know that if I wanted to quit forever, I had to quit cold turkey. This method might not work for everyone but it worked for me. I started smoking when I was in high school and I was a pack a day smoker for 7 years until the day I quit. As you can imagine, cigarettes were a part of the routine for almost every activity in my daily life.
I knew it was going to be difficult to have a direct head to head brute force battle with my own mind. I had to approach this strategically like a battle with a formidable opponent. Because the opponent was myself. How do you fight an opponent that knows everything about you? Strengths, weaknesses, and the excuses you will make? How do you fight an opponent that knows what you’re going to do before you even do it? That’s the hardest part.
Many people try to quit head on and that’s why they fail. They are in a battle of wills against themselves. If you fight an enemy like this head on, you are constantly thinking about not smoking. It’s always on your mind. This means you are constantly in the trenches of the battle every second, every minute of everyday.
People decide to quit smoking, throw away all of their cigarettes, then dig into a foxhole and have a battle of wills every minute of every day until they eventually give up and give in so they can stop fighting. I don’t think the chances of success are very high using this strategy. I knew that if I could just get far enough to break my mind’s lines of defense, my mind couldn’t get me back on the battlefield. In other words, I knew that once I could quit for a long enough period of time, I would never smoke again.
If my mind could see that I was advancing towards its lines of defense, it would fight back and draw me into a head on battle. I knew I would be pinned down in a foxhole in a battle of wills. I had to advance as much as possible without it noticing what I was doing. Then when the time is right, make a bee-line passed the lines of defense. So by the time it tries to fight back against me, it’s too late and I’ve already won (quit smoking)
How did do it? I waged psychological warfare against myself with delayed gratification. I told myself I wasn’t quitting. In fact, I didn’t even throw away my cigarettes. I left an open pack in my car. (this method requires a lot of willpower) I told myself I could smoke anytime I wanted and I never once let myself give a second thought about quitting smoking.
The problem is that people obviously tell themselves not to think about smoking. but what they don’t realize is that they are constantly thinking about “not smoking” and this is just as bad. If I were to randomly tell you, don’t think about a red ball. What are you going to think about? Yep, a red ball. Instead of thinking about not smoking, I would trick myself. I would make excuses to not smoke that next cigarette. For example: Monday morning, I’m running really late I will have it when I get to work, I told myself. I would make little stupid excuses like this to keep putting off that next cigarette longer and longer. All the while, each moment I go without a cigarette or without thinking about not smoking, I was making progress.
The first week was the hardest because it was the first of each daily routine without smoking. After the first week it was easier because I had already done a Monday morning without smoking, a Friday night without smoking, etc. If you can make it past week 1, you’ve passed the roughest terrain in the battle field. Now you just need to maintain the course.
There will be those moments where the timing is just perfect to smoke a cigarette and you can’t think of any reasonable (or unreasonable) excuse. In this case I would substitute with something like a toothpick, sunflower seeds, or candy. I kept this up for about a month and it worked. After a month of this, I felt I was close enough to the finish line where I could finally admit to myself that I was quitting smoking and I never looked back. I have been smoke free for 10 years.