If you’ve ever tried to quit smoking then you know how difficult it can be. It is not just a matter of having enough will power. You may be physically addicted to nicotine and other chemicals that are purposely added to tobacco to make cigarettes nearly impossible to quit.
But it’s not just the physical addiction that keeps you chained to your smokes. Cigarette smoking, like many addictions, is also a social and behavioral habit. A habit is simply a repetitive action, a consistent way of responding to events. For example, you probably have a habitual routine for waking up in the morning and starting your day. You likely have a habitual way of getting to work, or the same routine for relaxing once you are home at the end of the day.
A big part of cigarette addiction is the dependence on your behavioral habits. Having a cigarette is a learned way of reacting to certain situations. For example, if you walk into a room full of strangers, you may find yourself automatically reaching for smokes. When you pour your morning coffee, you may immediately light a cigarette.
These habitual responses are as important to conquer as the physical addiction; in fact they can be the key to success when trying to quit. The good news is that social and behavioral habits are learned responses. They can be unlearned, with a little effort.
The following method for quitting cigarettes may be quite different than anything else you have tried. In this method, you may give yourself permission to smoke. You may indulge in a cigarette, and smoke it with enjoyment and without guilt.
Start by paying attention to how and when you smoke. You will probably notice that you always smoke in certain situations. Perhaps when you are driving your car or when you are on the phone, you automatically light a smoke. Maybe you reach for cigarettes at the first feeling of stress or irritation.
If you notice that you always smoke at a certain time, then you can assume that something about that situation makes you respond in a habitual way. That situation is a trigger, that is, it is an event that causes you to react without thinking. It is triggering your learned pattern of response. Without thinking about it, without even consciously wanting a cigarette, you find yourself smoking one.
You need to separate your genuine desire for a cigarette from your automatic response to triggers. When you do this, you will diminish the addictive power of cigarettes enormously. Here is how to do it.
You’ve already noticed that certain situations trigger your desire to smoke. Now, begin to anticipate those situations. For example, you are heading into the living room to relax after dinner, and you can anticipate that you will reach for your cigarettes.
Do not judge yourself. It won’t help to label parts of your addictive behavior good or bad. Instead, just note that you are reaching for a smoke the way you always do at this same time. Acknowledge that you want to smoke, and give yourself permission to do so.
That’s right, say yes to a smoke. With one catch. You must wait ten minutes before you have it. Check your watch if you want. Simply delay lighting up for ten minutes. If at that time you still want to smoke, then go ahead, and enjoy it, knowing that you exercised control over your choice, instead of being ridden by your habit.
How does it work? You will find, frequently, that when you separate the act of smoking from the trigger that makes you want to smoke, your need for a cigarette will lose some of its urgency. Also, you’ve already gotten through the triggering event, and found another way to deal with it. Maybe you’ve doodled while on the phone instead of smoking, or you’ve reached for your crochet needles instead of a pack of smokes after dinner. You are finding new responses to your triggers. In fact you are retraining yourself with new habits. A cigarette may still be somewhat desirable, but you’ll find the urge is not unbearable now. Still, if you want it, go ahead and have one.
You’ll find that this is an easy program to commit to. It is much more manageable to handle ten minutes of not smoking than it is to promise never to touch another cigarette again. One goal is very doable; the other nearly impossible. And the more often you delay your smoking, the easier it becomes. More and more, you’ll decide to forego that cigarette after all, and wait until the next one you really want.
Here’s another good thing. You’ll find that you actually enjoy the cigarettes you’re smoking again. Remember what that felt like? You will be replacing knee jerk habit with conscious choice. Cigarettes will begin to lose their grip on you because you have eliminated a big source of their power. By breaking the connection to your triggers, you will cut the power of your cigarette habit down to size.
And unlike traditional methods of quitting, having a smoke does not mean you have failed. As long as you have waited ten minutes you are still with the program. You are still successfully reshaping your behavior and unlearning your responses to certain triggers. And if you really slip up and have a cigarette without waiting, don’t judge yourself. Just notice whether you enjoy that cigarette as much as the ones you waited for. Chances are that a cigarette coated with guilt is just not as good.
Combine this behavior retraining with a nicotine patch if you like, for a one two punch. And remember, don’t stress about this. Don’t judge yourself, and don’t feel guilty. These things simply do not help you to quit. Allowing yourself the indulgence of that cigarette you waited for, and allowing yourself the occasional mistake takes all the pressure off quitting. You don’t have to say that you will never smoke another cigarette again. There are oceans of stress around that.
But what you can easily and successfully say is this: I will not smoke another cigarette for the next ten minutes.