10 Necessary Steps to Quit Smoking for Good
Let’s get real here: nobody smokes their first cigarette thinking “I plan on doing this for the rest of my life.” You—and everyone else who smokes—started smoking out of curiosity and it snowballed from there. Probably a lot of your friends smoked. A lot of mine did. Some still do.
I smoked for 18 years. For 10 of those years, I supported a pack to a pack-and-a-half habit. I’m 33. I quit on New Year’s Eve, 2012 and haven’t had a cigarette since.
I tried quitting before, but it wasn’t until I established and adhered to these 10 specific steps that I was finally able to stop smoking for good.
- Ask a friend of yours who has successfully quit smoking (for at least a year) how they did it. Because, really, who the heck am I? I’m just some writer on the internet who put together a list. But a friend of yours—someone who you relate to, can talk to for support and who didn’t disappear forever when he or she quit—will definitely ground things in ways that are real for you. That’s crucial, because it unequivocally lets you know that it is indeed possible to quit and still hang out with your friends.
- Quit on a landmark day. If you quit smoking on New Year’s, for instance, you never have to really think long in terms of keeping track of your progress. It’s important to keep track of your progress because, as much as you were an active smoker, you’re going to be a former smoker for the rest of your life and it’s going to be part of who you are every day. It’s nice to not have to do math every time you want to see how far you’ve come, too.
- Stop romanticizing cigarettes: Every time I unsuccessfully tried to quit smoking, the same thing would happen: I’d quit, but not long after I’d trick myself into remembering my last cigarette—or just the sensation of smoking a cigarette in general—as this amazing wave of relief beginning in my lungs and expanding throughout my entire body. That’s not really what it’s like. Smoking is physically and emotionally disappointing. You’re saying to yourself, “I don’t care about myself enough to want to give myself the best chance possible against cancer, heart attacks and a slew of other unpleasant deaths and illnesses,” and, physically, it sort of feels that way. Remember the last time you quit? Remember that breakdown cigarette, the one you knew you were letting yourself down with by lighting? Remember how much it sort of sucked? It always sucks. Now compare that to breathing air into areas of your lungs you haven’t been able to reach in a long time, because that’s a thing non-smokers get to do and it feels way, way better. Any time you feel like giving in, remember how disappointing that breakdown cigarette actually is and push past the urge.
- Break the addiction-reward cycle. This is the way smoking works: Your body is used to having a certain level of nicotine in its system and, when it falls below a certain level, your brain kind of nudges you. “Hey!” it tells you. “Give me some nicotine!” You start “nicking,” “craving” or whatever you want to call it and, as soon as you can, you give your body what it’s asking for and reinforce your own addiction-reward system. When you quit, stop doing that—either completely (cold turkey) or in method. This means that solely using mints, gum, e-cigs or any combination of those will not work, because they’re just replacing one addiction reward for another arguably inferior one. You know what does work (besides cold turkey, which is totally a workable option)? The patch. The good, old-fashioned patch. Because, once you get on a patch program, you’re giving yourself one morning dose a day and telling your body, “That’s all your getting, all day, so don’t ask for any more because you’re not getting it.” Gradually, your “nicking” or “craving” disappears.
- Reward yourself regularly. Smoking habitually costs a lot of money. It’s an amazing reinforcer—regularly treating yourself to something you enjoy and still having leftover money afterwards. You’re enriching your life and earning back time on this planet to enrich it even further.
- Don’t go out to socialize in public places for at least two months. In simple computer terms, you’re updating your software and need time to reboot. This doesn’t mean you need to be antisocial, but don’t actively go places you know people will be smoking because you don’t need that kind of aggravation. To paraphrase Louis Pasteur, chance favors the prepared. You want to give yourself the best chance possible at quitting. Think of it as a reverse vacation.
- Find a reason to quit outside of yourself. I don’t currently have any kids (that I know about), so it wasn’t until my nephew was born that I realized that my time on Earth affects more than just me. (I’m the elder sibling between me and my sister and both my parents are only children.) I want to be that cool uncle that he calls when he’s in a pinch, who maybe teaches him how to play the guitar, a positive figure in his life and someone he won’t have to watch die prematurely of lung cancer. Find a reason to quit besides yourself, whether it’s a loved one, a passion or a curiosity.
- Have a plan. Get rid of all smoking-related paraphernalia, wash all of your clothes, vacuum and clean your house (regardless of whether or not you smoke inside), get rid of all the cigarette butts around where you live, clean your car and tell anyone who lives with or around you that you’re quitting so you can eliminate triggers you can’t actively control. Tell people who you regularly smoke with that you’re quitting. Tell people who you work with. Make as big a speech as you want about it, but I suggest being assertive and brief. “I quit smoking” is really all you need to tell them.
- Find something else to keep your mind on. Have you ever been in a car and realized you needed to pee really bad? Which worked best for you while you held it: thinking about peeing or thinking about something else? The urge to smoke is going to be there for a while, but it will go away. Focusing on doing more important, self-constructive things instead of focusing on not doing something isn’t only healthy physically; it’s extremely good for you mentally.
- Become proof it’s possible. Doing something for a week straight, for a month, for a year… it means something. Serve as an example that it’s possible for anyone and it’ll always remind you of how important it is to keep it up. I became inspired to quit by friends and family who managed to kick the habit and, eventually, things came full circle and I became that inspiration for others who have since quit successfully. It’s a great feeling.
A freelance MMA, entertainment and business journo born, raised and residing in Miami, FL, Jesse Scheckner is a former semi-serious musician, cinephile and recovering ne’er-do-well who still believes Mickey Rourke’s finest performance in film has yet to come. He isTuffGnarl.com‘s editor-in-chief and the 2014 MMA Media Correspondent winner at the Florida MMA Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner to talk about the stuff he writes about with him.
(Image used for slider, sans word overlay, courtesy of blog.financial.com.)
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