The secret to quitting smoking, from someone who did it.

One thousand American’s quit smoking every day– by dying. –Author Unknown

Before I write anything I want to make it very clear that I was a smoker for the better part of two years and that my exeperience with quitting is likely to be wildly different (read, ‘easier’) than someone who has been smoking for thirty years plus.¬† Nonetheless, I believe that no matter how long you’ve been addicted to cigarettes (Or anything, really.) that the method towards quitting is the same.

I’ve a very brief story about how I started smoking before I get to how I quit, but it is important in understanding why I was not able to quit the first several times I tried and why I was eventually successful.

I got started smoking, as so many others do, with my friends.¬† At the time I was eighteen and spent the majority of my social time with a very good group of friends who were a lot like me; that is to say, late bloomers.¬† The fateful night we picked up smoking, someone who we did not usually socialize with but who had come out with us that partciular evening was a smoker.¬† It wasn’t long before many of us were asking him to have a cigarette, just as something to try now that we weren’t incredibly young anymore.¬† We discovered later that we were, in fact, still incredibly young.

So, as time went by a lot of us, including myself, ended up smoking at parties.  I was sure to make the distinction to myself and everyone around me that I only smoked at parties and that I would never be caught dead smoking outside of a social scenario.

For a long time that was true, I did only smoke at parties.¬† But then my smoking at parties began to encompass a much broader range of social scenarios.¬† Suddenly I’d go for coffee with a friend and we’d light up a couple of cigarettes.¬† It wasn’t a party, but it was still a social thing, so I figured it was okay.¬† Besides, I enjoyed it.¬† I was convinced that I certainly wasn’t addicted, I simply smoked a little more often than I used to.

Getting addicted shortly followed this development of course, but by the time I was ready to admit that I was addicted to cigarettes, I didn’t much care.¬† I was young, and the ill effects on my health (The serious ones, anyway.) seemed quite far into the future.¬† The only thing I really suffered from when I was smoking was shortness of breath, and that was a consequence I could live with.¬† I figured that if I could squeeze out five or ten years of smoking before I really started putting myself at risk that I would be able to enjoy smoking and get away scot free.

This attitude eventually changed when I started hearing stories of people dying of cancer before they hit thirty, or reading horrendous accounts of the operations that had to be done on someone who had gotten cancer in their mouth and throat.  Even now the recollection causes me to shudder.

During the latter period of the two years in which I smoked, I tried many times to quit, realizing that I was addicted and that it was getting very difficult for me to go without a cigarette if I went out.  As many do, I failed every single time I tried.  It seemed like every second week I would try, and within a couple of days I would light up another cigarette, justifying it as my last one, or that I needed to pace myself in order to quit.

My favourite justification was: ‘I’ll just finish this pack.’¬† After all, it would be a waste of money to throw it away.¬† If you ever say ‘I’ll just finish this pack, and then I’ll quit.’ you are lying. By the time I finished the pack, (Which was somemtimes twenty more cigarettes I could enjoy.) I had already eliminated any question in my mind that I would buy another one.

So after getting caught in this loop of trying to quit and failing I eventually stopped trying.  I did manage to cut down, but that was about it.

For those of you who have smoked in the past or are smokers right now and you’ve ever tried to quit, I’m sure this story is very familiar to you.¬†¬†¬† You’ve tried to quit a hundred times but no matter how many times you try or how much effort you put in, you always seem to fail.¬† Here’s why:

You don’t want to quit.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure you’ve thought about quitting, and I’m sure logically you think it would be a really good idea to quit.¬† But ask yourself, do you really want to quit?¬† I didn’t.

The reason I failed time after time is that I loved smoking.¬† I thought it was a great way to pass the time, a great way to socialize and I simply enjoyed the act of having a cigarette.¬† It gave me something to do.¬† So everytime I ‘wanted’ to quit I could never really drag myself away from that next cigarette.¬† Because I wanted that next cigarette a whole lot more than I wanted to quit.

If you’re not sure if you really want to quit, take a minute to imagine youself as a non-smoker.¬† Imagine yourself standing outside during lunch or having a coffee; whatever your normal routine is, and imagine yourself not having a cigarette.¬† In fact, imagine having your lunch or coffee inside, away from cigarettes entirely.

If you can do this and not have any trouble swallowing the image, then you’ve probably already quit or are well on your way to doing so.¬† If you can’t, chances are that you don’t really want to quit.¬† Furthermore, it’s a lot more likely you don’t want to quit if you’ve never conjured up any images of you as a non-smoker on your own.

“Okay,” you say.¬† “But I do want to quit.¬† I know what lies ahead of me and I know that I should stop smoking.”

Yes.¬† You should.¬† I am not trying to say that you don’t, somewhere, want to quit smoking because I think a large proportion of smokers do want to quit.¬† What I’m saying is that your desire to stay a smoker is a great deal stronger than your desire to quit.¬† Don’t feel too badly about it.¬† Nicotine has a lot to do with that, as do many other things, like your social circle.¬† It’s entirely normal to secretely want to stay a smoker.¬† Unfortunately, it’s also entirely normal for those who secretely want to smoke to never really quit.

If you’re serious about quitting, you need to motivate yourself to want to quit more than you want to smoke.¬† Believe me, it’s no easy task.¬† Luckily there are a few methods and a lot of little tricks you can employ to make it easier on yourself.

I quit because my father asked me to quit in lieu of a gift for his birthday.¬† I agreed, because I knew how strongly he felt about it and that deep down I did want to quit, I just didn’t have the motivation to do so.¬† It was still four months after that that I finally had my last cigarette.

But the reason it worked was because I had made a promise to my father and that everytime I lit up a cigarette subsequent to that promise, I felt terrible.  Not because I was smoking but because I was breaking a promise to someone I cared about.  Guilt is a wonderful motivator.  Add to this the fact that somewhere in my mind I wanted to quit smoking and I eventually succeeded.

But, I digress.  Here are some things you can do to help you succeed in your quest to quit smoking.

1: Make a promise as a gift to someone who matters to you, and who would like to see you stop smoking.

Have the strength to keep this promise, no matter how long it takes.  Is this method unusual?  Are you guilting yourself to quit smoking?  Absolutely.  But it works so long as you genuinely care about keeping your promise.  It might be the deciding factor to tip the balance of what you want to do more.  Do you want to keep smoking, feel terrible, addicted and keep wasting your money on something that is killing you AND dissapoint someone you love?  Or do you want to quit smoking, feel better about yourself, become healthier, save money, and make whoever you promised proud that you followed through?

2: Stop associating with other smokers.

This one is almost as important as number one, yet easily twice as hard to accomplish.¬† Nothing is worse for someone who is trying their hardest to quit smoking than to have everyone they know leave the room to go smoke.¬† If you don’t live in a place where you have to go outside to smoke, it’s even harder.¬† The second hand smoke will drive you crazy, as will watching the act of smoking while you try your hardest to obstain.¬† It is incredibly difficult to quit when you put yourself in that kind of situation.

Continuing to be around smoking and expecting yourself to be able to quit is akin to starving a lion, dangling a nice juicy steak in front of it several times a day and expecting it not to chomp off your hand and the steak the first chance it gets.

If all your friends smoke, go out and make some new friends.¬† You don’t have to completely get rid of your old ones, but minimize the time you spend with them as much as possible while you’re trying to quit.¬† You’re probably going to get a lot of flak from them for not being available as much, but it’s for your own good and it’s entirely temporary if you want it to be.¬† You’re going to have a hell of a time quitting if you ignore this one.

3: Quit with someone

If you’re going to quit smoking and you have a friend who is also serious about quitting, quit together.¬† Hold each other accountable for having a cigarette and if possible, impose some sort of agreed upon penalty.¬† A jar of money that you have to deposit a dollar into for every cigarette you smoke is something easy that will quickly add up.¬† When you’ve both succeeded in quitting, split the jar between the two of you.¬† Alternatively, you could decide that whoever quits first gets the entire thing.

In the end, quitting with someone else will make it a lot easier on you and a lot easier on them as well.¬† On those days where you feel like you’re not going to make it, it helps enormously to have someone to back you up.

4: Quit during the winter.
If you live in a place where you are no longer allowed to smoke inside of public buildings, this one is a life saver.  Even at the height of my smoking I never wanted to go outside to have a cigarette.  The brutal cold, snow, rain or generally crappy conditions will entice you to stay inside rather than break and go out for a smoke.

This one is highly circumstantial, and do not use it as an excuse if you’re reading this in the middle of June and you want to quit.¬† Quit as soon as possible, don’t wait for winter to come along.¬† Putting it off until December is not going to make you want to quit any more than you do right now, nor is it going to make it any easier in the long run.

5: Make a stand when you finish a pack

By far the easiest time to quit is when you have just finished a pack of cigarettes.¬† After all, to get any more you need to drive or walk to the store and pay a rather exorbitant price just so you can fail at keeping your promise to yourself.¬† It’s a lot more effort than reaching into your pocket and grabbing another.¬† Choose these times to really try your hardest not to have another cigarette, as once you buy another pack you’re going to feel a lot more obligated to finish it than if you do not currently posess any cigarettes.

If you’re really dying (And I really mean DYING.¬† If you just really, really, really want one, then don’t cave!) for a cigarette but you refuse to buy a pack, see if someone will give you one.¬† (Preferably not from your friends who are smokers, as this will only reinforce with them that you are a smoker and that they are right to encourage you to continue to smoke.)¬† Caving and having one cigarette is infinitely better than buying an entire new pack.

As with number four, don’t wait until you’ve finished a pack to put forth all your effort and try to quit.¬† Always try to make your next cigarette your last.¬† Waiting until you finish a pack will just keep you smoking.

Even with these little tricks, the secret to quitting smoking is wanting to quit more than you want to continue smoking.  Strive towards that goal by any means necessary, and use the methods I outlines above if you can.  Feel  free to come up with methods of your own, as there are probably methods that will work better for you and your specific situation than what I have listed here.

Good luck!

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