As a lifelong smoker who has tried (and failed) to quit smoking time and again I was surprised recently by just how painlessly I managed to give up smoking for good.
As someone who was so nervous about the withdrawal symptoms I expected to experience after 10+ years of smoking I wanted to share some of my own experiences.
My hope is that if you’ve made a New Year’s Resolution to quit smoking, but you’re petrified as to whether you’ll cope with the lack of nicotine, my own experiences should offer you a degree of reassurance.
Over the years I’ve tried so many times and failed. Having read all manner of books and spoken to literally hundreds of reformed smokers over the years here are the tips that helped to keep me on the straight and narrow during those first few tough days as an ex-smoker…
Learn About Nicotine Addiction
When it comes to giving up smoking there are two distinct aspects at play. The first of these is the actual withdrawal symptoms you can expect when your body is craving for nicotine. The second aspect are the behavioural elements of quitting smoking – the habit of raising the cigarette to your mouth, having a quick chat with friends, fiddling with your lighter when nervous and so on.
Understanding the science behind quitting smoking is important because the truth of the matter is that it only takes a couple of days for the nicotine to actually leave your system. After that you’re just trying to change your habits and rid yourself of the behavioural elements.
While reformed smokers may still fall back into their same dirty habit some weeks or months down the line, the experts make it clear that the hardest part of giving up smoking is those first few days as the nicotine leaves your body.
Quitting smoking for the rest of your life may sound like an impossible task, but when you narrow your focus and aim to go just two or three days without smoking suddenly the task doesn’t half as odious. Furthermore, when you understand the science behind giving up smoking, you’ll realize that once you’ve made it to day three you’re already over the worst.
Don’t “Cut Down”
We’ve all done it; tried to “cut down” on our smoking before actually quitting. We proudly deny ourselves the odd cigarette, or try moving to smoking healthier cigarettes. We proudly announce to our smoking buddies how we’re cutting down.
However my own experience is that cutting down rarely, if ever, leads to us actually quitting smoking. It’s a half-way house, a way to feel a little better about our habit without having to commit to the effort and discomfort of giving up smoking.
Many people “cut down” for weeks or even months at a time – yet never actually get around to taking that final step and just quitting.
In many ways I believe that “cutting down” really just diverts our focus from what we really want to be doing – and that’s quitting altogether. If you *really* want to quit then commit and get on with it, but don’t make half-baked attempts to feel better about your smoking.
Burn Your Bridges
When you finally bite the bullet and give up smoking you have to commit yourself 100%. No half measures here. No “we’ll see how it goes” or suchlike. The fact is you *are* going to experience some withdrawal symptoms. As a result if you’ve made it easy to start smoking again at the first hint of discomfort you probably will.
Better is to be loud and proud about the challenge. That means proudly telling all your family and friends that you’ve quit. That you’re already an ex-smoker. Throw away any left-over cigarettes or tobacco (yes, even your secret stash) and even all your lighters.
If you’re going to give in eventually you basically want to make it as difficult and uncomfortable as possible to give in. Doing so will help to keep you strong when you’re having a tough time without nicotine.
Choose a Displacement Activity
I’d be lying if I said that quitting smoking was easy, but it also doesn’t have to be too painful. One useful tip used by many successful ex-smokers was to adopt a “displacement activity” to fill the gap left by cigarettes.
It’s a fact of life than when you first quit smoking you’ll find yourself thinking about smoking on a regular basis. And the more you think about smoking again, the more likely you are to do it.
Therefore you need a so-called displacement activity, whose goal is to take your mind off smoking. This becomes your new default activity. Fancy a smoke? Quick, time for your displacement activity.
This activity can be literally anything that can really absorb you. You might, for example, consider downloading a new game on your smart phone so that you can take your mind of smoking by playing the new game. Maybe you’ll put the kettle on and make a cup of coffee each time you feel like smoking. Maybe you’ll go for a short walk.
As I say, the actual activity doesn’t matter; it’s unique to you. Just choose something that you think will work so you have a plan when those pangs rear their ugly head.
(In case you’re wondering I used two: firstly I subscribed to a whole load of stuff on Reddit on my phone to give me a constant source of reading entertainment, and secondly I’d try and strike up conversations with people to take my mind off smoking).
Remember How Lucky You Are
One final point worthy of mention is that the idea of giving up smoking is a massively positive one. The fact that you’re reading this article right now suggests that you’re at least considering giving up smoking so you know all the benefits. Quitting smoking is good for your health and your wallet, not to mention your appeal to the opposite sex. Giving up smoking is a good thing.
The problem is that a few hours after you quit it’s easy to forget about all these positives. It’s not unusual to have your thoughts consumed by negatives – just how much you want a cigarette for one thing.
In these dark hours, where every fibre of your being will be encouraging you to have just one more cigarette (and start all over again tomorrow!) just do your best to remember these positives. Keep in mind the very real reasons why you want to stop smoking and use these as beacons to help guide you through those challenging first days.