Quitting Smoking? Beyond the B.S. of Doctors and Therapists

Q: What do you advise people who want to quit smoking? I successfully reduced the number of cigarettes from 22 to 6 a day, but now I am stuck and I can’t get any further. I would welcome your advice.

A: Treat it as all-or-nothing. Either you’re going to stop, or you’re not. Your mistake was setting out with a goal of reduction rather than abstinence. While it’s probably better to reduce than not, you set up a contradictory goal. Your current frustration and unhappiness suggest that you wanted to stop. You should have stopped on day one.

Assume that you can and will stop. Self-doubt is the number-one killer of any goal. “I want to stop. But can I? I’m not sure.” These thoughts are not helpful. Try not to think them, and if you cannot help yourself, fight back with answers to the thoughts: “I can and I will stop.” Do this over, and over, and over.

Stop looking for a technique to “make” you stop. Nobody or no thing that’s external will ever make you stop. Only YOU can, and you will — if you want to.

Be tough on yourself — not cruel, but tough. For example, tell yourself: “I can stop if I want to badly enough. Obviously I don’t want to badly enough. When and if I ever do, I will stop.”

Remind yourself: Nobody’s stopping you from stopping. Only you are.

If your goal is abstinence, then abstinence has to be your goal for every day — the rest of your life. If you live 50 more years — something made much more possible by quitting smoking — then each and every day will have to include the goal of abstinence. It’s not going to ever stop being a goal. This is because smoking is an option every day of your life, for as long as you live. Don’t look for a state in which it gets easy. It actually might get less difficult, but you cannot count on that. There’s no way of knowing ahead of time how difficult abstinence will or won’t be in the future. The only thing for sure is that it’s an option you can exercise every day you choose to do so.

Don’t whine to yourself. Others might not care, or might pretend or actually feel compassion towards you when you whine; but you cannot afford this luxury. Whining means self-statements or self-talk that boil down to things like, “It’s so hard!” The only truthful reply to this sentiment is “Nothing worthwhile comes easy.”

Give yourself consequences for smoking. Everyone says, “I know, smoking will probably kill me. But that’s a too distant, far-off concern. It doesn’t motivate me.” OK, then. You need shorter-term consequences. Deny yourself pleasures as a punishment when you smoke. But then do the other side, too: Give yourself extra nice treatment when you abstain.

Jack Trimpey, founder of Rational Recovery, asserts: ‘Addiction is a voluntary behavior (such as drinking alcohol or using drugs) that persists against your own better judgment.’ He’s right! Stop thinking of your nicotine as addiction. Addiction implies helplessness over a process outside of your control. While it may be true that you cannot control what repeated intake of nicotine does to your physiological system, it still is true that you can control what you inhale or put into your mouth.

Remember the merits of risk-benefit analysis. You’d never buy an expensive appliance without first investigating the facts, both about the appliances available and your own particular needs. Have you done a simple cost-benefit analysis of your smoking behavior? How much do you spend on smoking per month? Can you afford it? Even if you can, what could you do with that money if it wasn’t spent on smoking? What other costs are there to smoking, aside from finances? What emotional consequences and discomforts are created by your choice to continue smoking, for yourself or anyone else you care about?

As you can see, I view smoking as primarily a cognitive matter. I don’t view it as a medical matter. Medical matters have to do with automatic physiological processes taking place within your body, usually once a disease or illness has already been contracted. Smoking is not a disease; it’s a behavior. Smoking is something that you choose to continue to do, that you do less than you did before, but you still do. If you have reduced your smoking, you can stop it. If you stop it on one day of your life, you can also abstain on any other individual day.

Beware of this erroneous thinking, promoted by idiots in our governments and helping establishment: “I don’t want to smoke; but I keep doing so anyway. If I could control it, I would. The fact that I haven’t stopped proves I can’t control it.” The fact that you haven’t yet stopped smoking proves nothing — except that you don’t yet want to stop badly enough.

Just as smoking is an exercise of your free will, the choice not to smoke in any one instance is also a choice. Remember that before your next puff.