Go all the way

A reader emails that she has successfully reduced her cigarette intake from 22 to only 6 a day. Now she’s stuck, and asks for advice on how to end the habit altogether.

Well, dear reader, your mistake was setting a partial goal rather than total abstinence. You have to treat it as all-or-nothing. Either you’re going to stop, or you’re not. Though it’s obviously better to reduce than do nothing, your goal was contradictory, since your current frustration suggests that you actually wanted to stop. So you should have stopped on day one.

You need to assume that you can and will stop. Self-doubt is the number-one killer of any goal. “I want to. But can I?” Thoughts like these are not helpful. Fight back by answering, “I can and I will.” Do it every time you’re tempted to light up.

Nobody can ‘make’ you stop. Only YOU can do that, and you will — if you want to. Be tough on yourself. “I can stop if I really want to. Obviously I don’t want it badly enough. When I do, I’ll stop.” Nobody but you is stopping you from stopping.

You say your goal is abstinence, and it has to be that for the rest of your life. Smoking is an option every day. Don’t tease yourself by looking for a condition in which it gets easy. It might in fact get less difficult, but you can’t count on that. The only thing for sure is that it’s a choice you can exercise any day you choose to do so.

Don’t whine to yourself. Others probably won’t care, or they’ll pretend to feel compassion. But you can’t afford that luxury. Whining can trigger self-talk that boils down to things like, “It’s so hard!” The only truthful reply is that nothing worthwhile comes easy. Create consequences for smoking. Of course, it can kill you, but that’s a far-off concern that isn’t a very good motivator. You need shorter-term, more immediate consequences. Deny yourself pleasures if you smoke. And be sure to reward yourself 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 habit as an addiction. The word ‘addiction’ implies helplessness over something that’s outside of your control. While it may be true that you can’t control what the nicotine does to your body, it’s still a fact that you can control what you put into your mouth.

Make a cost-benefit analysis. You’d never buy an expensive appliance without first investigating the facts about it and your need for it. Why not do the same with your smoking behavior? For example, how much do you spend on cigarettes? Even if you can afford it, what could you do with that money if it didn’t go up in smoke? Aside from finances, are there other costs, such as the emotional discomforts for yourself or others you care about?

As you can see, I view smoking primarily as a cognitive matter, i.e., under the control of your mind and your thinking. I do not view it as a purely medical matter that has to do with involuntary physiological processes, like a disease or illness. Smoking is not a disease. It’s a behavior. It’s something you’ve chosen to continue to do, that you do less than you did before, but you nonetheless still do. You successfully reduced your smoking, and you can stop it. Of course it’s work, but if you stop it on one day, you can also abstain on any other day.

Beware of insidious victim-think promoted by self-proclaimed ‘experts’ in government and the helping establishment. It adds credence to their false premise every time you say, “I don’t want to smoke; but I keep doing it anyway. The fact that I haven’t stopped proves I can’t control it.” The fact that you haven’t stopped proves nothing except that you don’t yet want to stop badly enough.

The choice to smoke is certainly an exercise of your free will. And deciding not to smoke is also a choice, albeit one that takes strength and honesty. Think of that the next time you crave a cigarette.