One of the subjects that comes up very often at this website is smoking. A website visitor 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.
I emailed back: Your mistake was that you set a partial goal rather than a total goal. You have to treat this as all or nothing. You’re either going to stop, or you’re not. Though it’s obviously better to reduce than to do nothing, your goal was contradictory, since your current frustration suggests that you actually wanted to stop completely.
You need to reaffirm to yourself that you can and will stop. Self-doubt is the number one killer of any goal. Thoughts like, “I want to. But can I?” are not helpful. Fight back with, “I can and I will.” Only you can make yourself stop. Be tough. “I can stop if I really want to. Obviously I don’t want it badly enough. When I do, I’ll stop.”
You say your goal is abstinence, and it has to remain that way. Don’t tease yourself by looking for a time after which it gets easy. It might get less difficult, but the only thing for sure is that it’s a choice you can exercise any time you choose to do so.
Don’t whine about “how hard it is.” Others won’t care, though they’ll pretend to feel compassion. But you and your health can’t afford that luxury. Whining triggers self-talk like, “It’s so difficult!” The only truthful reply is that nothing worthwhile comes easy. Create consequences for smoking. Of course, the fact that it can kill you is a pretty big consequence, 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, states, “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. Why not do the same with your smoking? For example, how much do you spend on cigarettes? Even if you can afford it, what could you do with that money if you weren’t sucking it into your lungs? Aside from finances, are there other costs, such as the emotional discomforts for yourself or others you care about?
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 that you nonetheless still do. You successfully reduced your smoking, and you can stop it. Yes, it’s work, but if you can stop it on one day, you can abstain on any other day as well.
Beware of insidious victim-think from self-proclaimed “experts” in government and the “helping” establishment. It adds credence to their false premises every time you say, “I don’t want to smoke; but I keep doing it anyway. This 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 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.