e humans are creatures of habit, often doing things out of sheer ritual and developing little routines. All routines, or habits, however, are not necessarily bad. There are certain good habits and routines we’ve been required to develop in our lives in order to get things done.
The only problem is, when it comes to doing something that is bad for us, our nature to cultivate habits becomes a curse rather than a benefit.
Recently I surveyed a number of ex-smokers and asked them how they came to take up smoking in the first place, why they decided to quit and, most importantly, how they finally managed to conquer the habit and to this day remain ex-smokers.
The Teen Years
An interesting and probably obvious fact that came to light was that the majority of people started smoking as teenagers; and rarely did they have any desire to quit the habit until well into their twenties or thirties. Most admitted that this was due to the fact that it wasn't until they were adults that they really thought, or cared, much about the consequences of the habit and what long-term affects it may be having on their bodies and health.
Teenagers (and we’ve all been through it) often possess that false sense of security that they are indestructible. I spoke with a number of teenage smokers and asked them if they had any desire to quit, or any guilt feelings about smoking. The common response: "No, not really". And none seemed overly concerned about any damage it might be doing to them.
In my research I discovered the most common reason for a teenager to take up smoking was to be cool. Smoking made them feel adult and more confident in themselves as growing individuals. Some succumbed to peer pressure, while others took it up in order to fit in with their boyfriend or girlfriend, or to impress the opposite sex. Some boys thought it made them look tougher and appear more masculine. Several admitted it was to be rebellious; they wanted to do the exact opposite of what adults told them to do. If their parents said things like: "Don't smoke, it's bad for you" or "You're too young to smoke ", they would take up smoking just to spite their parents. Other teenagers said they smoked cigarettes to relax them. Problems at home, the pressure to do well at school, the confusion of puberty, all contributed to the reason for many to take up the habit.
The Adult Years
Those who started smoking in their adult years mostly seemed to put it down to the above reason: They took it up because it was relaxing and helped them deal with the pressures of everyday life. Most said they didn’t do it to look cool or to fit in with peer groups and colleagues. This was a reason that seemed to pertain purely to the teenage age group.
The Catalysts For Quitting
The first response I got when I asked an ex-smoker why he quit smoking, he said he had, "No one particular reason, but any reason is a good reason to give up smoking".
Most adults seemed to think more deeply about their future health, with an underlying fear of the possibility of lung cancer or other related disorders. Some had witnessed relatives die, or dying, from a smoking-induced cancer or illness of some sort and were frightened into quitting the habit.
Fitness was another major catalyst to give smoking the flick. We now live in a very health-conscious and fitness-orientated society, so smoking has become somewhat taboo and the out thing to do.
One woman, whom had been a smoker for ten years, said she sat down one day and figured out, roughly, just how many times she'd lit up a cigarette during that phase. She'd averaged around thirty cigarettes per day for that ten year period, and worked out that she would have gone through the ritual of lighting up over one hundred thousand times. She said to me, "That's when I quit. When I realised I was a hundred thousand steps closer to an early grave, I decided I'd had enough".
Many women wanted to quit smoking because they were pregnant, or used pregnancy as the incentive, as they feared the harm it would inflict upon the unborn baby they were carrying.
But how did these people quit smoking and successfully remain non-smokers?
Tips To Successfully Becoming An Ex-Smoker
The same man I interviewed who said any reason was a good reason to stop smoking put it best: "No matter what your reason for quitting is, there is only one way to quit and quit successfully. You have to really want to do it! You have to really want to beat that habit! Show no mercy to it!" was his advice.
So willpower is a major deciding factor between success and failure. There is no way around that fact. No matter what stop smoking aids one chooses to help them quit, there has to be a will to succeed and a firm affirmation to let nothing stop you. If deep down you really don’t care whether you are successful at it or not, then the result will be exactly that: A nonchalant, half-hearted attempt that eventually culminates in a return to the smoking habit. And how many times has that happened to people?
A question I asked every ex-smoker was whether a gradual cutting down each day of their cigarette intake was the most effective method of quitting, or whether ‘cold turkey’ was more successful. The overwhelming response was for the cold turkey method. It seemed to bring the quickest results. More painful at first, but easier and more expedient in the long run. Cold turkey, said one person, takes willpower and drive. So step one then is to summon up willpower and drive, and lots of it!
Another significant method to beat the habit was to switch to a law tar/nicotine brand and smoke these for a few weeks first prior to attempting the cold turkey plan. The theory behind it was that it reduced the craving somewhat so that when the time came to quit completely, there was less physical hungering for a cigarette during those most difficult first few days.
Anyone who has previously tried giving up smoking and had failed will be familiar with the intense physical urge to have a cigarette on the first few days. The mouth waters, craving nicotine. The lungs ache, longing to be filled with toxic cigarette smoke. But dropping to a milder brand and smoking them for several weeks prior to quitting will help to reduce this physical yearning.
With this method, some people experienced an urge to smoke more while on the lower tar/nicotine brand, as the addiction was not being fed as much as it had grown accustomed to. This needs to be resisted if possible. However, the most difficult urge at the outset to fight is the physical craving, and not so much the ritual or associations of the habit. These associations can be counteracted by altering sections of your daily routine.
Anyone who has ever been successful at anything in life will tell you that you need a plan. Set a specific date to quit and mentally build up and prepare yourself for that date.
Write out a plan as to how you are going to attack this habit, and refer to that plan on a daily basis leading up to, and during the quitting phase.
Further Tips and Advice
Here are some segments of advice from those I interviewed as to how to quit and stay an ex-smoker.
- Be certain to remove all cigarettes from the home. Seeing cigarettes around will only tempt you to light one up.
- Place NO SMOKING signs around the house or workplace as a further reminder not to smoke or give in to the urge.
- Be aggressive with the habit. Don't give in to it. Be determined to succeed.
- As much as possible, stay away from smokers during those first few critical and vulnerable days.
- Place yourself in positions where you can't smoke, or where smoking is prohibited.
- Write out a list of the good points to giving up smoking and refer to it every time the urge hits you to light up.
- Be confident in your ability to quit.
- Think of the strength of character you will gain from conquering the addiction.
- Consider the money you will save.
- Think of the health benefits.
- Don't inhale on an unlit cigarette. This only keeps you in the habit of holding onto a smoke.
- Remove items from the household and work place that remind you of smoking (such as ashtrays).
- Give up when your motivation is at its highest peak.
- Have your last cigarette before going to bed. That way when you wake up you will have an eight hour head start on beating the habit.
- Treat giving up smoking as one of your life’s greatest ambitions.
- Praise yourself on your ability to break the habit.
- Take deep breaths.
- Stay outside as much as possible. Enjoy the fresh air.
- Get plenty of exercise and notice the immediate health benefits of not having toxic smoke in your bloodstream.
- Avoid situations for the first few days that you usually associate with smoking.
- Brush your teeth regularly.
- Chew gum. It keeps your breath fresh and gives your mouth something to do. This will also help prevent over-eating during this period.
- Try nicotine chewing gum.
- Use nicotine patches.
- Break your regular routine for the first few days, but return to it as soon as possible and learn to adapt as an ex-smoker.
- Congratulate yourself for achieving little milestones along the way.
These are hints, tips and advice from people who have successfully quit the habit and remained ex-smokers.
As hard as it may seem at the time, there is life after smoking.