How I Quit Smoking And How You Can, Too


The fact that you requested this information is an indication that you are ready to begin the process of quitting smoking. That's the good news. The bad news is, this is not magic. It won't be easy. And it requires a decision from you. A commitment from you.

Let me give you a little background. When I quit smoking, I was a 2½ pack per day smoker. When? It was long enough ago that I am forever divorced from smoking. I will never go back. It was recent enough that I remember the problems I had. And I am fortunate enough to have noticed a lot of the things along the way that will be discussed here.

I am an air traffic controller (well, I was— I retired in December 1997). Two weeks after I quit smoking, I transferred to the Chicago O'Hare area. Yes there is stress in my job, and yes, O'Hare is much busier than where I was. My point is that stress or pressure are not sufficient reasons to smoke, to not quit smoking, or to go back to smoking after having quit.

I did a lot of intuitive thinking about the process of smoking and quitting, and I have offered my experience as support to many friends who have quit. That is the main function of this pamphlet: support. You are not alone. It has been done. And you can do it.

Rule #1: You must make a conscious, even verbal decision to never touch another cigarette.

Can you say to yourself, “I will never touch another cigarette?”

If you can, you are well on the way to stopping! If you can't, I don't think this program is for you. You can keep this information until you are ready to make that commitment, or you can pass it along to a friend who is.

Maybe you're saying to yourself, “why do I have to make such a bold, final statement. All I want to do is cut down. I want to show myself I can quit so I can control my smoking.”

If you are saying that, this program is not for you. Quitting smoking means exactly that. If you put this program to work, it is for the purpose of quitting smoking, forever!

I tried to quit several times during the years I smoked. I tried to cut down. I put that in quotes because if you only want to cut down, or quit for a while, you are doomed to remain at or surpass your current level of smoking. See Rule #1. You cannot hedge your bets about this. If you are not ready to give up smoking forever, this program cannot help you.

One of the methods I tried in cutting down was the one-per-hour trick. I figured if I only smoked one per hour, I would be smoking less than a pack per day, which was certainly less than the two packs per day I was doing then. I sat down at my radar at 7 A.M. and said, “I'll start the one-per-hour program now.”

I lit up a cigarette (we could smoke in the control room back then. No longer), worked some airplanes, enjoyed the smoke, and finished the cigarette at about 7:08.

About 7:30, I was ready for another cigarette, but, honoring my commitment to cut down I held off. I held off at 7:35, 7:37, 7:41; well, if you've tried this, you know. At 7:50 I said to myself, “if I go ahead and light up now, it will last until 8:00, which is close enough.”

Of course my smoke alarm went off at about 8:20, and again at 8:25, etc. And I still had until 9:00 before my next one! I rationalized that since I had started my last one 10 minutes early, I could start this one 10 minutes early, and then went through the same close enough sales job I had before.

I finished that cigarette at about 8:50, and at 9:15 when my smoke alarm went off again, I was tired of calculating and rationalizing, and said, “the hell with it, it's too hard to keep straight; I cut down for a couple of hours, light up!”

If you don't make the commitment to quit for good, you will lie to yourself at every opportunity to get another cigarette.

Smoking has several aspects that make it difficult to stop. Many experts will talk about addiction to nicotine. While undoubtedly some are physically addicted to nicotine, I believe the far more powerful forces in play are psychological.

For example, the ritual of smoking is a social exercise. The habit of smoking is a routine of your daily life. The nostalgia of smoking is a link to the pleasant past.

If you don't think all of these are powerful forces, I will offer examples that will demonstrate their power. Perhaps you will be able to relate some of your own. It is these aspects of smoking you will fight and beat.

Rule #2: Knowing the devil you are fighting is 60% of the battle.

Many people have observed weight gain after quitting smoking. Yes, that can happen, in fact it probably will. However, do not use weight gain as a reason not to quit. Your body will be far healthier with 25 extra pounds if you are not smoking. Similarly do not later think that starting back up will be the way to knock off the weight you picked up after quitting. Extra weight is added stress on the cardio-vascular system. Smoking is a direct attack.

Smoking is a ritualistic process that is used to consume time. You didn't start smoking because you had time on your hands. But as the habit grew, you developed a ritual that consumed time, and after quitting, that time will weigh heavily on you. One of the most frequent substitutes for smoking is eating. Thus, many people gain weight after they quit.

Rule #3: Don't substitute one bad habit for another.

When you quit smoking, you must begin a conscious effort to add discipline to your eating. There are more methods of dieting than types of food, but diet in our discussion means eating habits and discipline. The usual common sense guidelines apply: eat regular meals, avoid snacks, don't overeat, watch fats and sugar.

The process of smoking by its nature, and like other neuro-motor activities is habitual. You may have observed that you don't need to think to light a cigarette. In fact, most people with a cigarette habit serious enough to be reading this will be able to tell of times where they lit a cigarette, then set it on the ashtray only to find an already burning cigarette there.

It is my opinion that the hardest demon to battle in smoking is the unconscious routine. The old saw about riding a bicycle is true. If you ever have, you will never forget. I have walked out of the house long after having quit smoking, and patted my shirt pocket with my hand. I used to do that to make sure I had my cigarettes with me.

The most astounding revelation about habit came to me at work. I would get relieved from my position, light a cigarette, walk down the control room aisle to the hallway, down the hallway to the cafeteria, pick up styrofoam cup, and fill it with soda. One day several months after I had quit smoking, I left the control room, entered the cafeteria, picked up a styrofoam cup, began filling it with soda, and put my fingers to my mouth as if to puff a cigarette.

But there are more. For fifteen years I drove a certain way to and from the local hardware store. Leave store, go up Evergreen to Lilac, Lilac to Laurel, across Illinois to Richard, around the corner to Almond and home. After they added a stop sign on Laurel, I changed the way I went home; Lilac to Constitution, to Illinois, to Almond. After about six months, I started home absentmindedly, and found myself going up Laurel.

It can be as insidious as the morning routine. For many years after getting out of the shower, my routine was to shave, brush teeth, apply deodorant, and dry hair. In the interest of efficiency, I changed my routine. I now shave, dry hair, apply deodorant, and then brush teeth. Periodically, when I am daydreaming, I will find myself lapsing back into the old routine, and doing things out of order.

The three places where I was accustomed to smoking the most were midnight shifts, bars, and bowling. Within a day or two of quitting, I had each of those situations scheduled, and I made a conscious challenge to myself; “I'm going to prove that I can do these things without smoking.”

Suffice to say that consciously not smoking during those three occasions were a tremendous boost to my commitment. I now knew that I could survive smoking situations without succumbing.

Rule #4: Quitting smoking is not a passive act.

You cannot quit and forget. Habits are so deeply ingrained that it will be a long time before the influence of your smoking habits are minimized. One effective method you can use to help your quitting process is to constantly and consciously test yourself.

Rule #5: You are gaining something, not giving something up

When you enter a supermarket or movie theater that prohibits smoking, tell yourself, “I sure am glad I don't have to worry about getting through this without a smoke.”

When you leave for errands, or a trip, tell yourself, “I sure am glad I don't have to worry about how many packs to take with me.”

Recognize that not smoking is freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you want anytime you want (subject, of course, to other statutory restrictions). Freedom to sit anywhere in a restaurant. Freedom to be able to concentrate on jobs with clear vision. Freedom from coughing. Accentuate the positive aspects of quitting.

When I quit smoking, I started feigning disgust with cigarettes and cigarette paraphernalia. I don't know why I did, but when it was necessary to move an ashtray, I would pick it up as if it were yucky and say, “yecchh.” Eventually, I began to actually feel a revulsion towards all smoking things.

Rule #6: Substitute one good habit for your bad habit.

I now believe that I engaged in a sort of self-hypnosis with my play acting. I somehow transferred that physical play-acting into a psychological reaction. Will it work for you? It can't hurt. Try it.

When I first quit, I started chewing gum at those times when I had a craving for a cigarette. (Caution; see Rule #3.) After a few weeks, I had to quit that, because I developed some sores in my mouth. I have heard of other people chewing toothpicks, or soda straws, but the same thing can happen with that. If you can use a temporary crutch successfully, and keep it temporary, then by all means do so.

Another effective trick is to defuse the psychological need for something between the fingers with carrot sticks. You may even improve your vision. Every thing you substitute, however, should be in moderation, and should be temporary.

Progress. Alcoholics Anonymous has a tremendously effective program for stopping alcohol abuse. Among its tenets is the phrase, one day at a time. Although they recognize that they cannot take another drink, ever, they take it one day at a time.

That's what you must do. There will be good days, and there will be bad days. You will be able to go days, weeks, months, and eventually years at a time without the need for a cigarette. But beyond the commitment that you will never take another cigarette, focus on not smoking today. One day at a time.

Last updated: 27 January 2009

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