19 Mar Quit Smoking: 10 tips for how I quit
On the 6th of January 2016 it was 7 years since I quit smoking. I’ve thought about writing this post numerous times, but as a previously hardcore smoker there was always that niggling fear that I wasn’t quite quit yet. I’ve passed that point now and wanted to share my quit story.
The picture on the left isn’t very glamorous, its one of those advertisement postcards from a quit-smoking campaign they were running around the time I quit. I put it beside my bed the week I stopped smoking and it’s stayed at the head of my bed ever since, even moving house with me. It’s still on my wall 7 years later. It doesn’t mean much to anyone else but it means a lot to me. Quitting smoking was by far one of the most difficult things I ever did in my life, but equally the best; I keep the card to remind me of that.
My Smoking Story
Like all ‘good’ smokers, I was dedicated to my campaign. I started smoking behind the bike racks at 13, (incredibly cliché I know), and it got worse as I got older. By the time I was 26 I was full timer. I smoked a minimum of 20 a day, closer to 40 if I went out, or stayed in, I just told myself it was 20. I had tried to stop a few times, I even had hypnotherapy. I walked straight out and had a cigarette on my way to the bus stop. My most notable success being for 6 months after reading Alan Carrs Easy Way books. I found the book and its message incredibly useful and I managed for a whole 6 months until I fell off the wagon at my Christmas party and I was back on 20 the following day. I was furious with myself at the time but I learnt a valuable lesson. I learnt it was all or nothing for me, I can never be a social smoker. That didn’t help much at the time but I feel it has really helped in this quit period. After the Christmas party mishap I quit quitting then until late 2008 when I realised I didn’t just need to stop, but that I wanted to. I had started to get very bad leg cramps that woke me in the night, and I knew things were downhill from there.
Time to Quit
The weirdest thing about the thought of quitting for me was this: I’m very stubborn and quitting had always seemed so, defeatist. I know that sounds terrible, but I disliked the idea of not having a choice in the matter of whether I smoked or not. As a smoker friend of mine used to say ‘I may be a smoker but I’m not a quitter’. We thought it was funny, but I think there was an element of truth in it for me. I knew I had to change my attitude to quitting or I’d never succeed so I went looking for help.
There was not one single place I went that provided all of the information I needed, or a single quit strategy I could follow so I cobbled together whatever I could find in books, online and from talking to other reformed smokers. I think one of the main challenges with trying to help people quit smoking is that smokers are all so very different and its impossible to have a one-size-fits-all approach, but I did do a lot of research for myself, and here are ten tips for how it worked for me.
Ten Tips to help you Quit
First of all Alan Carrs Easy Way book was not a write off. It didn’t work for me totally but it gave me two strong advantages. Firstly it did help me quit for 6 months, which gave me a benchmark for this next time of quitting. A benchmark, however small, is an advantage. Secondly the book makes sense. It provides a huge amount of information around the ‘why’ of smoking, the psychological relationship in particular, and understanding this really helped me with quitting for good.
Secondly, this sounds a little mad but I have to say, it worked for me. I got a little notebook and I started making lots of Lists around my vision of successful quitting. Things like; what I would spend my saved money on, a reward structure for every landmark I reached, health benefits… Whatever benefits I could think of I listed. There were two lists in particular really helped; a list of all of the reasons I wanted to quit and a list of all of the people I knew who had successfully quit. I asked everyone I knew if they had ever smoked, then why they had given up and how it had been. People tend to take it for granted a quitter has quit, but as a newbie quitter, seeing those success stories really helped me be inspired by really visible examples. Also the people who had quit who knew I was trying were always the most supportive and really understood which was always nice.
Third, I chose a Low Profile Quit Date. I had tried quitting before on all the usual landmarks, most new years, my birthdays, with friends, or on a Monday morning… None of these things worked. For a huge variety of reasons including; I was tired after a night out and wanted a cigarette, I forgot my assigned quit date, (convenient right?), my friend stopped quitting so I felt I got to stop too… the list was endless. So this time I picked an innocuous date and day. Tuesday the 6th of January 2009 still means nothing to me other than the day I quit smoking. It took a lot of pressure off me and helped me psyche myself up for when I intended giving up. I picked it well in advance to give myself plenty of time to psychologically prepare.
Fourthly, it was a secret. I told no-one. In previous attempts to quit, after telling people I was trying I felt quite pressurized. I’m sure no-one cared but I felt as if I was being watched, and well-wishing people asking how I was doing just reminded me I was trying to quit. Also as I learned in the Easy Way system, a new-quitter can use people around them to help develop an excuse to go back smoking; For example being crabby in the hope someone will tell you to have a cigarette to ‘calm down’. I figured if no-one knew, I’d have to focus more effort on staying normal which would distract me more. I also felt if I failed no-one would judge me. It proved a good strategy for me but it might not be for everyone. What really surprised me was how few people noticed, especially people close to me. I realized afterwards that I was so embarrassed by smoking I always tried to be discreet around people I loved, so when I stopped smoking they didn’t notice the difference. That was a bit of a turn up for the books.
Fifth was the installation of the Since I Quit App. Since I quit is the best App in the world and I still have it on my phone. Its really simple and it was just this very cool reminder on some off days that I had come so far. Its a free App developed by a fellow quitter and I just can’t praise it enough. You can get more details HERE. The App very simply tracks your length of time off cigarettes as well as how much money you’ve saved based on the price of cigarettes on your quit date. I don’t actually have €16,000 by the way, but its reassuring to know I didn’t spend it on cigarettes.
Sixth was the use of Distraction. So pretty much everywhere you look when you’re quitting will tell you to drink more water and they’re right. It wasn’t just the taste that did it for me though. I would try and not keep water at my desk meaning when I had a craving I’d have to go and find some. Usually by the time I’d gone to the shop or the water fountain I’d have forgotten I wanted to smoke. Distraction tactics work when you’re changing a habit, don’t underestimate them. Sometimes I would just go to the bathroom, anything to ‘interrupt’ the craving.
Seventh was having a Back up plan.I know it seems somewhat defeatist but for me it wouldn’t have worked without a back up plan. I had an emergency cigarette that I hid right under my bed that I couldn’t get to easily. I found it two years later when I moved out. I also kept marshmallow cigarettes in my room and bag for the first few weeks. I suppose the modern day equivalent would be vaping. For me the patches wouldn’t do, I needed the actual smoking experience and marshies (marshmallow cigarettes sounded way more fun than they were!), were as good as it was getting. They were disgusting but I figured after a few weeks normal cigarettes would have tasted as bad and this way there was no nicotine. I didn’t smoke them regularly, only in emergencies, usually while socialising which I had identified as my weak point. I also had a ‘In Case of Emergency’ list, which was a list of ten possible life scenarios where I could smoke, like if I was on a falling aeroplane, or told I had a month to live. Not cheerful, but weirdly comforting when you’re a new quitter and the thought of never, EVER smoking again is somewhat more frightening than liberating.
Eighth was researching and finding out my ‘Type of smoker’. At the time of my quitting there was a really good Quitting campaign called ‘Lose the Smoker’. In it there was a test to establish what type of smoker you are. I had never actually thought of it before but I knew each smoking friend was different. For instance some smoked first thing in the morning, some waited until work, some of us needed patches for long haul flights, some didn’t. When I did the test it seemed I wasn’t even addicted to nicotine, I was a habit based smoker. Knowing this made a huge difference to what I needed to change in order to quit. It really helped me focus my attention where it needed to be, breaking the habit not kicking an addiction. The website is gone now but I found a similar test HERE.
Ninth was developing my Plan to Fail plan. As any good smoker knows a fall off the wagon is awful, but they happen. In previous attempts if I had a cigarette I would beat myself up about it and be straight back on them the following day. This time I made a list of conditions for myself. If I did happen to smoke, that I would quit again the very next day. That if I bought a box of 20 they would go in the bin the following morning, there would be no; ‘I’ll just finish the box’. I decided that if I fell off the wagon there would be no beating myself up or feeling sorry for myself, that I would just get straight back to quitting the following day. This left me no ‘accidental’ wiggle room for quitting quitting. And it made the difference. There was of course times I was tempted, but I just thought about the hassle of trying to quit again the following the day and ironically it made it so much easier, I had pre-empted the part of my brain that might try wriggle out of quitting.
And finally tenth was Being nice to myself. Being a smoker is a horrible conflict of ‘loving’ your addiction but hating that you do it, quitting is almost as bad. Part of your brain thinks its great, and part of it hates it. I decided to not beat myself up about it and just get on with it. If I was having a bad day where my default was to have a cigarette, I did something else nice, like had a nice lunch or bought myself something nice. Yes I most definitely put on weight, but you know what, I lost it again and now I’m my right size AND I’m a non-smoker, so that to me is a win.
Ultimately, no matter how inconvenient or annoying or frustrating quitting is, it doesn’t hurt. I know that sounds really obvious, but there are things we have to do in life that require actual physical pain like going to the dentist, or giving birth, but quitting isn’t one of those things. Quitting some drugs induces horrific physical side effects that are devastatingly difficult and painful to overcome, smoking is not one of these things. Keeping that in mind definitely helped me prioritize my energy.
Also weirdly the first week isn’t the hardest. I found that I was so psyched for the first few days they weren’t the worst, it was a couple of weeks in when I seemed to get bored of quitting that I found most difficult, thoughts like; ‘Well you managed two weeks you can quit whenever you want’ entered my head, so remember its an on-going process, it takes a bit of work.
Ultimately, the best weapon is a positive attitude. If you feel sorry for yourself for quitting, you’re going to hate every minute of it and probably fail. I tried to think of the nice things, having more money, not smelling weird, how delicious food was… And somehow it worked.
Moving on from quitting
I get asked: Do I ever want a cigarette? For a fleeting second sometimes I do, if I see someone on TV, (Claire Underwood) maybe, but it goes just as quick and I take a moment to be happy I gave up. I will never consider myself a non-smoker. I just think I’m a smoker who doesn’t smoke and there is a difference. I often wonder if I could have ‘just the one’ but I doubt it. Either way I’ve committed myself to never finding out!
Ultimately quitting is a hugely personal journey. I’ve never met two people who did the same things to quit, you just need to find the balance of what works for you. But I can tell you this, once I got over the first few months it got easier and easier, and now I class it as easily one of the best decisions I ever made in my life. And if I can do it, honestly anyone can.