Smoking: Letting Go of a Bad Habit — Again

This may be the first time you've tried to quit, or it may be the 14th. Don't be discouraged; millions of people all over the world have succeeded at quitting smoking. Most of those who have quit had tried several times before making it last.

Don't let what you're reading and hearing about other people who relapsed, or who failed their first time around, get you down. Statistics are made up of individuals. Many people have succeeded at quitting on their first try — maybe you will, too!

Just because you tried to quit smoking in the past doesn't mean that you can't succeed now. Most people who quit successfully try to quit up to a half-dozen times before making it stick. Look at your experience from the opposite point of view: If you've quit in the past, whether it was for two days or two months, you've already demonstrated that you can do it. You got through that period without tobacco. When you're supplied with a quit plan and all the other resources that are currently available, your chances of staying smoke-free are that much better.

What made you relapse to smoking before? If you can recall the specific triggers that made you pick up again, you can be extra wary of them. Common relapse triggers include

  • Believing that you've got the habit licked. You may have felt that you could have "just one." Shortly after, you may have convinced yourself that having just one more would cause little harm. By the third cigarette, you were as addicted as before.
  • Catastrophizing. You slipped and had one or more cigarettes despite your best intentions. You felt so guilty, like you'd let yourself down so much, that you threw up your hands in despair and essentially gave up. "I may as well enjoy myself" is the theme song that accompanies this self-pitying wail.
  • Stressing. An event occurs in your world and you panic. You cower emotionally and retreat to an earlier position: "I've got to have a cigarette." Actually, you don't have to have a cigarette. Having a cigarette actually amplifies your stress. Not only do you still need to deal with whatever is taking place in your life, but you now have additional stressful stimuli such as a rapid heartbeat, coughing, and a bitter, smoky taste in your mouth — not to mention the supremely unpleasant feeling of self-betrayal.
    Remember the phrase grace under pressure. Someone somewhere used that phrase to describe a hero. As someone trying to quit smoking, you are a hero. The philosopher Nietzsche's aphorism, "Whatever doesn't kill me outright makes me stronger," might apply, too. Or you may feel that Nietzsche is overstating it a bit. Besides, quitting smoking can't come even remotely close to killing you. Cigarettes can kill you, however.
  • Relaxing. Being on vacation or kicking back on a weekend day is the perfect excuse to have a cool drink and light up. Wrong. Take a closer look at what relaxing is all about. Letting down your hair and unwinding has to do with smelling the roses, feeling the cool breeze, and every other form of slowing down and feeling good. Cigarettes are not about slowing down. Cigarettes are stimulants that kick up your pulse rate and blood pressure and unwind the spool of your life — rob you of your time — that much more quickly.
  • Watching other people smoke. You may think, "If they can smoke without consequences, why can't I?" This self-pitying routine comes up fairly regularly when you first stop smoking. You feel sorry for yourself because you have to give up something you like. Remember that you've been through this before. You had to give up crawling, for example, in order to walk. You had to give up babbling in order to talk. Giving up smoking is letting go of an oral fixation that you really don't need. The path toward health and heroism involves taking care of your whole body and your whole mind. You do so by attending carefully to yourself: You find a workout that makes you feel good; you find new ways to think, look at things, and behave that are consistent with the person you want to be.
  • Accepting substandard health. You may already have a cough or congestion in your lungs first thing in the morning. Following this line of logic, you may try to convince yourself that the damage is already done, so why not at least enjoy the smokes?
  • Being tired of feeling tired. It's true that cigarettes give you a lift. Bit feeling run down is a normal part of life. Your energy flows in waves. Everyone has energy peaks and valleys throughout the day. Quitting smoking will add enormously to your available energy after the first few weeks.
    Zyban, the anticraving medication, helps control the fatigue that can accompany nicotine withdrawal. Exercise, good sleep habits, and a positive, enthusiastic outlook also contribute to a high-energy life.
  • Trying to control your weight. You are eating too much and are super-concerned about gaining weight. Look around you: Countless numbers of people who don't smoke manage to remain slim. Oral gratifications such as cigarettes and food are not the only pleasures in life. As you find others, you will find increasing rewards in your appearance and improved feelings of well being.
  • Keeping up appearances. You like the way you look when you smoke. Smoking, you tell yourself, is cool. Fast-forward the picture a few years and imagine if that will always be the case. You've seen how chronic smokers look and cough; you've seen the telltale wrinkles that betray their addiction.

Think back to a time when quitting didn't work. Where were you? What were you doing at the time you broke down and smoked? Who were you with? People, places, and activities can be triggers, too. Do any of the following excuses sound familiar?

  • I became too nervous.
  • I got very irritable.
  • I couldn't sleep.
  • I slept too much.
  • I couldn't focus my thoughts.
  • I was at loose ends at work.
  • I was on vacation.
  • I cut myself a break and had a smoke.

Don't fall for these tricks the next time around.

Evidence suggests that adding on quit tools such as counseling, following up with a doctor, using a nicotine replacement therapy, and/or using Zyban to reduce cravings for cigarettes increases your chances of staying away from tobacco.

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