One Way to Beat the Tobacco Monkey
I listened earlier this year to a piece on NPR’s Talk of the Nation called “Kicking The Cigarette Habit A Global Challenge” (punctuation theirs). I have some experience in this area, and on the off chance that it’s helpful to some struggling tobacco user, I thought I’d relate my own story of quitting the cancer stick several decades ago.
My family history is rife with tobacco casualties. Grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles have succumbed to lung cancer, and my father smoked four packs a day when I was young. He eventually had no choice but to stop smoking during a month-long hospital stay, and to his credit, he never started again.
In spite of all this evidence, as a teen I got hooked. Within my family, I became the only cigarette smoker of my generation. In retrospect, it must have been quite a tribulation for my relatives to have me visit (and at one point, live in) their homes. I really stunk up the place. After few years, I was smoking a pack and a half or more per day. I knew I should quit, and I tried half-heartedly to do so a couple of times, but I just couldn’t commit to it.
The Call to Action
Then I bought a self-help book. I can’t claim that this particular book made the difference, but it jerked me out of my rut and gave me a feeling of optimism about my ability to make changes in my life. Any number of other similar books might have had the same effect. However, this one, and its author, have been widely praised over the years. If you’re interested, the book is Wishcraft, by Barbara Sher.
And change I did. I stopped smoking almost immediately, and haven’t gone near a cigarette since. It was difficult to deal with the cravings at first, but after a year or so I had no more urge to smoke, and I could be around smokers without any concerns.
No, it wasn’t quite that easy, but one specific idea made it possible:
Redefine who and what you are.
I don’t remember if I got this concept from the book. I might have just stumbled upon it by chance. I do know that it made all the difference (at least with respect to this particular issue). This worked for me; maybe it won’t work for you, but then again maybe it will. You won’t know until you give it a chance.
Do It Now
Here’s how to put this concept into practice: recognize that you’re not a smoker. Not that you’re no longer a smoker, or that you’ll try not to be a smoker, but that you simply aren’t a smoker. Your past behavior is irrelevant. Tell yourself, in no uncertain terms:
As of now, I am not a smoker. I don’t smoke. By definition, this means that my home now contains no cigarettes, no cigarette lighters, no ashtrays. I’ll therefore have to find some other way to satisfy whatever cravings come up, because cigarettes are completely out of the question. They aren’t even on my radar. Why would they be? I don’t smoke! The thought of buying or bumming a cigarette is simply inconceivable, because cigarettes have no presence in my life and I don’t smoke. Period.
Falling off the wagon requires you to take an action: go to the store, ask for the smoke, light it up, suck it in. On the other hand, not smoking requires no action at all. Encouraging the right behavior is just a matter of defining yourself as someone who doesn’t do those things. That should hopefully make it possible for you to stay on the wagon.
So, you may ask, how does one deal with the cravings?
I had two advantages when I quit smoking: I was underweight, and I had a flexible schedule. (Mind you, smoking to lose weight is self-destructive, so don’t even think about it.) When I felt cravings, I did two things:
- I snacked.
- I exercised.
Both of these responses helped. Yes, I started gaining weight, but it stabilized over a year’s time in the upper half of my healthy weight range. At that time, I no longer had cravings, and I could deal with my diet on its own terms. I also distracted myself by engaging in an aerobic exercise; mainly, I kicked a soccer ball against a wall for an hour. In addition to distracting me, it made me healthier and more fit.
As difficult as it is for any of us to find the right formula for quitting cigarettes, I think this approach can help. If you need to chew on something, try something with low calorie density and/or high fiber. This means, say, fruits and vegetables. Gum can also help. By gradually shifting to foods with less fat and fewer calories, you can compensate for the tobacco craving while steadily adapting your taste to a healthier diet that minimizes weight gain.
I admit this is the tricky part – but remember that there’s a vast population of non-smokers out there who have no problem figuring out what to do with themselves. They don’t think, oh, I wish I had a cigarette right now. At one time, you were one of those people, and you can be again.