How Do I Stop Smoking?
What was the first thing you did this morning when you woke up? Did you go straight to the shower, make a cup of coffee or log on to your computer?
From the first thing we do in the morning, our lives are run by habits. As anyone who drives knows, the first time you learned to drive a car consumed all of your concentration but after a while, you can arrive at your friend’s house without a driving related thought crossing your mind.
Our brains are designed to create habits based around our everyday actions. This saves us time and frees up important processing power to use on other tasks.
The Power of Habit, a book by New York Times journalist Charles Duhigg, delves into the science behind why habits are formed and how they can be changed. You are no longer a victim of your habit. New and better habits can be formed and old destructive habits can be reprogrammed. The habits we form have a huge impact on our health, productivity, financial security, and happiness. Forming better habits should be a priority for all of us.
In this article, we will be tackling smoking. Apart from the 599 additives in each cigarette, and that The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that tobacco caused 5.4 million deaths in 2004 and 100 million deaths over the course of the 20th century, knowing how to break this habit can have consequences.
Breaking The Smoking Habit
As of 2002, approximately 5.5 trillion cigarettes are produced globally each year and are smoked by over 1.3 billion people.
Every smoker knows the health risks of a cigarette. According to The World Health Organization, smoking leads most commonly to diseases affecting the heart, liver and lungs, being a major risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (including emphysema and chronic bronchitis), and cancer (particularly lung cancer, cancers of the larynx and mouth, and pancreatic cancer). Every cigarette packet carries a health warning and yet over a billion people smoke regularly.
Because of its addictive qualities due to nicotine, cigarette smoking can be one of the hardest habits to break, but with new research in this field, we now have a system to break this lethal habit. In the last decade, a lot of research has been done on the habit loop: the cue, the routine, and the reward.
Where Do You Start?
If you say to yourself “I’m going to stop smoking tomorrow”, that’s a huge mountain to climb and the harder it seems, the less likely you are to do it. But when you break down the bad habit into three parts (the cue, the routine, and the reward.), it makes changing it much easier. The cue is usually something that happens to elicit the action. It could be a time of day, or a certain place, or a certain emotion, or the presence of certain people, or a preceding action that’s become habitual or ritualized.
By looking at it this way, it gives us a chance to look at the bad habit in another way. Instead of saying, “I have to change everything I do every day”, we’ll say, “When I wake up in the morning, I’ll go straight into the kitchen to brew some coffee and jump straight in the shower instead of lighting a cigarette”. From there, other habits kick in, such as your post shower routine of brushing your teeth and getting dressed. All you have to focus on is the initial action of going into the kitchen to make coffee. It doesn’t mean I won’t smoke, it just means I am in the process of changing this habit and over time, you won’t have the morning cigarette at all.
Make Small Changes Everyday
Its little changes and the small wins that is important. With every win, there must be a reward. Every time you don’t smoke in the morning, a small reward like a piece of chocolate will do the job. This immediate award will keep you going and studies have shown, that after two weeks, the reward of not smoking and the formation of the new habit will be enough of a reward in itself. The important part is the reward has to be something you actually enjoy.
Research has shown that bad habits are never eradicated. But instead, they can be reprogrammed. The cues will always be there, but the routine and the reward can change. People tend to think habitual behaviors like addiction can be stopped through punishment, when they’re really driven by reward. Positive reinforcement works much better than negative in almost every situation
Forming habits are far easier than breaking long and engrained ones. It will take continuous and dedicated attention to make small changes and celebrating the small wins.
So, to Summarize:
1. Keep a journal
Write down how many cigarettes you smoke and at what time throughout the day. It will take time to keep a track of all of them, and over time, this in itself will become a habit. When you accumulate the record, you will see clear patterns that you didn’t even know existed.
2. Find the cues
Look for the moments throughout the day that prompt you to smoke. They can be a time of day, or a certain place, or a certain emotion, or the presence of certain people, or a preceding action that’s become habitual or ritualized.
3. Break the cycle
Remove the impact of the cue by taking yourself out of that situation. At first, it will seem forced and you will still end up smoking, but as you continue to break the cycle after the initial cue, the habit will eventually change until you no longer smoke.
Every time you don’t smoke, reward yourself with something you like. We use chocolate as an example but it can be anything that you would consider a genuine reward.
Keep repeating this for every instance in your day that you smoke, until the habits are reprogrammed into healthier routines. Making this healthy shift will have countless positive impacts on your life. Not smoking may prompt you to eat healthier and exercise more. As soon as you learn the cue, the routine, and the reward cycle, you can apply it to many other bad habits in your life.
To learn more, check out The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.
Further reading to stop smoking, check out Allen Carr’s Easyway to Stop Smoking.