It's New Year, which means new resolutions, and for many hopefully, an end to smoking.
The best way to quit smoking is a subject every health expert has their own opinion on.
From nicotine gum to prescription stop smoking treatments to cold turkey, there are several options available to someone looking to give up. However, if there was one definitive solution which worked for everyone, the number of smokers in the world would be a fraction of what it currently is.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of giving up smoking is the recurring urge to light up when the mind wanders during menial tasks, or going about one’s routine at work.
Not thinking about smoking is tough, particularly during the first few days. But it does get easier and sooner or later, those who are making progress will start to think of smoking not as something they’re trying to avoid, but merely as something they used to do.
These idle urges, no matter which quit method a person chooses, do affect all quitters; managing them is a big part of avoiding temptation.
And yes, certain psychological techniques can play a huge role in this.
Confine Smoking to the Past
One successful quitter I spoke to told me that it’s useful to think of your smoke-free life as the advent of a new you; not smoking wasn’t the only positive change they made when they gave up.
They made a concerted effort to carry out those chores they could never quite get around to, such as sorting out their personal admin, doing some DIY around the house, and even starting at the gym.
What tracking along this new found path of positive productivity does, is incentivise a quitter not to relapse. They come to associate smoking with the ‘old me’, and not smoking with the ‘new me’.
Know Your Distraction Threshold
Sitting on a train or in a waiting room can be a challenging experience for the new ex-smoker. The mind can easily wander, and the tempting urge to smoke is never far away during the first few days.
During this time, a new ex-smoker will much learn about their distraction habits. Everyone has their own threshold; for some, a book is enough to sway them from thinking about lighting up. Others however may find that a simple yarn won’t do it, and they’ll need more to occupy them. This might be a sudoku puzzle, or a telephone conversation with a friend.
Distraction is an essential weapon in the quitter’s arsenal. The best thing they can do when they find a distraction technique which works is to stick with it during those commutes and idle periods, until they’re over the first couple of weeks.
Confronting Temptation Head On
It’s a moment many quitters dread. The usual suspects at work head out for a cigarette. The new ex-smoker has to make a decision on whether to stay indoors, or be social but stand out in the cold with people smoking.
The smart money for most would be to stay inside; for the ex-smoker, this significantly reduces the risk of a cigarette happening to slip into their mouth.
But the gutsy alternative, for those who feel strong enough, can provide a real sense of empowerment; the quitter who accompanies their colleagues on a cigarette break but successfully refrains from smoking can feel secure about their ability to resist temptation.
It’s an option those who are still in their first few days of a quit attempt would be ill-advised to gamble on. But it is a confidence building exercise those who are over the initial hump might consider.
It’s the Chemicals Talking
When a train of thinking leads to a tempting thought to smoke, as it often will during slow periods for the new ex-smoker, it can be helpful to isolate this thought and see it for what it is; the chemical effects of withdrawal.
One of the keys to overcoming this withdrawal is the realisation that after a period of not smoking, the body will regain its chemical balance and these feelings of withdrawal will pass. The tempting thoughts are just an echo of that last cigarette. In time, the echo will become quieter.
For helpful practical advice on giving up smoking, take a look at our recent discussions with representatives from QUIT and the National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training.