Kicking the Habit—Thoughtfully: 6 Steps to Quitting Smoking for Good

Ashtray of cigarette butts on light gray tableFor many long-term smokers, cigarettes have become a fixture in daily life. At some point, however, nearly all people who smoke wish they didn’t—and strongly desire to do something about it. What often ends up happening, though, is action falls short of desire. When there is action, often it is not well-thought-out and short-lived. While many want to change, they are resistant to following through with and sustaining the change. This can be extremely frustrating, as quitting smoking is not easy.

Here are some strategies that can help facilitate a successful quit attempt:

1. Define Your Goals

The most effective strategies for quitting smoking involve thoughtfulness and intentionality. What is it you want to do? Never smoke again, starting now? Reduce cigarettes gradually over time? Clearly stating your goals to yourself may help you recognize your intentions and organize your efforts.

The next question to ask yourself is one I find critical for success. Are you truly ready to quit? Be honest with yourself. If the answer is “sort of,” then you are not ready. The goal, if I were working with you, would be to help you become ready to quit. Only when you are ready to make this change will you actually make it.

2. Capitalize on a Critical Moment

Years ago, I did hospital-based inpatient smoking cessation counseling. I had visited many people who were staying in the cardiac ICU immediately after a massive health event. I had the opportunity to speak with people in that moment where they decided it was time to change.

Whether it’s a brush with death serving as a wake-up call or a child’s visit, triggering an image of one day being able to hold a grandchild, the impetus can be extremely powerful. When there is a critical moment, it is important to take advantage of this motivation to establish a goal.

3. Study Your Smoking

In order to maintain success, become aware of your patterns, particularly how and when you smoke. Observe yourself, perhaps taking notes. When do you usually desire or crave a cigarette? Is it when you first wake up in the morning? When you experience stress? Also, ask yourself what types of actions you are doing immediately before you reach for a cigarette. Are you drinking a cup of coffee? About to have a drink with a friend? Are you alone when you get the craving?

Identifying the behavioral triggers and associations around smoking cigarettes, including the people in your life and your regular activities, is a critical component of a successful quit attempt. Doing so may help you recognize situations you’ll likely encounter as you attempt to quit smoking and help you better prepare for inevitably facing these scenarios.

4. Create New Habits

Does this scenario sound familiar? As you grab your morning coffee and settle into your favorite chair, you automatically light up a cigarette. This pattern has become ingrained and habitual. In order to break this strong association between your morning coffee and smoking, you’ll have to change some aspect(s) of your environment. You could change your perspective a bit by sitting on the balcony, or sit in a different seat. Or make coffee a social rather than solitary activity and have it with a friend instead. Instead of reaching for a cigarette, you can substitute something else in your hand, such as a straw or something to fidget with.

As most smokers can attest, quitting is a process, not a one-time challenge. Reward your successes (not with cigarettes, however) and try to be easy on yourself if you slip up.

Brainstorm strategies that you can try that are agreeable to you. Go through this decision-making process with every cigarette during the day that you typically smoke, as well as those cigarettes that are less predictable but are usually triggered by stress. For those, you can ask yourself different questions, such as: How else can you manage that stress instead of reaching for a cigarette?

As a side benefit, some of the new habits you create may end up being a positive in other ways. For example, a common strategy is to distract from smoking. Staying active is a great way to distract from cravings or old patterns, including participating in physical activities or spending time with others. These activities may, of course, lead to a host of other health and wellness benefits.

5. Remember, Everyone Is Different

Strategies that work for one person may not work for another. In the work I do, I emphasize both the thinking and the behavioral strategies that play a role in quitting smoking. That said, it may be worthwhile to consider complementary strategies for smoking cessation in addition to behavioral substitutions and addressing cognitive and emotional issues.

Nicotine replacement, hypnotism, and other medications that help reduce cravings can work in conjunction with behavioral strategies or psychotherapy. Additionally, many have found it essential to rely on social support or peer support in quitting.

6. Keep At It!

As most smokers can attest, quitting is a process, not a one-time challenge. Reward your successes (not with cigarettes, however) and try to be easy on yourself if you slip up. If you can learn from your mistakes, then you have grown from this experience and are that much stronger and wiser as you face the next challenges. Good luck!

For support in implementing strategies for smoking cessation, contact a qualified therapist in your area.

© Copyright 2017 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Marni Amsellem, PhD, Topic Expert

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • BeA

    November 13th, 2017 at 10:27 AM

    Well I was one of the ones who had to practically land at deaths door before understanding that I had to stop if I wanted to retain any quality of life, or if I wanted to live period. I just wish it had not taken me so long to get there.

  • Marni Amsellem, Ph.D.

    November 16th, 2017 at 1:33 PM

    Congratulations on getting there (even if later than ideal)!

  • Jax

    November 13th, 2017 at 2:21 PM

    Cut out the smoking so then I started chewing gum and eventually led to jaw issues from doing that all the time.
    Then I turned to food, and well, you can imagine that my waist size has grown a little.
    Currently trying walking to take my mind off of that need to always need to be busy because if I’m not then I still have that urge to light up a cigarette.

  • Marni Amsellem, Ph.D.

    November 16th, 2017 at 1:32 PM

    Distracting yourself by another activity (that keeps your hands busy or otherwise unable to smoke can be a necessary strategy and used as part of the larger quit plan.

  • JD

    November 14th, 2017 at 6:50 AM

    I feel like I have tried everything under the sun to kick this habit but I haven’t been able to do it yet. I am sure that most of it goes back to the fact that I am scared to under take something this big on my own. I feel like I need some help with it and yet this is a habit that people always seem to have the best luck just going cold turkey and doing it by themselves. I have smoked since I was 13 years old so it is a little scary to think about not having this habit as a part of my life. I have even tried to break it down financially and look at how much I would benefit that way from stopping but it doesn’t seem to make that permanent notch in my thinking to really cause me to make that big change. Is it ok to say that it all boils down to me being scared?

  • Marni Amsellem, Ph.D.

    November 16th, 2017 at 1:30 PM

    Good for you for doing what you have already tried to do! Fear is a huge barrier in so much of our actions (and inactions). There is support out there to help address these fears.

  • ricardo

    November 15th, 2017 at 11:21 AM

    has anyone tried hypnosis?
    I hear all the radio commercials about smokers having success with it but I have my doubts

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