I was a pack a day smoker for years. And I “quit” more times than I can remember.
Every time I tried to quit and failed, I learned something about how to quit.
- I learned that the personal will to quit was the only way to actually do it.
- I learned that the “nic-fits” last 3 days, so after you pass the third day, things get much easier.
- I learned that just about 2 weeks after you quit, a second round of mind games start to hit your brain pressing thoughts like “I can just have one…” which lead to failure
- I learned that my personal attitude had a significant impact on my success or lack when quitting.
- I learned that keeping track of milestones is absolutely critical to successfully quitting.
These lessons absolutely helped me quit successfully the last time I tried.
I quit for the last time July 3rd, 1995. My thought was I wanted the fireworks to be on the 4th. This July 3rd it will be 25 years since I’ve had a single puff of a single cigarette.
Following experience I’d had with nearly successful attempts to quit in the past, I allowed myself one last cigarette after lunch on July 3rd, and committed to myself that it was the last.
I didn’t stop with the commitment. I knew better. I’d been through it before.
As I finished my noon cigarette, I planned the next few days out. I was on a turn of duty with the top secret communications center on base which was 12 hours on, 36 hours off, and I knew I had about 20 hours before I had to work again.
I got to work on changing my lifestyle.
I went to the base post exchange and bought supplies of mints and gum but mostly I bought cleaning supplies.
I had the rest of the day off, didn’t have to go to work until the next morning, so I had the rest of the day to CLEAN.
I cleaned EVERYTHING.
I had sufficient rank that I had my own barracks room, so I cleaned that from top to bottom. I cleaned every stich of clothing I owned, all my sheets, linens, blankets, towels, every piece of cloth I owned.
Then I pulled out the trash bags. This is when I committed not just to “quitting smoking” but to “not being a smoker.” Experience had taught me the difference.
I threw out every smoking related item I owned. Not just every cigarette, but every lighter, every ash tray, every matchbook even every tobacco related T-shirt or hat or anything else I owned.
What I had learned was that it wasn’t just important for me to “quit smoking” it was important for me to “quit being a smoker.”
There were two other things I did this one time, this one time I successfully quit that I never had before that I think contributed to the win.
- I purposefully avoided saying “I’m trying to quit,” and instead said whenever asked about anything like: “do you want a cigarette?” I would reply “I don’t smoke” instead of “I’m trying to quit.” I believe that mental change made a HUGE difference in the outcome.
- I started counting. I counted hours, then days, then weeks, then months, I still count years. And I reminded myself with every step, with every milestone that a single puff of a single cigarette will have destroyed all the work I had done to that point. I also, especially for the first couple of years, counted money. Kept a good log of how much money I had saved by not smoking that month. It’s amazing how much money that was even back in the mid 90s, when a pack of cigarettes cost a quarter of what it costs now.
A lot of the steps I took were about attitude. I told all my friends and my girlfriend the same thing – – not “I’m trying to quit,” but “I don’t smoke anymore.”
It was a huge mental shift. And it worked.
Telling everyone In my life that I did not smoke kept me accountable. Counting time made me accountable to myself. Cleaning my room, my clothes, hell my life, made it a real change rather than “something I was trying to do.”
One last piece of advice for people trying to quit. COLD ice water. Keep cold water available. I found nothing else better at curbing the addictive cravings. It didn’t cure. But it took the edge off better than anything else I can remember.