That’s right, I used to light up a few times a day. Nothing better to do while posing as a target high up in a guard tower in Afghanistan. You see, it was the perfect way to relax. When under stress it gave a way to decompress for a few seconds. There were a few more benefits. The occasional smoke break to get out of duty for a few. The social cohesiveness of sharing the lighter and soon the laughter. I finally got out of the Army and had a change of life. I then realized that I was stuck with a habit. You see, the tobacco leaf transformed into a convenient little white stick to burn makes for a historically excellent habit forming product. The small rush of nicotine, the feeling of holding the cigarette, the smell, the social gathering, the laughter. No wonder those old commercials were so enticing.
What is a habit forming product?
It is something that triggers you to automatically engage in the activity of using the product. Think about your cellphone. How quickly do you check your phone in the morning? Habit. How quickly do you open your social media app? Habit. How often do you find yourself sitting on the toilet long after the deed is done and still scrolling through your feed? Habit.
Have you ever found yourself driving home, and when you get there you don’t have the foggiest memory of ever driving home! You can’t recall if you even stopped at that one red light??? This is your automatic behavior that was formed from a conditioned task. The same goes for smoking, you do it without even thinking about it.
I still have a habit today. Every now and then I just gravitate towards my guitar, I pick it up and I play. It is this gravitational force that slowly pulls you in. That is what a habit forming product capitalizes on.
When soft drink makers realized the trick to making their product habit forming was to introduce carbonation in the drinks, their sales skyrocketed.
When colgate first introduced the baking soda fizz in their toothpaste their sales skyrocketed.
Febreze added the scent to their spray and the rest is history.
So How did I quit smoking?
It was tough. It took a long time. It took a lot of intentional diligent practice. I had to be hard on myself. I had to look myself in the mirror every time I chose to smoke. That’s the secret. It is still a choice people. This goes for any habit, it is still a choice. There is that miniscule second where your mind wagers whether or not to do it and I’m here to tell you that you have the freedom of choice to decide either way.
What will determinism say? Let’s save that for later.
For now I want to give you some of the tricks my patients and I tried that helped us to quit smoking.
It’s good to think of smoking in this way.
Imagine buying a set of shoes that look so good, they make you feel so good, except they are two sizes too small… When you wear them you look good, but your feet hurt. The only relief you get is when you finally take them off, oh that feels so good, to let your toes breathe, to take of the pressure. That is what I went through. The withdrawal of not smoking is what is painful, the same as wearing the tight shoes. Taking that first drag, or taking the shoes off, that is the feeling of relief. Now, doesn’t it make more sense to just not smoke in the first place, to avoid this feeling of needing the substance in the first place?
A patient told me she took up crocheting just to give her hands something to do, to occupy them instead of giving in to the feeling of holding a cigarette.
Another told me that he started carrying around a bag of baby carrots, that took care of the oral fixation.
Another chewed gum for the same reason.
Another threw out his favorite porch chair where he would sit, light up and read the newspaper.
I had to change my driving route home, just so I wouldn’t automatically stop at the same gas station for a pack.
I had to lock my cigarette pack in a trunk and throw the key on the roof. Just so every time I wanted one I had to go out in the cold and climb on the roof.
So take a stand today, decide for yourself, do not let your brain take over, if you know what I mean. The next time you feel the urge, try the 5 second rule by Mel Robbins. Count down from 5 to 1 and then decide to say no.