Two Unusual Tips to Help You Quit Smoking
Timing your craving works, both for the short-term and for the long-term
When people try to quit smoking, they think of it as a habit that's as difficult, or more difficult, to stop than overeating. They do have some obvious similarities. Both smoking and overeating are addictions. Both have multiple triggers that make you want to smoke or eat. They're often tied to each other, because smokers want to finish a good meal with a cigarette.
But there is one major difference between them. When you want a cigarette, the urge lasts only for a few minutes at a time. You may think it doesn't, but if you time your craving, it comes and goes in a predictable amount of time. When I was thinking about trying to quit one more time, a friend said that she had read an article about nicotine craving being predictable. Thinking that it wasn't predictable, I timed it and found that it lasted just over 6 minutes, then the craving faded quickly away. So I started keeping track. I found that I wanted two, and sometimes three, cigarettes an hour, depending on what I was doing.
After I tracked my cravings for a few hours, I realized that I wanted a cigarette at pretty predictable times during that hour, only about every 12 minutes, or at most 18 minutes - if I was in the situation where I would have smoked a third cigarette that hour. That craving was always 6 minutes each time.
Before my friend had mentioned reading about the limits to craving, I had tried seriously to quit at least 10 times, without lasting success. Sometimes I could quit, but when I had succeeded with the obviously difficult part, my success lasted only a few months. Then I started to smoke again. One time, I had even managed not to smoke for six months. Then I went back into a situation where I would have smoked before and - BAM! I was a smoker again inside of two weeks.
Like most people - what the tobacco companies count on - I had made the important life decision about smoking when I was a stupid teenager. I had been smoking on and off for 25 years. I could never seem to kick it, even though it had become too expensive for me, and in the mornings my cough would have sounded bad in a hospital ward.
I knew that smoking was really doing a number on my lungs, and I also knew that my family history was lousy with early deaths from heart disease. It's the kind of family tree that the American Heart Association could use as a poster. Dead at 44, dead at 55, dead at 40, dead, dead, dead...well, you get the idea.
The kicker was that two relatives by marriage, who hadn't share my particular set of genetic flaws, had both started smoking at the same age I had -16 - and had both had died of lung cancer at 41. Both had been healthy, trim, fit smokers. Guess who was about to turn 40?
A beautiful day at the beach
Always give yourself one more chance when you want to quit smoking
So it was time to get serious and to mean it! I was building up to my final attempt. This was the big effort. I took a week's vacation from work, and set up my house for quitting.
I made sure I had lots of ice cubes available for very cold water, and crunchy things to eat. I mean really crunchy, like celery filled with a crunchy peanut butter mixture, sweet baby carrots, almonds, tootsie roll pops and hard candy that I could bite into. This was for the ugly, cold turkey period.
I had decided that cold turkey was best for me. The times that I had at least made it through the initial quitting, I had gone cold turkey. I had tried nicotine gum, and had ended up chewing it AND smoking. Now that's a buzz! I doubt if I could quit on the patches - I'd probably have smoked while I wore them, if the gum was any indicator.
So it was cold turkey for me. I started an easy, but energy-consuming project, hauling dirt from one garden bed to another. After dark, I cleaned closets until I couldn't move. Then I dropped into bed and slept like sleeping beauty.
I did that for three days, stopping only to time and record my cravings. I kept busy with my project during a craving, until that got old. Then I walked over to my prep cart and drank extremely cold water slowly or ate a crunchy snack - or two - or three. And I saw the times between my cravings becoming longer and longer.
Being able to see how predictable the cravings were in those first few days reassured me that I could once again get through stage one, the grueling part. But what about stage two, the important, maintenance part? I already knew myself well enough to understand that I couldn't have even one cigarette during a night out with friends, or I would be hooked again.
Way back then, I thought that if I was hooked again, it would be a lost cause. However, in the twenty-one years since my last cigarette, I've come to realize that you build up your habits, including the non-smoking one, just like you build up your muscles. When you exercise your right to say "no" to your body, even for a little while, you're building the ability to have discipline about that particular habit.
Granted, smoking is an addiction, and with any addiction, your body is being rewarded every time you take in the smoke; it wants to be rewarded and you have a lot of triggers to deal with in slowly quieting that reward system down. But, without the reward, it does quiet down over time.
I realized that for myself over time. I was mainly worried about wanting a cigarette suddenly and giving in to it, or even wanting one at predictable times, and giving in to it. After the first physical cravings were over, I made sure that I wore my watch.
If I had a craving, I timed it. Being a woman who had been through childbirth, I thought of it as a pain I had to get through. A male friend who tried timing his cravings had been injured a few years before, and he remembered the times he moved incorrectly after his injury and how long it hurt after his move. So he thought of his craving as a post-injury pain that he had to get through. Whatever it's associated with that's unpleasant and short-term would probably work for you as an association.
Anyway, if water was handy, I sipped it. If very cold water was available, even better. I drank it as slowly as possible. If food was handy, I tried to find something that required a lot of chewing and was satisfyingly crunchy.
One time, I had nothing and was sitting by a door during a lecture. Somebody was smoking outside. I smelled it, and it smelled so good! I sat there completely miffed, because I suddenly wanted a cigarette in the worst way. I had no water and nothing to eat. I couldn't leave the lecture. I had to do something. So I started quietly doing Kegel exercises and isometric butt crunches to pass those 6 minutes. That was my worst time, and I succeeded!
As I said earlier, it's been twenty-one years since I had a cigarette. Over several years, even the mere hint of craving connected to having a cigarette slowly and silently went away, until one day I realized that I hadn't wanted a cigarette in a long, long time. That was about four years after I had quit. In my dreams, I was sometimes still a smoker, so some errant little cells deep in my brain were probably remembering the good old days when they had access to nicotine. However, the rest of me was happy to be able to go up a flight of stairs without being out of breath, and to wake up without a rattling, hacking session.
If you're a smoker, have you tried to quit smoking before?
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