- Mental Health
Quitting Smoking: Anticipation Harder Than Withdrawal
Freedom after so many Attempts
Bob Hope: "Quitting smoking is easy - I have done it many times".
I used to smoke 2-3 packs a day, and just like Bob Hope's one liner suggests, I "tried" to quit my nasty habit more times than I care to remember. When I finally did it - cold-turkey, I just couldn't get it why it had been so hard before.
I quit cold-turkey some other habits, like alcohol, coffee, and Coca-Cola, never to even taste them again. I can remember making coffee for my wife the next morning and not being tempted to have some - even though I used to see myself as a "coffee monster".
So, what's making such a big deal of quitting that we are sweating bullets at every attempt? What ideas popped up in my mind that suddenly made an instant non-smoker out of me?
"Trying" just Couldn't Do It
No, they had nothing to do with "motivation". I tried that one and always came out just embarrassed while writing my list of the reasons why I should beat my tobacco addiction. Embarrassed and pissed off at myself just enough to light up another one with a promise to "regroup some day" and tackle the issue from some other angle.
Then I thought that maybe I had to read that list every day until it might eventually pry my eyes open to be fully conscious what I was doing to myself, to my body, to the smell of my home and my car...and what else. The more I read, the more I smoked.
Crap!!! Back to the drawing board. How about changing my diet, meditate more or longer, do some breathing exercises, how about...and I just kept inhaling those fumes like my life depended on it.
The problem was also in my basic nature of a happy camper, because I could easily shrug every such defeat to leave the solution to some other times. Certainly didn't lose any sleep over it.
Simple? I Must Be Kidding Myself
Being a meditator and a very selective user of Eastern philosophies, I ran into those words of wisdom long time before that final victory over my smoking addiction: "To be effective - it has to be simple". I was using it in other aspects of my mindset and it worked like a charm, removing the fuss and complicating from my life in more than one way.
As I was brainstorming over anything that I had not tried already, this very unlikely solution dawned on me. "Simple", and "quitting smoking" just didn't go together without sounding as a joke. And yet, at the end with my wits I started exploring the crazy idea while having nothing to lose.
What if I am making a bigger deal of the whole thing that it deserves? After all, humans tend to do exactly that, and a big issue always calls for something "outlandishly complicated" in order to look doable.
For the life in me I can't remember now how my mind computed that idea that the very word "quitting" was hiding The Solution.
Fixation on Not-Doing
Quitting meant "not doing" and it had a lots of fear attached to it - that was my first realization, and I knew it intuitively - that's what had to be addressed. "Not doing my smoking" suddenly felt crazy, like being fixated on some other things that I would normally "not do"---like not robbing a bank, not raping someone... you know what I mean?
Really, how do you "do" your quitting by obsessing over "not doing"? And why fight myself---like if one hand wanted to get a glass of water and the other hand did its best to sabotage it. You either do it or you don't, like so many other things in the course of a day.
It was so wrong, and no wonder quitting looked so impossible. There was also that crazy popular advertising about hardships of quitting, like: "Quitting tobacco is as hard as quitting heroin", along with all those living examples who seemed to be proving it correct.
The image kept appearing in my scared mind of that poor devil in a TV documentary who had a surgical hole on his throat for breathing after an operation on his windpipe---and sticking a cigarette into it for a draw. Was quitting really that hard?
So, how to turn myself around and start taking some baby steps into that scary emptiness without cigarettes? How to take my fixating eyes off that "not doing"?
No Negations in the Nature
Something else from my personal life-philosophy came to provide the answer to all that - my strong conviction that life means "doing", and there is no such a thing as a negation in the nature, including our own, meaning that "not doing" doesn't exist.
Negation is completely a mind construct of an abstraction necessary in our life denoting something "missing", but in reality it doesn't exist. "Non-smoking" means nothing in terms of life processes in us, and as long as I think about it, my subconscious - dealing only with "what IS" - only picks up that "smoking" part of it, and of course, keeps providing the need for another fix.
Indeed, there is nothing in the nature that "isn't, that "may be", that "would be if..." - everything simply IS and DOES. So, what's the logical outcome from this realization? Re-focusing on "what a non-smoker-me IS and DOES, so that I can get a natural support from my goal-striving subconscious mind which always sees thoughts in terms of "what to do"? Who was I as a non-smoker, and how would I act from moment to moment while being one?
How many Things We "Don't" Do?
Even from a very superficial standpoint, having negations as a part of living sounds silly. Like, while I am typing now, what does it really matter what else I am "not" doing? To dismiss the list of all those small things like watching TV or doing the crossword as an alternative, I could even stand up, dress up, drive myself to the airport and by a ticket to Hawaii. While it would be perfectly "possible", it's also one of those many things that don't matter one bit in my present life.
In those moments of my final smartening up about "quitting smoking" issue, "not lighting up another one" was supposed to be just another of those things that "me-the-non-smoker" wouldn't even bother thinking about, let alone doing.
Really, folks, take an ordinary non-smoking dude, and ask him how often during the day it "doesn't" cross his mind to have a cigarette.
Fearful Imagination as an Obstacle
Another part of it had to have something to do with peeling the fear off the whole project. At the very beginning I mentioned how "outlandish" the task may seem at first. Now, let me debunk that "outlandisness" by first making it clear how we are more suggestible than we think.
Especially in matters where fear is involved as an emotional charge in it. "Fear has big eyes" they say, and indeed, we tend to see what is not there, our imagination going ballistic when driven by fear.
The following two little stories should be a good illustration of this useful point. Both will show how our mind may work against us sabotaging our good intentions - like that one of quitting the tobacco habit once and for all. You may even find them somewhat entertaining.
A Case of An Awful Tasting Water
In a small town the sheriff radioed an announcement that water was going to taste bad for a while due to a high reading of bacterial contamination which called for an additional use of chlorine. Not long after his phone got flooded by calls from pissed off people not choosing words to describe the way water tasted.
However, as it turned out, the technician - whose job it was to test the drinking water - had misread his instruments and no additional chlorine had to be used. It took him a little while to realize his mistake, and in that meantime came all those calls from highly suggestible folks whose taste buds got affected by the suggestive announcement.
Well, who wouldn't believe the words of their good sheriff, and why would he ever joke about water in the first place. The negative suggestion did it.
While Swimming Seemed Impossible
Another story is about myself at times when I was a little non-swimmer enviously looking at bigger kids enjoying their playing in water. Their teasing and encouragement didn't help any, and I just couldn't think of myself ever being able to make that jump into the deep part of the river. I tried to imitate swimming moves in shallow water, but somehow fear made one muscle work against another, and I had no coordination that would have meant staying afloat.
And then I learned, and it was easy - leaving me with wonder about all that disbelief in myself and hesitation. There was nothing to it, but my fear was making it something outlandish. Can you see where I am going with this?
Simply One of those Things Not Done
Much like the case of people falling for the false announcement from their sheriff, and my swimming thwarted by fear - was that fear of quitting overblown by all negative expectations inspired by stories about difficulties of quitting smoking.
How did I overcome it? It actually came so natural, once that I turned my attention to acting out "myself-the-non-smoker". Remember the point about "no negations"? Shifting my mind from what was "not" there in my life to what "was", I could smoothly attend to all those tasks at hand - just like I would have done had I never been a smoker.
And I just couldn't notice any silly reason to be "scared" of doing those. Life became something to "do", and there were hundreds of possible things that I didn't do which didn't matter - and one of those things happened to be smoking.
Ever since, I never got tempted to light one up.
After All Coaching Is Over
Even if only one of you smokers reading this article quits smoking by using the ideas that I shared in it, all this writing won't be for nothing. I understand how we are all different and one approach may not work for everyone.
But logic should have something to do with "common sense", and what is "common" should apply to the most of us. I hope I succeeded to present my ideas in a logical way, and then it may only be some variations in the degree of people being suggestible and how deep they fell for that popular story about "hardships" of quitting.
By realizing that it's mostly our negative anticipation keeping us from final victory over the nasty habit, we may also start examining other areas in our life where a silly fear has been crippling our free expression of our potential.
So, one victory may trigger some others---but we won't see it that way until "happy puffing" becomes the craziest thing that we do, while wondering why it took us so long.