How I Quit Smoking for Good in 5 Simple Steps
Today marks day 365 as a non-smoker after being a pack-a-day smoker for 15 years. A year ago, I could have only hoped this day would come, but I could not be certain. I chose to quit at a unique time in my life while living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where smoking is widely expected and does not carry the negative stigma like it does in the U.S. I can safely say anyone I met back then who saw me smoking or anyone I meet now who finds out I am a former smoker is shocked, as it’s the last thing that fits in with my healthy lifestyle. I live, breath and sleep wellness, self-care and nutrition, but alas I’m human…and I enjoyed smoking.
I have countless stories of the unique people I have met and conversations I have had through the outdoor social aspect that smoking provided. Bottom line, it’s an ice-breaker and conversation with strangers flows easily when you are taking a smoke break. At the same time, I knew smoking did not “fit me” and had no place in my otherwise very healthy lifestyle, but I “needed” it at the time, because an addiction feels like a need, whether it’s coffee, alcohol, sugar, working out excessively, etc. I had tried quitting 30+ times and that is not an exaggeration. Quitting smoking never stuck and I tried a variety of quitting methods including cold turkey, the patch, weaning off and prescription drugs like Chantix and Wellbutrin.
What worked for me? As I approached this one-year mark as a non-smoker (which I almost did not realize), I really had to think about how I quit because this “plan” was not fully intentional. I have listed some of my methods below, which may very well help others with any type of non-nourishing habit they want to eliminate. This quitting process brought me to a place where I no longer think anything of cigarettes. I don’t hate them, I don’t love them, I’m indifferent to everything about them and they are simply not a part of my thoughts or life….even during the most stressful moments, which were always the biggest trigger for me.
My Step 1: Make a promise to someone you love (and to yourself)
I made a promise to myself about someone I cared about more than anything and that person was my dog Autumn. When I chose to quit smoking while in Malaysia, I had embarked on a yearlong journey of international travel. I made a promise to myself in writing, verbally to friends that I could not return home to my Autumn as a smoker. Period. With this said, I had a year…do you think I chose to quit right away? Of course not. I waited until month eight of my travels before truly committing, but I committed.
I would recommend keeping this promise to yourself, and to only share it with people other than that person you are making the promise for. It is more powerful to keep these promises internal within you sometimes and to not set anyones expectations but your own.
My Step 2: Have people to hold you accountable (who you are not SUPER close to)
While abroad, one of my fellow travelers created a monthly meet-up group where we would meet and set obtainable and measurable 30-day goals. We would share these goals with a small group, allowing for accountability and support. What was my first 30-day goal? To set up a plan to quit smoking and a date. Notice, my 30-day goal was not to quit smoking; simply set up a plan to quit. Speaking this out loud to a group gave me a new sense of accountability I had never had before, which you can really only get from people you are not super close to. You can also gain support from outsiders via apps like Butt Out and support hotlines like smokefree.gov, which will text you words of encouragement and check in with you.
My Step 3: Know your triggers
We all have triggers for any negative behavior we want to change. For smoking it is often stress, drinking, boredom, distraction, etc. I made a list of my triggers and thought of an action step besides smoking to react to those triggers. If I was stressed, I would take a walk, cook a meal or drink some tea. If I was bored, I would start to take care of much-needed to-do items I had been neglecting, call a friend, watch a new movie or read a book. Being aware of your triggers takes away any element of surprise, so when I had a moment of craving, I would replace the negative action of smoking with one that served me better and wait it out. Cravings last about two minutes long, on and off, in my experience.
My Step 4: Replacement therapy
Just like nutrition, quitting any addiction is based on the individual, and what works for one person might not be the best for someone else. Replacement therapy helped me immensely and made the process of quitting smoking a lot less intimidating. My nicotine replacement therapy of choice was the patch and an e-cigarrette/vape pen for nights out, which were a trigger. Both replacement therapies made stressful situations more manageable, e.g. being alone getting emergency kidney stone surgery in Malaysia.
My Step 5: Don’t make it Hard(er)
I had tried quitting smoking more times than I can remember and it was hard. I kept saying, “It’s so hard.” Quitting was tough, but it wasn't impossible, and it was much easier this time around. I believe a lot of this had to do with my mind-set and how I spoke about the situation. I didn't make it a huge deal, I didn’t tell any of my friends or family, and whenever I had a craving I just told myself smoking wasn’t an option (refer to my step 1). At the same time, I didn’t walk around saying I was never going to smoke again. Each day I would make a choice to not smoke that day and that day only. It’s a lot less intimidating by staying present with what I could commit to and I knew I could commit to that current day.
Despite all of my healthy habits, I walked around as a full-fledged smoker for so many years. I always knew I would quit “one day,” but I was never looking forward to that day. I can safely say the grass is far greener and smells much nicer on the other side!
Ready to quit smoking?