Zen of the Quit


Three Things You Must Know


First, for you and me and countless others, smoking is not merely a habit; it’s an addiction. Second, addictions cannot be cured; once an addict, always an addict. Third, the only way to control an addiction is to starve it.

Maybe you’d like to argue one of these points with me. Feel free; I’ve had these arguments too many times to remember. The first one that people usually argue is the assertion that smoking is not a habit for you; it’s an addiction.

O.K. If smoking was just a habit, you could just quit without thinking about it. So ask yourself this: can you just put your cigarettes down right now, never pick one up again, and never look back? If you can, why haven’t you?

There’s unquestionably a habit component to your smoking behavior. In fact, there are multiple habit components to it. But it goes way beyond that, and the first step to recovery is accepting that you’re an addict.

If you get past that, the next thing you need to accept is that addiction is permanent: after you stop feeding your addiction (i.e., smoking, in this context), no matter how long you abstain from feeding it, all it takes is a single taste, and you’ll quickly be back to feeding it full-time.

Back in the early 80s, I went through a program called SmokEnders, and it worked: I quit, and didn’t smoke (or have any real desire to do so) for almost 3 years. Then one day, I smoked “just one.” Within a few days, I was a pack a day smoker again, and went back into the quit/relapse cycle for nearly 20 years, until I was diagnosed with an advanced case of emphysema.

That was my wake-up call, and I found a program called Freedom From Smoking, went through it, and quit again. But this time, I knew I had to make it stick, because the consequences of another relapse and more years of smoking were too horrifying to contemplate.

So I spent the next year and a bit re-training myself: I used the stimulus of the urge to smoke to trigger the deliberate conscious choice not to smoke, and to reinforce my reasons for making that choice, until it became so ingrained that I haven’t smoked in over 18 years at the time of this writing, and I never expect to smoke again.

I also consciously reinforced my reasons for not smoking multiple times every day, even in the absence of the urge to smoke, because I knew from personal experience that the only way to control my addiction was to starve it: if I fed it just one time, I knew what would happen, and the end stages of emphysema are pretty gruesome.

So I came up with a technique that worked for me, and has worked for hundreds of others I’ve shared it with over the years.

More on this as we go along.

(If you're feeling a bit lost, it may be helpful to go back to the first post and follow along in order.)

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