Giving Up Smoking – A Transferable Approach to Breaking a Habit?

Here are the details of two techniques that freed me from the habit of smoking, the first technique worked for 5 years, the second, forever, so far. I bring the lists up-front in case you don’t have time to read my waffle.


I woke up one morning with a pain in my chest.  Turned out it was a pulled muscle, but I didn’t find that out until later on.  The night before my fear event, I had stupidly, honestly told someone that I would never give up smoking as I enjoyed it too much.  As soon as I noticed the pain, I stopped there and then on the spot, and didn’t touch another cigarette for 5 years.  Fear is an enormous motivator, but it needs to be real fear, self inflicted and visceral, not just a rational notion that this is bad for you, so don’t do it, you may get ill.  If you don’t have the fear, but still wish to give up, try the next approach.

Response Prevention

  1. Try to wait as long as you can before you have the first cigarette of the day.  If you light up before you leave the house, try to wait until you have left the house.  Try to wait until 5 minutes before your train arrives.  Even increasing by a minute per day is progress.  Keep pushing it to as late in the day as you can manage.
  2. Every time you want a cigarette, wait another twenty minutes before allowing yourself.  Set your watch or phone timer for twenty minutes, and if you still want it, have you cigarette then.  If that’s too easy, set it for thirty minutes, but no less than twenty.  Smoking every twenty minutes allows you three cigarettes per hour.
  3. Smoke half a cigarette.  Keep the rest of it until later.  Even if this is your fundamental approach, you will immediately cut your smoking by half.  Personally, whenever I wanted a cigarette, I found my urge was satisfied by half way through a cigarette anyway.  Do you really want all of that cigarette?  Your brain has had its hit by the time you exhale the first puff.
  4. Keep cigarettes handy.  If I can’t have something, then I want it all the more.  If the cigarettes are nearby, then its just a case of will power and techniques 1 to 3, and this is much less agonising than constantly thinking about going out to buy some cigarettes, and the accompanying guilt or sense of failure.  Remove that self-flagellation and give yourself a break – its not easy, and having them nearby as a crutch makes total sense if you are applying techniques 1 – 3.
  5. Don’t smoke with others at work.  If you keep going out for a cigarette every time your smoking buddies do, then they are calling the shots.  If they are still a trigger, wait until they come back from their cigarette break before you go on yours, apply 2 and 3.

Jase’s Theory of Nicotine Addiction

Nicotine suppresses hunger, that’s what I understand.  When inhaling cigarette smoke, nicotine hits your brain incredibly quickly and gives you some kind of hit.  Now take these two facts, and follow this logic: you are hungry, your brain tells you you are hungry triggering a desire.  You smoke a cigarette and immediately your brain receives some signal which not only provides feedback for the hunger, albeit an incorrect signal, but the nicotine also suppresses your appetite. Ahhhh, that feels good, and I am no longer hungry. A double lie to your brain.  Its easy to see that before too long, this cycle of hunger – nicotine – satisfaction results in weight loss, in turn giving rise to more hunger signals and the urge to lie to your brain again.  Smoking.  Those are some fundamental desires going on there, hunger, pleasure, satiation, and once confused, no wonder its so difficult to give up.

Response Prevention?

I discovered the techniques 1 to 4 myself, and they were very effective.  When I later beat my obsessive compulsive disorders, it was through the technique of response prevention, fostered upon me by my partner, a psychiatric nurse.  This technique aims to break the neural pathways that are laid down by habit, and thus gradually break the habit.  For my hand washing disorder, this involved increasing the time between a trigger and the habitual response – so, every time I considered my hands dirty, I waited as long as possible before washing them, and afterwards, repeating the mantra it’s not so bad, the dirt didn’t kill me.  I was allowed to wash my hands, I just had to eke out the time between episodes.  It worked.

Applying that notion to techniques 1-5 above, you can see that you would be slowly chipping away at the undesirable neural pathways, and constantly weakening them instead of reinforcing them.  Habit does have a physiological affect on your brain, its not just a case of will power, its a case of destroying the unwanted links and laying new paths.  its not easy, and it takes time, but it is achievable, you just need to stick with it, and not throw it all away if some days are worse than others.

The triggers:

  • Physiological
      • hunger
    • stress
    • any others?
  • social
    • meal times
    • work breaks
    • pub visits
    • any others?
  • habitual
    • walking to the car
    • walking to the shop
    • waiting for the train / bus
    • after a bath
    • after training
    • band practice?
    • barbeques?

Whether or not you make a list of your triggers so that you are more aware, just keep applying the techniques and give it time.  You couldn’t just regrow a nail or a nerve or knit a broken bone, so give yourself a chance with regards to changing your brain.

I would say good luck! but there is no need.  Whether you want to give up or cut down, the above will work.  Let me know how you get on applying these or similar techniques, or indeed if you think I am talking absolute rot.

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