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The Ultimate Guide to Quit Smoking (And How to Succeed)

July 27, 2022
By Pivot
pile of cigarettes

Thinking about quitting smoking? Or maybe you’re ready to try quitting again?

Everyone has their own reasons for smoking in the first place – and for wanting to stop. That’s why there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for those toying with the idea of quitting. Still, research shows that certain approaches work much better than others. Check out these seven ways to help successfully quit smoking and make your first steps more successful toward a happier smoke-free future.

Seven best tips to help when quitting smoking

Don’t quit smoking today

That’s right. Don’t throw your last pack in the trash (just yet).

Isn’t quitting today the whole point? Well, not exactly. The real goal is to give up cigarettes for good – and long-term success is way more important than a hasty (and perhaps futile) attempt. 

Countless studies show that going cold turkey almost never works. The next time someone tells you that they quit all at once, ask how many times they’d tried in the past. You’ll soon discover that all those “failed” attempts were part of the process. It didn’t really happen in one fell swoop. People almost always make multiple tries until everything comes together in the right way, and they’re done for good.

You’re more likely to be successful when you recognize that quitting smoking is a journey—one that involves planning, skill-building, and, most importantly, making the journey your own. So even if today isn’t your day to quit, it could still be the day you start exploring all the different aspects of your smoking experience – and decide if, when, and why you might be 100% ready. 

Know your smoking patterns

How many cigarettes do you smoke per day? When are you most likely to smoke? What are your smoking triggers? Are there unexpected people or events that send you reaching for a cigarette?

Understanding patterns and routines is essential for taking control of your smoking habits in a way that is valuable to you. And one of the best ways to figure out your patterns? By tracking them, which can be a great way to get real about how much, when, and why you smoke. You may be surprised to find out that you smoke more (or less) than you thought, or that there are certain times of day when you’re especially likely to smoke.

Keeping a record of your smoking is simple. Use the notes feature on your smartphone, consider downloading a mobile app, or getting a little notebook to keep in your pocket. Each time you smoke, document the number of cigarettes, time of day, and reasons for smoking. Don’t cheat. Remember, you’re only doing this for yourself.

Identify your reasons for smoking

When you start tracking your cigarette usage, you’ll begin noticing things. Maybe you only crave nicotine first thing in the morning, or when you’re out with friends. Perhaps smoking breaks are your favorite part of the work day. Becoming aware of these patterns can lead you to figure out why you smoke, and why you’d want to quit.

Chances are that smoking has been part of your life for quite a while. Maybe you like how smoking makes you feel - focused, relaxed, etc. Smoking might be a way for you to escape from tense situations. For some, smoking feels safe and reliable, almost like a friend they can turn to when life seems uncertain or out of control.

Review your motivators carefully. Then ask yourself, in light of these insights, why you really want to quit. Write down your answers.

Articulating your reasons can be tricky because for some people, there’s external pressure to quit, whether from friends, coworkers, partners, doctors, or society in general. You need to make sure you’re doing it for your reasons, not someone else’s. Having a clear understanding of exactly why you want to quit will help you push through triggers and intense cravings, and give you a reason to get back on track - even if you slip up.

Envision your life after smoking

The next step is to think about a smoke-free future. This might not be as easy as it sounds. If you’ve been smoking for a long time, you may find it hard to even imagine what it would be like to get through a single day without cigarettes.

Try listing all the things you would gain from not smoking. In other words, put a positive spin on it. Don’t focus on letting go of the benefits your habit seems to provide. Instead, contemplate all the great new possibilities that could be coming your way in terms of health, relationships, finances, and freedom.

Here’s an example. Visualize the improvements you’ll experience regarding time. It takes about six minutes to smoke a cigarette. If you smoke a pack a day, you’re losing about two hours every day to your habit. What better use could you be making of all that extra time every day?

Now do the same thing with money. The average price of a pack of cigarettes in the U.S. is about $8 but can vary depending on the state you live in. At that rate, someone who smokes a pack a day spends about $56 per week and $224 per month on cigarettes. That adds up to well over $2,500 per year. No doubt you can dream up plenty of other ways to use such a tidy sum.

Time and money aren’t the only things that you can look forward to gaining. You’ll have healthier teeth and gums. Your clothes, home, and car will smell better. Breathing and exercise will be easier. You will become a positive role model for others around you. You might find a new sense of freedom once your life doesn’t revolve around your next cigarette. And imagine the pride you’ll feel from kicking the habit.

Now move beyond daydreaming, and flesh out your thoughts and emotions. Let yourself get excited about how fresh your lungs will feel, how happy your loved ones will be, how proud you’ll feel of yourself, and how your self-esteem will grow. Get very specific. Fill in details until your vision becomes real to you. Practice holding this vision as it gets stronger and stronger until you can count on it, like a new muscle, to keep your motivation strong.

Investigate your attitudes about quitting

How do you really feel about quitting smoking? This isn’t the same as asking if you want to quit, or why you’d want to. It means facing the fears and self-doubts that might be holding you back, and digging deeper into who you are as a person.

Did a significant event in your past contribute to your reliance on nicotine? Have you had trouble sticking to projects and seeing them through to completion? Did a parent or other authority figure make disparaging comments that echo in your mind, causing you to doubt your ability to succeed?  Deep-seated fears may have robbed you of self-confidence, causing you to falter when trying to quit in the past.

But as the old saying goes, knowledge is power. The better you understand your attitudes and self-image, the easier it will be to change. That’s because you can tailor your quit journey around predictable pitfalls, and increase your likelihood of success.

For instance, if you realize that you’re not completely confident about your ability to quit smoking, consider a practice quit. Tell yourself that you’re just giving it a try, perhaps for a day or two. This eliminates the pressure you might feel about quitting forever. It’s just a trial run to see what it feels like – no big deal. Then at the end of the practice period, you can evaluate how it went and decide if you want to try it again, perhaps for a longer period this time. This lets you chunk your quit journey into smaller, more bite-sizedl steps, so it’s no longer a monumental task to face all at once.

If you still aren’t sure if you want to quit, think about why someone you admire might want to. Projecting your reasoning onto another person can get your fears out of the way and add objectivity. Then do an inner analysis, asking yourself what might be holding you back.

As you investigate your mental and emotional obstacles to quitting, consider questions like these:

  • How many times have you tried to quit in the past?
  • How confident are you that you could quit if you really tried?
  • How important to you is it to quit smoking?
  • What factors make this a good (or not-so-good) time to quit?
  • What will it take to make you 100% ready?

Write down your answers, and review them if your determination wavers. Use them to become your own cheerleader and psych yourself up with your own insights.

Know your smoking triggers

Think about the times and situations when you are most tempted to light up. When you’re at a party? Feeling stressed, bored, or lonely? Maybe with your morning coffee?

Once you’ve identified your most problematic situations, develop strategies for dealing with them. Get creative. Start with just one or two of your triggers—maybe not the hardest ones first. Decide what you will do when the urge for a cigarette hits you. Be very specific. See if you can set up a string of early successes. “When I crave a smoke while driving, I’ll chew a piece of gum.” Or, “I’ll keep a rubber band around my wrist and snap it when I reach for a cigarette, so I’m aware of what’s going on.” 

Here are more ideas:

  • Play a game on your phone
  • Listen to a favorite song
  • Talk or text with a friend
  • Draw, doodle, or color
  • Go for a walk
  • Do something active like jumping jacks, air squats, or push-ups
  • Practice yoga or meditation
  • Breathe slowly and deeply five times

The goal is to find something that will keep you occupied until the urge to smoke subsides. If your first strategies don’t work, that’s okay. Keep experimenting until you find practices that work and fit well into your lifestyle. 

Don’t go it alone

While your journey to quitting cigarettes is a deeply personal one, it often helps to have company along the way. Having a companion by your side can make a big difference. A professional coach will understand the nuances of quitting and the science behind addiction treatment. A pro will also know which strategies have been most effective for others, and share constructive suggestions with you. A quit smoking support group can be beneficial too, as you will learn from the experiences of peers working toward the same goal you are.

Family and friends make a difference as well. You need all the support you can get. Ask your loved ones to offer encouragement in a non-judgmental way, spurring you on rather than nagging. This is a fine line to walk, of course, and requires strong communication skills. But the long-term benefits can be enormous. Relationships become stronger when we share a purpose. We as humans are a social species, and the power of community gives us strength, courage, and persistence, which are coincidentally some of the exact qualities needed to overcome your smoking habit for good.

Ready to give quitting a try?

Now that you understand the behavioral aspects of getting off tobacco, it may be time to put your insights into practice. Look for a tobacco cessation program with a scientific approach and proven results. 

And remember, whether you use a program, join a group, hire your own coach, or enlist the help of friends and family, act decisively when the time feels right. Admittedly, nicotine is a highly addictive substance, and quitting is often easier said than done. Nevertheless, millions of people have successfully kicked the smoking habit. With the right knowledge, attitude, and plans, you can be one of them.

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