Why so many people don’t succeed when they try to quit smoking: Taking care of your behaviour

If you have been following, and I hope you have, you have already read about the need to attack all 3 parts of you addiction, the physiological, behavioural, and emotional. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go back and get caught up. In the last post we talked about some of the options available to overcome the physiological barrier of the smoking addiction, but now we are going to talk about overcoming the behavioural aspect of the addiction.

The need for nicotine hits us in such a way that the craving and low nicotine levels in our body can put us in a state of withdrawal. This mechanism is quite well understood, in how it relates to some of our neurotransmitters like dopamine for example. There is a behavioural aspect of the addiction which is understood less in the world of biology, but it more heavily studied in the world of psychology. When you try to quite smoking it is equally as important to deal with this aspect of the addiction as it is with the biologically understood aspect of the physiological addiction.

The behavioural addiction is the need to smoke due to the association between the smoking behaviour and certain other things that you do. The most common examples of this are drinking a beer, your morning cup of coffee, a break from work, and of course sex. Some people consider themselves casual smokers, and these are some of the most prone to be slaves to their behavioural addiction the strongest. These are the people who don’t smoke, just enjoy a cigarette when they have a beer, or when they take a break from work. If they refrain from these other behaviours, they might be able to go a week or two without a cigarette which is enough proof to them that they are not addicted, though this is not necessarily the case. Additionally, heavier smokers might understand the depth of their nicotine addiction but let the behavioural addiction slip under the radar. This is why it’s so important to recognise this aspect of the addiction, and give it the respect that it deserves when making that attempt to quit.

Taking a break from work:

Breaks from work are one of the weaknesses of our society with respect to social norms. When someone says they need a smoke break, nobody questions their motives, their motivation, their productivity, nothing of that sort. It creates a situation in which it is quite encouraging to take that smoke break because of the wide acceptance in society. If however you take a 5 minute meditation break, a quick break for a short walk in fresh air or something else of that sort suddenly people will look at you funny. They might question your motives, motivation and other things of the like. However there is so much evidence to support the benefits of a short break every so often in which you take a short walk, get some sun and some fresh air. It improves your focus, keeps you in a good mood, and this all turns into you being more likeable to your colleagues, being more productive etc. Turn this into the norm! It might take a few times of people looking at you funny, but eventually it will catch on and they will join you. Take your 5-10 minute break and go for a short walk outside, enjoy the sun and breath in fresh air, not your cigarette.

Other tricks to help you overcome the behavioural addiction:

CBT – Cognitive behavioural therapy

CBT takes many shapes and forms and is a strong tool to help you recognise something that you want to change, and come face to face with the problem. CBT is sometimes used to overcome insomnia and sleep difficulty. It is also used to overcome eating disorders, and change habits. With each different purpose, the CBT recommendations and procedure is  done a little bit differently. Often CBT is guided by a professional to make sure that you are following the course. The professional can help you understand in this situation for example which behaviours your smoking is connected to. This is more than half of the work, identifying and recognising these behaviours, because then you know specifically what you have to tackle.

How can you do CBT by yourself?

First of all it’s important to note that we are not recommending that you take this on by yourself. However, if you don’t have access to or prefer not to go to a professional it can be done on your own. We are going to go over a brief strategy, and if this is something you’re more serious about doing that we recommend further reading on the subject. That being said, one of the best ways to start your CBT is to keep a notepad attached or inside of your cigarette box. Every time that you take out a cigarette to smoke (and it’s absolutely imperative that it is EVERY time) you write down:

  • Date and time
  • What are you doing
  • Where are you
  • How are you feeling

It’s not extremely complicated, but it is extremely easy to miss a cigarette, or to smoke without writing it down. After a week or two, or even three, you can go back and recognise the trends and behaviours that you associate with smoking.

What do you do with the information?

Now that you have a better understanding of your behaviour connected to smoking, and your feeling connected to smoking, you can then go forward and differentiate between the behaviour and the cigarette. Pry them apart with force if you have to. Let’s take driving for example. Let’s say that one of the things that you commonly like to do is have a cigarette while you are driving. Make a rule for yourself that you are not allowed a cigarette when you drive. If you want to have a cigarette, stop the car, pull over, get out of the car, sit down on a bench close by and have your cigarette, that’s okay. But do not have that cigarette when you drive. Do you enjoy a cigarette with your morning coffee? Make a rule that you are not allowed to smoke with your coffee. When you have finished your coffee get up, go to a different place and have your smoke if you feel that you need it. But create a situation in which you enjoy your morning coffee without a cigarette. Lastly, recognise that this is true not just for the behaviour but also for the place. Do you have a yellow couch which is your favourite place to sit and have a cigarette? Make a rule that you are no longer allowed to smoke while sitting on that couch. Go sit on a different couch, in a different room or something of that sort, but create a situation in which you enjoy sitting on that yellow couch of yours without a cigarette.

This is an extremely powerful tool that you can use to overcome the behavioural part of the addiction. You are not depriving yourself of the nicotine that you might need, and you can get your fix afterwards in a different place. However you are differentiating between the behaviour and the cigarette, allowing you to proceed with the activities you love in the places that you love without being constantly reminded of the fact that these activities go hand and hand with a cigarette. Consider these rules important to yourself, just as you would make rules for your child and be upset if they did not follow them, treat the rules as you would want your child to treat your rules. Good luck, and don’t give up!


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