“I had about 8 cigarettes last night while I was talking with friends. I hated myself. I could almost feel the swollen linings of my lungs.”
“Today, every time I lit up, I despised myself. It was the first time I ever admitted to myself that I had a problem with smoking.”
“Still smoking....Experiencing a tremendous anxiety about what I’m doing to my body.”
“When I wake up, I feel like a 190-pound gorilla is sitting on my chest.”
Recently I found these statements in a journal that I had kept when I was in my 20s. I hadn’t realized how much self-hatred I had felt about smoking for the 10 years I had indulged. Since I don’t view myself as someone with an “addictive personality,” I had also forgotten how many times I tried to quit...and didn’t.
I finally made a vow to quit after a beloved aunt died from lung cancer as a result of her own long-term smoking habit. This decision to change was different from my earlier quit attempts—my aunt’s death made the reality of my actions all too clear. I decided to quit as a personal tribute to her. Instead of wishing I could quit, I made a resolution to quit. I quit "warm turkey," cutting down and setting a quit date. The quit date was the first day of a road trip with a friend. Without realizing it, I was using a very effective technique—changing the cues around me so I wasn’t as tempted to succumb to force of habit. (I describe the details of my successful quit attempt in my book Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success.)
After months of coping without my “false friends,” I could finally define myself as an ex-smoker. My relationship with cigarettes was dead, and I was not.
At the time, my act of quitting smoking seemed like a small decision in the great scheme of things. I saw it as “getting back to who I was” rather than a great leap forward in my life. I never really gave myself enough credit for making a hard decision and sticking to it. Looking back, I’m sorry I was not able to be more compassionate with myself. Research now tells us that “despising” oneself only leads to more guilt—and giving in to one’s habit to feel better. Nevertheless I managed to muddle through, focusing on my motivators of “family” and “breathing free.” This time I did not relapse, even once.
That act of self-care seemed to set in motion a chain of positive events. I met the man I would eventually marry. I became progressively more committed to my counseling work. I had a child. I began to build a life.
And eventually I became an author and blogger on the topic of...(wait for it!)...how to motivate yourself to overcome harmful habits and cultivate positive ones!
So, as educator Jill Ker Conway once said, “You only need one decisive act of free will to transform the course of your entire life.” An existential decision can start with the simple words: “I quit!”
(c) Meg Selig
Meg Selig is the author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success (Routledge, 2009). Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.