[Article updated on 17 September 2017]
Here's a simple, 5-step how to guide to quitting cigarettes forever.
Step 1: Motivating yourself to quit.
Step 2: Preparing yourself to quit.
Step 3: Quitting.
Step 4: Coping with cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
Step 5: Coping with failure.
So let's do it.
Step 1. Motivating yourself to quit
Make a list of the pros and cons of smoking. Here is an example of such a list: yours might be slightly different.
- Makes it easier to socialize with other smokers
- Makes me feel more confident in social situations
- Provides me with momentary gratification
- Prevents cravings and withdrawal symptoms
- Constant nagging from my partner and friends
- Bad breath putting my partner off
- Constantly having to go outside, even in the cold and rain
- The rancid smell on my house and on my clothes
- The effects on my health: sore throat, cough, shortness of breath, high blood pressure, stomach ulcers
- The effects on my appearance: looking 10 years older, yellow teeth, yellow fingernails, yellow skin
- Intense cravings and withdrawal symptoms if I don't light up
- Always needing a fix and being unable to simply relax and enjoy life
- Feelings of inadequacy for not giving up
- Guilt for the passive smoking endured by those around me
- The exorbitant cost of it all, especially the fact that I can never afford a holiday
Step 2. Preparing yourself to quit
Keep your list on your person and read it several times a day to motivate yourself to quit. Choose a date on which you want to quit and stick to it. Between now and that date, keep a log of your smoking habits: record the times at which you ‘light up’, where you then were, what you were doing, and how you were feeling. Use this log to gain a better understanding of your smoking habits.
Step 3. Quitting
Once your chosen date arrives, make a clean break by throwing out all cigarettes and removing all ashtrays, lighters, and matches. You are then likely to experience intense cravings together with withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, difficulty concentrating, tiredness, headache, increased appetite, and insomnia.
Step 4. Coping with cravings and withdrawal symptoms
Nicotine replacement can help to relieve these cravings and withdrawal symptoms, so do ask a physician to prescribe some for you. Cravings rarely last for more than a couple of minutes at a time and diversion techniques such as chewing gum, brushing your teeth, or playing a video game may take your mind off them until they pass. If these diversion techniques fail, call a friend or relative who knows what you are going through and is willing to give you some support. Alternatively, take another look at your list of pros and cons and use it to keep yourself motivated. Cravings are often triggered by certain places, activities, and emotions that you have come to associate with smoking. Use the log of your smoking habits to identify these places, activities, and emotions, and try to devise alternative coping strategies.
Step 5. Coping with failure
Remember that cravings and withdrawal symptoms do not last forever, and that in a matter of only days quitting will have become a much easier task! Do not be too harsh on yourself if you give in to temptation: put it behind you and keep on trying your best.
Neel Burton is author of Heaven and Hell: The Psychology of the Emotions, Hide and Seek: The Psychology of Self-Deception, and other books.