10 Mental Tricks To Help You Quit Smoking

4 min
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So much of the addiction to smoking is around the ritual of it all. Studies show that 70-90% of people who attempt to quit have a relapse, and while the addiction to physical substances or chemicals (such as nicotine) is, of course, a factor, personal and lifestyle habits ー like being unable to resist the temptation to light up ー are another major obstacle. It’s that first toke after a challenging day, or an excuse to get five beautifully peaceful minutes to yourself when the house is in chaos. It’s lighting up over a gossip with friends, or meeting new people in the smoking area. Or perhaps it’s a sort of security blanket: the one that gives you something to “do” at a party or a place where you have social anxiety, the go-to habit that comforts you when you’re pacing around while on a stressful phone call, or what keeps your other hand occupied while you sip a drink

Smoking is as much about giving yourself permission to relax as it is about the chemicals that you inhale. Nicotine may be a powerful drug, but our minds can be much more so – the CBQ Method for instance, which offers a cognitive behavioral approach to smoking cessation, suggests that 80% of the addiction is mental. One huge leap in the journey is in making the decision to quit smoking and committing to it, however daunting it may seem. Here are some tips and tricks to help you on your mission to kick the habit.

  1. Keep Your Hands Busy - Find a hobby that requires the use of your hands, such as doing jigsaw puzzles, knitting, doodling, or coloring. Make sure it is something you find absorbing, meditative even – so it will help distract you while your cravings subside, as well as making sure your fingers don’t reach for that cigarette box.
  2. Switch Up The Ritual - Keep the habit of going outside for regular breaks, but when you get there, instead of lighting up, take ten deep breaths. Count them, and fill your lungs deeply with each one. You can even imagine you are sucking on a cigarette and put your fingers to your lips to begin with, if necessary. Gift yourself that little break in your day一just ditch the chemical compulsion. 
  3. Keep Your Mouth Busy - Oral fixation is a compulsion to find comfort through the mouth. Common habits include nail-biting, eating, and drinking as well as smoking. Many people quitting smoking find that chewing gum or a toothpick, or sucking on a hard candy, can help soothe this physical craving.
  4. Keep an Unopened Packet of Cigarettes in the House - This might not work for everyone, but if you are able to resist it, sometimes staring temptation straight in the eye and saying ‘no’ anyway can feel incredibly empowering. Challenge yourself with the notion that you could open the pack if you had to. But do you really want to? Here are a few other reasons for quitting, to remind yourself of each time you look at the packet (you can even try writing them down and taping them to that packet as a reminder, if it helps): Aside from the health benefits, which include a significantly decreased risk of lung cancer, quitting smoking will help improve the look of your skin, nails, and teeth, and it’ll also help you save some money, as you stop the financial burden of spending money on cigarettes or other smoking paraphernalia. 
  5. Buy Yourself Time - Cravings are powerful, but they will pass. When you’re hit with an intense urge to smoke, give yourself 10 minutes. You can even set a timer or start a new task, and only let yourself decide whether or not to give in once it is completed. Chances are you’ll be feeling calmer and more in control by the end of it.
  6. Get Moving - Another great intervention for when cravings strike is to go for a walk or a run, put on your favorite song and dance, or simply jump up and down. Get your lungs and your bloodstream pumping with oxygen, and remember how good it feels when these vital organs are working in tip-top condition. 
  7. Treat Yourself - Replace your smoke break with something sweet. It can be literal, like a square of chocolate, or something that brings pleasure in other ways like playing with a pet, taking a whiff of a soothing essential oil blend, or even a quick meditation or moment of mindfulness. And be sure to reward yourself at the big milestones on the journey of quitting – a day, a week, a month. There are even some apps you can download to help you keep a tally of how many days you’ve been smoke-free.
  8. Avoid Triggers and Tempters - We can associate all sorts of things with the smoking habit – places, people, and activities, such as going for drinks at your favorite bar with certain friends. Do your best to stay away from tempting situations for at least a month or two. True friends will understand that you just need a little space while you master this major personal goal. If you’re not sure what your triggers are, keep a notebook handy (or use a notes app on your smartphone if you prefer to do this digitally), and write down how you’re feeling and what you’re doing each time you feel the urge to smoke. Eventually, a pattern will emerge, which you can then take action with.
  9. Tell Everyone About Your Resolution To Quit - A study from Dominican University of California found that writing down goals and declaring them to others for accountability leads to a much higher chance of achieving them. Journal about your decision to quit smoking and why, tell friends and family, and be honest about how it’s going.
  10. Sit With The Urge - Cigarette cravings can hit hardest when we are triggered by stressors from work and life. This is a difficult one to do, but think about what might have triggered your latest urge to light up, be patient with yourself, and sit with it. Remind your body that it is safe to question the discomfort, and examine what it is bringing up for you emotionally. Whatever happens, and however long the journey to quitting takes, you’ve got this.

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All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals and other resources that influenced this article: Smoking Cessation; Barriers to smoking cessation; The Long-Term Quitting (Smoking Cessation) Study; Prevalence and determinants of cigarette smoking relapse among US adult smokers: a longitudinal study; Smoking cessation and counseling; A Comparative Study on Tobacco Cessation Methods: A Quantitative Systematic Review 

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