Conviction, Courage and Determination

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Quitting smoking requires all three strengths in equal doses, just like the three sides of an equilateral triangle, which is considered one of, if not the strongest of geometrical shapes.

Conviction: a firmly held belief or opinion.

Courage: the ability to do something that frightens one, or strength in the face of pain or grief.

Determination: firmness of purpose; resoluteness.


Putting those definitions into terms of quitting smoking, it means that you need to have:

Conviction = a solid reason for why you want to quit.

Courage = the ability to stand up to the difficulties you’ll face when quitting.

Determination = a driving force within you to reach your goal.

Many people who fail to quit do so because they are missing one of these elements. Their reasons for quitting don’t withstand the test of time. They give in too easily when confronted with the reality of not being able to smoke anymore, or they don’t have the resolve they thought they had to follow through. At least, until they are free of the addiction to nicotine and the psychological attachment to smoking.

That sounds very harsh on the surface, but it’s not, and it’s not anybody’s fault. Many of us have launched ourselves into projects that failed because we were not prepared, we hadn’t learned or understood what to expect, and we felt less than confident going into them. I’m a self-proclaimed expert at messing up D.I.Y projects and then having to call in a professional to fix my mess before fixing the actual problem. 🙂

My point is that you shouldn’t just throw yourself into quitting smoking and hope that it works out alright. It’s much better to understand why you want to quit, learn about what to expect when you quit and learn to build that confidence to see you through to success.  It may sound like a tall order, but it’s totally achievable!

Uncle Jim Quit Smoking With No Effort

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“That’s it!  The price of a pack of twenty has risen beyond my limit.  I’m quitting!” Said Uncle Jim, stubbing out his last cigarette.  He hasn’t smoked a single one since that day.

At least that’s the story I heard from my mother many years ago.  I have no idea if Uncle Jim struggled to quit, or if perhaps his story is just as simple as it sounds.  I have heard other people telling me similar stories about members of their own family, or members of their friends families.  It seems that there are many people who know or have heard of Uncle Jim, Aunt Jane, and Granddad Alfred, among others.  These relatives might not have all quit due to the expense, but as far as the story goes they all made a spur of the moment decision to quit smoking and lived happily ever after.

I would like to believe that there are people like Uncle Jim, who have so much resolve that they can quit smoking just like that.  It’s not so much that I’m a skeptic as the fact that I don’t really find it relevant.  Our non-smoking parents, friends and family may find it extremely relevant, because to them Uncle Jim is a role-model.  They might not say it directly to your face, but they’re secretly thinking “If Uncle Jim can do it, then why can’t you?”

If only they understood that a) smokers are individuals with different reasons for smoking and different reasons for wanting to quit, b) not everybody has the same experience when attempting to quit, and c) how much do they really know about Uncle Jim’s claims anyway?

If you’re attempting to quit smoking, the best way to go about it is to inform yourself of your options, learn about expectations, understand typical experiences, and how to avoid potential pitfalls. Once you have done that, then you can make a solid individualized plan that suits your style and gives you the best chance for success.

I don’t believe that there is a one-size-fits-all solution, unless of course you’re Uncle Jim, Aunt Jane, Granddad Alfred or any of the others who quit smoking without a second thought.  Most of us need a bit more than that, which is why I set out to share my knowledge of quitting smoking, based on my own experience and that of many other individuals.

Anxiety or Nervousness

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This is quite a common side-effect of quitting smoking.  The very fact that you are taking on a new way of life is bound to cause some concern, whether it be due to positive energy or cautious anticipation of what’s to come.  There may be a million thoughts running around your head as you think about all the scenarios of what has been and what might be.  You may be anxious about what your smoking friends and non-smoking friends, family or colleagues will think, and whether they’ll support or perhaps disbelieve you, especially if you’ve tried before and failed.  You may be wondering how you’re going to cope with the restaurant invitation later in the week, when John and Mary go outside for a smoke between courses.  Are you going to go with them and stand there without a cigarette, or stay inside with the other non-smokers, or even on your own?  The more you think about it, the more you realize just how much time and effort you really invest in smoking.  There’s practically not a moment in the day when you’re not smoking or planning your next cigarette.

All of this sudden brain activity is to be expected.  Quitting smoking is more than simply not smoking the next one.  For most people, quitting is a lifestyle project which requires a lot of precision planning and careful execution over a period of weeks and months, perhaps years.  Comparing it to voluntarily changing jobs or vocation may seem a little strange to some, but in fact many of the thought processes are the same.  First you need to decide whether it’s something you really want, then you need to plan how you’re going to approach the change, decide at what point it makes sense to make the switch, how you and others around you will cope with the change, and how to manage the situation on the longer term, whether your plan becomes a success or you decide you made the wrong choice.

Hopefully, your anxiety and nervousness will be based on the excitement of quitting, because after all you’re trying to making a positive change in your life.  Rest assured that all of that extra brain activity is quite natural as long as it is not hampering your ability to function normally.  As with any condition that seems out of control, if you are in doubt, I highly recommend referring to a medical professional.

Self-Medicating With Over-the-Counter NRT

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Nicotine is the main addictive substance in cigarettes, and it is what keeps most people hooked on smoking.  For this reason, many people choose to use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) to help them quit smoking.  The concept is that the person quitting should stop smoking altogether when beginning to use NRT, and hopefully stay quit when the treatment is complete.  This is achieved by starting NRT with a dose of nicotine equivalent to the amount that the person would normally smoke in one day, and gradually reduce the amount of nicotine over a period of weeks until it becomes so insignificant that the person doesn’t notice any difference whether they are using the NRT product or not.

The good thing is that some forms of NRT, such as patches and gum amongst others, are typically available over-the-counter, without prescription.  This freedom of choice allows people to decide when they purchase the product and when they start using the product, without the specific need for medical supervision.  If the instructions are followed carefully, including consulting a medical health professional in case of complications, there is usually no issue with the treatment.

The bad thing is that not everyone either reads or adheres to the instructions. This can result in people using the wrong doses at the wrong intervals, smoking while using NRT, and sometimes leads to people continuing to use NRT products for months and perhaps even years after they should have finished the treatment.  A look at the quit smoking internet forums and some feedback I have heard from medical professionals reveals a number of cases of people who have ‘successfully’ quit smoking and yet are still hooked on nicotine.

I must admit that I am not familiar with the percentage statistics of people hooked on NRT after the normal length of treatment, as my information has been purely observational thus far.  I would welcome anybody pointing me at a study of such a phenomenon.  In any case, I’m not suggesting that anything should be done to change the fact that some forms of NRT are available over the counter. What I am suggesting is that if you choose to use NRT when quitting smoking, read the instructions carefully and stick strictly to the instructions.  If in doubt, consult a medical professional before starting treatment.

How Long Will The Cravings Last?

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This is a question I see quite regularly on internet quit smoking forums. Sadly, it’s not always from people who are about to quit or who have only quit since a few days. I’ve seen people with anywhere between a couple of months to a year or more under their belt asking when they can expect the cravings to cease.

This is quite disturbing on many levels, because it suggests that there are some people who don’t move on beyond the initial withdrawal symptoms caused by the natural depletion of nicotine or from the initial psychological strain caused by holding back from doing something that has become almost as natural to them as eating or breathing. But, is this really reflective of reality? I don’t think so.

My feeling is that there is a huge distinction between the initial cravings and the kind of cravings that people speak about after having quit for months and even years.  The problem is that we use the word craving for all situations in which we have a desire to smoke, regardless of how strong that craving may be and how we handle it emotionally.

It is especially disturbing to me to read posts from people have quit for a significant amount of time declaring that they still get cravings but that they are able to successfully manage them.  It’s almost as though they are hanging on to something that proves that they used to smoke and that they’re still part of the quitting gang.

Perhaps even more disturbing is that these long-term quitters are probably oblivious to the fact that they are perpetuating and even reinforcing the image of quitting smoking as being a lifelong struggle to beat off the desire to smoke.  New forum members setting out to quit or having just quit would be rightly put off by such claims.

I don’t believe there is a perfect solution to this problem, unless we can develop a “quit smoking language” that differentiates between levels of craving, whether physical or psychological, and how intense those cravings may be.

Four Years Since I Quit – Many More to Come!

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Original text from 8th November 2014.

Today it has been four years since I extinguished my last cigarette.  I feel confident that I will never smoke again because I’ve let go of my smoking past.  I’m still very conscious of the dangers of starting smoking again.  I don’t need to worry about that danger, however because unless someone straps me down and forces me to smoke, I won’t be smoking again.  Ever.  My mind is set.

I’m not afraid of smoking.  It has simply become something that I no longer do.  The addiction has long since departed.  Even the romance has died.  I can’t remember at what point I crossed over from being a cautious quitter to a self-assured non-smoker.  Perhaps there was no single moment, but rather a gradual departure from my old self to my new self.

Previously, I had a cigarette in hand at every possible moment ever since my teens.  I loved smoking, and I hated smoking, but mostly I loved it.  Smoking was part of my identity, who I was.  I gravitated toward other people who smoked and built my life around opportunities to indulge.  The positive was that I successfully developed a cocooned environment in which I felt safe.  With careful planning, I hardly ever ran out of cigarettes, and I almost always managed to find a way and a place to smoke.  The negative was I knew that smoking was bad for me.  There was a tiny nagging voice inside my head – particularly when I reached my forties – telling me that it was only a matter of time until something gave way.

Something did give way.  I landed in the hospital with a deep-vein thrombosis in my left leg and a pulmonary embolism. The main artery in my leg had a blood clot, and part of that clot had broken off and travelled to my lungs.  It was a life-or-death situation, especially if a piece of clotted blood had travelled to my brain.  Luckily, that didn’t happen.  Still, it scared me. The doctors wouldn’t confirm or deny that my predicament had come about as a result of smoking, but I felt that I had reached a point where I needed to stop attempting to defeat the odds.

I was quite fortunate inasmuch as my medical condition was only temporary and not a question of a prolonged slow and agonizing death, from cancer for example.  However, the experience was bad enough to make me start thinking more seriously about my health and in particular it made me think more deeply about why I insisted on being a smoker.  What was in it for me?

To cut a long story short, I slowly came to the realization that I only smoked because I had built my adult life around smoking and that I was addicted to smoking.  I started thinking about what life would be like without smoking, and, in particular, what life is like for non-smokers.  It soon dawned on me that non-smokers have no desire to smoke and don’t even think about smoking, and yet they can live with just as much enjoyment of life as smokers.  I needed to become a non-smoker or at least an approximation of one.

Gradually I also learned that I wasn’t quitting just because smoking was bad for me.  I was quitting because I didn’t need to smoke.  I had never needed to smoke.  If I had never started, I wouldn’t even understand why people make such a fuss about quitting.  I would have spent my time and money on other pursuits.  It’s quite possible that I would be no richer or healthier, but that’s irrelevant in many ways.  What is relevant is the fact that I was doing something and believing in something that serves no real purpose other than to feed an addiction.

Today I am completely free from smoking.  I have no regrets about my smoking past and no worries about smoking in the future.  I have taken mental distance from smoking, and yet I still live in a world in which people smoke, including some people close to me.  While it feels compelling to reach out to every smoker and start lecturing them about how great it is to have quit and be free, I’m also fully aware that addictions tend to defeat any logic.  Instead, I help where I can by teaching people who have made the decision to quit that it is entirely possible to reach a point where smoking seems like a foreign concept.  It takes time and a lot of introspection, but it is entirely possible.

Smoking Doesn’t Kill You! At Least Not Immediately

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Therein lies the problem for those people who have good intentions of giving up but never quite get around to it, because another cigarette, a few more cigarettes, a day of smoking, a week or a month of smoking isn’t really going to make much difference.

Well, we’re not really sure if it makes any difference because we don’t know what’s going on inside our bodies, but we have a pretty good feeling that if we’ve been smoking for any length of time then, we can probably get away with holding off quitting for a while longer. I wholeheartedly agree with that, in theory. However, each time a person thinks of quitting and doesn’t get around to it, they are adding to the statistical probability of suffering complications resulting from smoking, up to and including an early death.

The fact is, we don’t know which cigarette will kill us or at what point health complications will kick in. For all a smoker is aware, their body may already being showing signs of problems without them even knowing. They may even have an early stage cancer or other disease brought on by smoking. But, I cannot blame them for putting off quitting because there are no directly visible consequences and therefore it’s hard to rationalize why it’s so urgent to stop. Smoking a cigarette doesn’t kill you, at least not immediately.

Imagine for a moment that cigarettes were known to randomly kill people, immediately. Let’s say that you have an equal chance of dying from one of those lethal cigarettes as you currently have of dying of cancer from smoking, with the exception that you would be gone in an instant.  I wonder how many people would still take the risk of lighting up the next one.