Bridging the gap between smokers and ex-smokers

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I recently read an article from a fellow WordPress blogger about his struggles with giving up smoking and how there is an unbridgeable gap between someone who is going through the process of quitting and someone who has already transformed themselves into a non-smoker. He correctly stated that someone who has already achieved the goal of quitting can only offer support and advice to someone who is still in the process of quitting, or share their own experience in the hope that it will help. The ex-smoker is standing on one side of the gap with all their struggles behind them, whereas the person engaged in the process of quitting is still fighting a battle on the other side.

The WP blogger’s article got me thinking about my role in helping other people to quit smoking. For sure, I’ve been through the quitting process, twice in fact. I quit smoking for five years in the 1990’s and now again for over four years, the difference being that this time around I know it will be forever, because I have made that decision. When I quit for the first time, I didn’t spend too much time thinking about it in terms of helping others. I was too busy managing my own quit-smoking situation, climbing the career ladder and building a family. The second time around, however, I spent a lot more time thinking about what quitting smoking meant to me, and I became a lot more aware of what it means to others too, by talking to people, joining and participating in quit smoking forums, and gathering information from the internet.

I now have an arsenal of thoughts and ideas as I stand here on the other side of the gap, trying to help people who are going through the struggles of quitting. But, wait a minute!  I’m struggling too. My battle may be a different one now than it was previously, and I don’t even want to compare quitting smoking to helping others to quit (apples and pears?), but it is a struggle nonetheless, and I’m not about to give up fighting. In fact, I want to try to bridge that unbridgeable gap, not just by offering friendly advice and a shoulder to lean on, but by helping people to think differently about quitting smoking, for themselves. I firmly believe that empowering people to develop their own strategies and come to their own conclusions is a far better methodology than giving them some prescriptive advice or a plan, and expecting them to follow it.

It may only be a metaphorical bridge, but if I can manage to help just a small percentage of people to quit, it will be well worth the effort in the long run.

Quitting smoking isn’t a piece of cake!

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With the Christmas holidays in full swing, many of us are eating and drinking more than usual. It’s probably not the best time of year to be on a diet, with family and friends to visit and parties to attend. There are so many tasty treats on offer, much of which is particular to the season and therefore unavailable at other times. For those of us who want to lose weight it can be quite a struggle to avoid allowing ourselves even just that one piece of cake. But, let’s face it. Unless you have an eating disorder, one piece of cake is not going to ruin your diet. You can quite easily continue your diet by eating sensibly after the holiday season is over.

Quitting smoking, however, isn’t a piece of cake. You cannot indulge in just that one cigarette without running the serious risk of smoking another, and another, until you are back to smoking again just like you did before. The difference between smoking and eating cake is that smoking is addictive, whereas eating cake is not (even though many a woman might argue that eating chocolate cake IS addictive!). Just like many other addictions, quitting smoking requires complete abstinence. You either smoke or you don’t. There is no in-between.

Unfortunately, a lot of people fall into the trap of thinking that they can handle just one, or just a few cigarettes.  It’s a fair enough assumption when you consider the holiday pressure, and it may seem quite logical at the time.  It’s easy enough to convince oneself that just like the scrumptious piece of cake, one cigarette won’t matter in the long run.  But this line of thinking is a farce as fake as Santa Claus (I hope there are no young children are reading this!). For one thing, smoking a single cigarette is smoking and therefore you have not quit, and secondly, the statistics demonstrate that it is extremely likely that you will still be smoking at the end of January and probably longer.

It may difficult to avoid these creeping thoughts, but if you want to quit smoking, you need to consider the facts and try to set your emotions aside. It’s not a piece of cake, but it’s not mission impossible either. With the right level of mental preparation and anticipation of such situations, it becomes easier to understand why you are having tempting thoughts and how to counter them with your own logic.

N.O.P.E is not just a saying. It’s a way of life!

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Just as smoking is a large part of some people’s lives and was an integral part of mine for many years, N.O.P.E. has now become a key part of my life. I don’t sit around chanting the mantra for several hours a day, or even thinking about it much. In fact, I would say that when I do think about it, it’s mainly in the context of writing about quitting smoking.

N.O.P.E. stands for Not One Puff Ever, basically meaning that you vow to never smoke again, or even take a drag on another cigarette. It’s an easy concept and yet one that causes the demise of so many people who have decided to quit. Some people may think that having just one cigarette is a reward for having already managed to quit for a couple of days (or a few hours); some may hold out longer and reward themselves after a few weeks or a few months (years?), and some people decide that they can get away with being ‘casual’ smokers and smoke only a few times a year, or only at weekends.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m not bothered by people smoking, if that’s what they choose to do. My goal is purely to help people who want to quit smoking, to actually quit smoking.

To me, quitting smoking means not smoking again, ever. N.O.P.E. It’s not a test of endurance. It’s not a question of trying to force oneself into believing in something against one’s will. It’s not a charade. It’s a conviction!

I firmly believe that I should never smoke another cigarette (or cigar, pipe, etc.) because it would lead me directly into smoking again. I don’t just think so, I know so. I am an addict, albeit reformed. I know my limit, and my limit is fragile. I’m not at all frightened of it, but I am very aware of it.

The craziest thing of all to me right now would be to smoke. Why? Because I don’t want to, I don’t need to, and what would it prove?

Using NRT May Lead to Success in Quitting Smoking!

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And so may going ‘cold turkey’, or using any other alternative method of quitting. It’s often touted that going cold turkey (i.e. stopping smoking with no quit-aids and definitely no Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)) results in the greatest long-term success rates. Big whoop, I say!

Statistics are a great way of calculating means, medians, modes, quartiles and deciles, trends and bell curves, and generally slicing and dicing data in every which way possible. I know this, because in my profession I have worked with crunching large volumes of data for many years. To me, displaying the results is just one part of the overall data analysis. Understanding the results is another part of the analysis. Understanding the relevance of the results is yet another part of analysis. And finally, questioning the effectiveness of the results by applying common sense and logic is probably the most important part of the analysis.

To make an analogy, if we were to study women’s shoe sizes and determine that less than 10% of the female population wear a size 5 or below, and that less than 10% of the female population wear a size 11 or above, it would leave 80% of the female population wearing a shoe size between 6 and 10. Oh, and before the ladies start throwing their shoes at me, I made up these numbers!

These (fictitious) shoe size statistics might lead us to believe that shoe manufacturers only need to take care about the 80%, because the rest of the female population is statistically irrelevant. But the fact is that somewhere, there is a market for the other 20%, and while they may be less representative of the overall demographic, these ladies’ feet are just as important in the grand scheme of things. It’s just plain common sense and logic! That is, unless you don’t mind that 20% of the female population go shoe-less through the cold and rain.

Of course, I’m trying to be humorous with the ladies’ shoes analogy. All I’m really saying is that 100% of the people trying to quit smoking need to be taken into account, regardless of which method typically succeeds the best. The end goal is to cater for everyone who wants to quit smoking, and not just declare that ‘cold turkey’ is the most effective method, as though that’s going to help someone who might benefit more from an alternative method of quitting.

Choose whichever quit method works best for you!

Overcoming Failure and Disappointment

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It’s quite rare that anyone deciding to quit smoking manages to succeed without trying at least a few times.  Some people have tried over and over again so many times that it would be impossible to count their number of attempts.  You might start to think that after a few tries quitting is just not for you, because you have proven to yourself that you just can’t manage it. You have failed and you feel disappointed.

I’m not going to sugar coat the situation. These sentiments are real. You set out with the right attitude and you were resolved to quitting, but sadly at some point the urge to smoke grew stronger than your desire to quit.  That is the nature of smoking addiction, at least in the beginning stages of quitting. Your body needs to deal with the physical addiction to nicotine and your mind needs to deal with the habit and the associations of smoking within your lifestyle.  But, you should not let yourself start thinking that it’s not worth trying again, and again, and again.

Here are some brief tips to managing the situation:

1)  If you failed to quit today, don’t try again tomorrow.  Instead, think about what went wrong, and try to be very specific about what triggered you into wanting to smoke again.  Ask yourself if it was due to a situation that could be avoided.  Ask yourself if you could have done better if you were mentally prepared.  Would you have potentially fought off the desire to smoke with a support system around you?  Would you have fared better under medical supervision? Perhaps you just needed to fill the gaps of time where you would normally smoke with another activity.  Question how you would manage things differently if you tried again.  I would honestly recommend that you take a lot of time thinking about all these details, because to simply launch yourself back into the next attempt without understanding what went wrong is likely to produce the same or a similar result.  I won’t make myself very popular by saying so, but I firmly believe that if it takes you weeks or months to understand the situation, it is way better than starting to quit over again too quickly.

2) Don’t beat yourself up over having failed to quit.  I can assure you that many people have tried multiple times, even into the hundreds of attempts until they finally hit that sweet spot where everything falls together and they muddle their way through to success.  The emphasis should be on having the strength to keep trying.  That in itself is a success, and a wonderful demonstration of determination.

3) Once you have understood what went wrong, try to anticipate other situations that might trigger you into doubting your ability to stay quit.  You may find that there are similar situations that you can avoid simply by being aware that they exist and by being prepared to confront them.  For every smoker who quits there are ‘triggers’ that induce a desire to smoke.  If possible, try to analyze when you smoke and where you smoke so that you can mentally prepare yourself to manage those situations, or avoid those situations accordingly.

4)  Give yourself time and space to prepare for quitting.  Many quit smoking resources tell you to start by planning a quit date.  That is a rather simplistic view in my opinion, because it is not the start of the process.  The start of the process is understanding what you want to achieve, why you want to achieve it, and how you anticipate managing the hurdles.  To me, setting a quit date before anything else is like telling a novice mountain climber to set a date for scaling Mount Kilimanjaro, and then expecting them to go and run the expedition and succeed within that allotted time frame, without regard to planning and understanding the complexities of the mission.  You should begin by preparing yourself, and then set a quit date. Alternatively, prepare yourself and then jump straight in and quit on the spur of the moment. Whatever works best for you.

In summary, keep trying no matter how much it takes because the rewards are great, if only to no longer be a slave to the addiction.  Try to learn from your failures rather than to feel disappointed.  Question yourself about what went wrong and how you could improve on your next attempt.  Give yourself some slack.  You may have tried quitting tens times, but somebody else has tried a hundred times, or a thousand times.  You only need to succeed once!