Quit Smoking: Will versus willpower


I was having a brief email conversation with a fellow blogger about quitting smoking, and how I had kept a couple of packs of cigarettes in a kitchen cupboard for a long while when I first quit. I kept them there ‘just in case of emergency’, meaning that if I had a panic attack in the middle of the night, or a sudden and radical change of mind, I could saunter over to the kitchen in my pajamas and light up. My fellow blogger pointed out that keeping a ‘backup’ pack would not work for him, because he would likely end up smoking them. He also went on to say that I must have strong willpower to do such a thing. That got me thinking about why it is that having a backup (cigarettes close at hand) works for some and not for others when quitting.

My philosophy toward quitting is and has always been for people to do what is right for them as an individual. Contrary to what many experts, books, web sites, bloggers etc. do by presenting a single linear method of quitting, I prefer to explore and explain the various options, allow people to draw their own conclusions and for them to make their own plans. People’s experiences of smoking are an integral part of their lives, and therefore quitting is also a very personal experience. But, I digress. Suffice to say that I believe in people informing themselves, making their own choices and taking full responsibility for their decisions.

The real reason why I went for the backup solution is because I believe in the path of least resistance when it comes to problem solving. Some people would call this laziness, and they would be right. It was much easier to have the backup cigarettes close at hand than to have to get dressed and drive around in the middle of the night searching for a convenience store or garage where I could buy some. It was lazy, admittedly, but it was also smart. As a tobacco addict, I knew that if I did change my mind for whatever reason, having the cigarettes close at hand or having to go out and get them would have resulted in the same outcome; I would be back to smoking again. The fact that the backup was practically within arms reach didn’t make any difference to my will to quit smoking. I was fully aware at all times that I wanted to quit, and for the most part it didn’t require much willpower.

To try to explain the difference between will and willpower, I resorted to Yahoo! answers. After all, who needs a dictionary when you can rely on millions of individuals’ opinions all over the web. 😀 On 20th June 2008, a member called Alisterio stated that:

  • “Will” is more or less synonymous with “inclination” or “disposition”: your will to do something, like climb Everest, is your motivation.
  • “Willpower” can be translated more or less as “strength of character”. It’s more to do with how well you control your urges or how disciplined you are with yourself.

I like Alisterio’s definition, because it accurately describes how I felt about quitting smoking. I had the will, or motivation, to quit. I knew it was time and I knew that I wanted to succeed. I was also pretty convinced that I would succeed because I felt mentally prepared. I was fully resolved to not smoking another cigarette, ever. I had informed myself (mainly through a lot of self-reflection), I’d made my choice, and I was ready to take full responsibility for my decision.

At times, particularly in the beginning, I had some nicotine cravings like most people do. I managed to stave them off by keeping myself busy and allowing them to pass. I was fully aware of what was going on. My body and mind were telling me that I ‘needed’ to smoke. The urge to smoke was there, but the willingness was not. I guess you could call my ability to battle these urges ‘willpower’, but in reality it all seemed pretty pathetic to me. Even the fact that the backup cigarettes were nearby couldn’t break my resolve, my will to quit. Just thinking about them sitting there in the cupboard made me think:

“They are there for a good reason. Don’t mess up that reason.”

However you choose to quit, and no matter what you do to get rid of your nicotine addiction, the journey you take from start to finish is not important. What is important is reaching your goal.

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