When you set out to quit tobacco, one of the many questions you ask yourself might be what to do instead of smoking. The longer you have been smoking, the more likely it is that you have developed habits of when and where you smoke, and with whom you smoke. Tobacco consumption has become a part of your lifestyle, and therefore quitting may require significant changes as to how you manage your day-to-day activities. You can’t just sit around staring into space thinking about the fact that you have quit smoking. Something more needs to be done. You need some kind of activity that replaces your old bad habit.
You may feel tempted to embark on a new fitness regime including a healthy diet, perhaps starting with a detox. More exercise is always a plus. You may feel invigorated at the idea of transforming your self-image from a smoking couch potato to a world-class runner. Even if you’re not overly ambitious, the idea of replacing tobacco with healthy alternatives is appealing. Instead of smoking a few cigarettes with your morning coffee, you could go out for a morning jog, or perhaps swim a few lengths at the local pool. Why not hook up with a friend and play some tennis or squash before work? There are so many things you could be doing instead of smoking! So long as you’re doing something ‘wholesome’ instead of smoking, what could possibly go wrong?
Hold your horses! Mental projection of a healthier self is much easier than actually putting in the effort to reach that goal. I don’t mean to burst anyone’s bubble, but I maintain that quitting smoking is one project whereas leading a healthier lifestyle is wholly another and can potentially be broken down into several other projects (diet, fitness, mental wellness…). You cannot simply lump all the different changes into one big bucket and call it ‘The New Me’ project.
Firstly, your primary goal in quitting smoking should be to no longer smoke, end of story. Non-smokers don’t look for alternatives to smoking. They just don’t smoke, regardless of whether they are super-fit or couch potatoes. They don’t look at their lives in terms of smoking or not, and they certainly don’t link their daily activities or their level of health to the fact that they don’t smoke. There is no need to create a dependency between smoking (or not) and leading an overall healthier lifestyle. Quitting smoking is already a big step toward becoming healthier. Anything else beyond quitting is an added bonus.
Secondly, there is a great danger of the ‘domino effect’ if you decide to link quitting smoking with other aspects of leading a healthier lifestyle. Simply put, failure in one area can quickly lead to an overall collapse of all your good intentions. For example, the morning jog that doesn’t appeal due to cold and rain may leave you sitting at home wondering what to do instead. The diet that you started doesn’t allow for any sugary treats, and yet you have a box of chocolates that is nearing its consumption deadline. A friend buys you a box of cigars, not realizing that you have quit smoking. Any of these types of situations can cause an instant meltdown if you’re not careful. If you do decide to take on multiple simultaneous lifestyle changes, then be sure to compartmentalize each change as a separate project. In other words, stay committed to each project independently.
My advice is to replace smoking with minor adjustments to your lifestyle rather than going for the ‘big bang’. That is, make a plan of when and where you typically smoke and what you could be doing instead. A good way to start is by looking around you at non-smokers and see what they are doing while you would normally smoke. Perhaps they are reading a book or a magazine article, or maybe having a cup of tea or coffee. They could be talking with a friend or a colleague, or perhaps going for a short walk. Some of them maybe be playing games on their computer or mobile phone, and others taking care of things around the house. The list of possibilities is endless, but you will no doubt find that they are managing their time quite happily. The only difference between you and them is that you smoke and they don’t.
Given enough time and patience, you can become oblivious to smoking too. Take it slowly!