“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.” — Muhammad Ali
Bad habits can destroy your life. Smoking is one of them and most people get stuck with their addiction for ages.
Yet, with the appropriate approach, quitting can be enjoyable. Yes, you heard me right: enjoyable.
It’s not that you don’t try hard enough. You don’t try the right way.
To be clear, I am not a professional. I appreciate that different people have different perspectives. I’m just sharing my experience hoping this can help you reach your objectives.
Here is how I did it.
1. I shifted my belief
A few months after I turned 25, I realized that life goes by quickly. Worse, it seems like days are flying by at a speeding up rate as we grow older. So, I decided to regain control of my life and act like a grownup.
My first resolution was to give up smoking. Smoking had been my most destructive habit for years. It is one of the surest ways to shorten life expectancy, not mentioning all the negative side effects on your everyday life and the life of your surroundings.
Still, I had been smoking at least 20 cigarettes every single day for over 10 years. So, I thought to myself: where do I start?
Plain simple: I figured I wasn’t born as a nicotine addict. If I had got into the habit of smoking, I was inevitably able to get back to my natural nicotine-free life.
It’s all a question of self-confidence. Remember: “impossible is nothing”. Once you’ve changed your perspective, everything looks clearer.
2. I focused on process
Like every ambitious goal, it is better to break it down in small parts and plan your progress. Only focusing on your final objective will usually result in discouragement.
Remember the French proverb “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. Patience and perseverance are key.
So, I did just that; I concentrated on building a solid system and working towards my goal.
Initially, I didn’t even tell myself I was trying to quit. Why? because it allowed tricking my mind. I wasn’t stopping; I was reducing my consumption. This meant I could focus on my mini targets for a specific day or a week and limit the mental pain associated.
I created a spreadsheet with my objectives to cut my daily intake. I tracked literally everything.
I built many indicators: the time of my first cigarette in each day, my daily, weekly and monthly consumption, the number of smokes on office hours, at home, during weekdays and weekends, everything that could help understand my smoking habits and track my progress.
3. I built momentum
I started slowly but with the firm intention of never stepping back. I had a new challenge every day; it was like a game. And guess what? It worked.
I started by removing my first cigarette of the day. I used to smoke right out of bed, so I decided I could take a shower before my first cigarette. I struggled for a few days and when I was relatively comfortable I took off my second cigarette by getting in the habit of eating a real breakfast before smoking. Then I went for the third one… Soon enough I had cut my consumption by 4. I could now wait until after lunch to smoke my first cigarette.
By tracking my progress, I felt the satisfaction associated with every small victory. That triggered a self-reinforcing virtuous cycle.
Since I was proud of myself and wanted to stay on that path, I made myself accountable by telling my friends I was trying to reduce my nicotine intake. I sent my spreadsheet to them occasionally.
This is where I set up more ambitious challenges. I moved from clean mornings to clean working days seemingly effortlessly. I told my colleagues I was trying to quit smoking during office hours so I could focus on my work and save that good smoke for the end of the day.
By that time, I was quite obsessed with my spreadsheet. I had this winning feeling day after day. Every week I shot for a little more. And every week I was so proud of myself for achieving more.
Thus, I aimed for even more aggressive goals like… being abstinent for entire days. I wasn’t officially trying to stop though; I was just trying to see how long I could hold on.
I had built momentum. I was unstoppable.
4. I identified the trigger
My friends could see my progression for themselves. It was shocking. What’s more, I could feel my body gradually detoxifying and resuming normal function.
Yet, I had to deal with one big remaining issue. My progression had evolved in 3 main steps:
1- Get clean mornings
2- Get clean working days
3- Not smoking every day, just when going out
I had always told myself that reaching the third stage would mark the end of the adventure. But I was so close. I could hold on for a few days without smoking only to ruin everything in one night. I had to take this last battle. In retrospect, I can tell this is the point where I resolved to quit.
At first, it was horrible. It was like starting all over again with the same abominable sensations. I couldn’t survive the nicotine cravings. I needed a practical strategy.
I found the trigger: social drinking. While getting a drink with my buddies, the context reminded me of what I used to do for years: enjoying a great social moment with a drink and a few cigarettes.
I had anchored the association so deeply in my mind it had become an automatic behavior.
I focused on applying willpower at only one small point — my reaction to the trigger. My challenge was clear: do whatever it takes to repel that cigarette for 2 minutes.
With a lot of practice, I realized that after 2 minutes the craving was fading. Or sometimes it was not. I struggled for weeks until one day… I took the big leap.
5. The big win
Today it has been 538 days without a single cigarette!
Yeah, I’m still counting. Just in case I have a moment of weakness, you never know.
I saved around 4 304€ (about $4,900). My excess risk of coronary heart disease is 50% that of a smoker. My energy level is significantly higher than it used to be, and I can breathe comfortably while rushing to catch up the subway.
But most importantly, I feel great. I enjoy my freedom.
Quitting also had a series of unexpected effects on my life. It boosted my self-awareness and self-confidence and fueled my ambition to set more ambitious goals.
I believe these 5 simple steps can help you achieve almost anything:
- Change your perspective: one small shift in perception can go a long way
- Focus on process and track your progress
- Build momentum and make yourself accountable
- Find the trigger and deal with it — the big fight
- Enjoy your freedom and define your next target
On a final note,
Whatever your intention, you will encounter bumpers on the road. The reality is never perfectly in line with your expectations:
This is where you need to apply willpower. Focus on the big picture and keep tracking everything. Maybe, you didn’t complete your main target for this day, but you still completed other objectives. Maybe you can yet set a record in terms of weekly consumption.
Don’t lie to yourself, observe your reaction and plan your following action accordingly.
Recognize that a linear progression is impossible. Little setbacks are natural steps on your path to victory. Don’t let them kick you back.
Hold on, success is just behind the corner.
I hope you can apply these steps to start your first serious shift of the year. Better, I hope you can create your own process and tackle your worse habit.
what is the one bad habit you want to free yourself from?
Thanks for reading 😊
5 Steps to Quitting Smoking (Or Anything Else) was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.