The Most Powerfully Effective Ways to Stop Smoking Using Psychology

Smoking is an extremely destructive habit that has a plethora of negative effects on your health and your lifestyle. These range from the obvious (lung problems, financial strain, addiction), to the less readily apparent (poor sleep, strained relationships, headaches). Whether you want to have more energy, look more attractive, become more athletic, or increase your personal wealth, quitting smoking should be a top priority.

But of course, you knew that already. The issue is that you don’t know how to go about making it happen.

How can you kick smoking to the curb when it’s both psychologically and physically addictive? How can you succeed where so many others have failed? What strategies and tricks can help you to take back your control and destroy this ugly habit?

Over-exposure

There are countless strategies that you have no doubt already tried. These probably include such options as nicotine patches, switching to vapes, and going cold-turkey. But as you’re reading this post, it’s probably fair to assume they didn’t work for you.

Something more drastic is in order then, and a great one to start with is over-exposure. This essentially means you’re going to smoke 10, 20, or 25 cigarettes in a row (back to back). Choose a number that is absolutely abhorrent to you and then force yourself to go through it.

This is going to be a horrible and disgusting experience but that is the entire point. By the time you’ve gotten through so many cigarettes, you’ll find that you can’t stand the thought of having even one more!

Of course, this feeling will wear off over time, but it will leave a strong memory of all the most unpleasant effects of smoking. Next time you want to convince yourself not to have that cigarette before bed, you can simply call on the memories of how sick you felt and how dry your mouth was!

CBT

That latter strategy is very similar to a larger approach known as CBT. This is “cognitive behavioral therapy,” which is a psychotherapeutic approach to mental health that focusses on the way our thoughts dictate our emotions and our actions.

In other words, if you are someone who smokes, then there’s a high chance that you will make lots of excuses to yourself in your mind. It’s like a little devil sitting on your shoulder, and it’s certainly not helpful!

The aim of CBT in this context is to help you change that voice. This means you first need to identify precisely what it’s saying and when it’s cropping up, and then you need to convince yourself that it is wrong and find ways to make it quieter1.

Usually, this involves the use of two strategies:

  • Hypothesis testing
  • Thought challenging

Thought challenging means you’re going to logically break down the argument to find out if there is any truth to it. For example: you might tell yourself that you “deserve” to have a cigarette because you’ve had a hard day. During thought challenging, you might ask whether this is really a suitable reward. Likewise, you might point out that there will be many hard days like this – meaning that if you have a cigarette now, you are essentially admitting defeat and committing to having many more in the future.

Focus on what’s bad about cigarettes and what’s good about quitting, and then don’t allow for illogical arguments you might try to make to continue smoking.

Find Your Why

Your “why” is essentially your reason for wanting to quit. This is what motivated you to read this article in the first place.

This should be your emotional drive, the thing that connects to your values2, and the thing that you are most excited. Try to visualize an emotional scene, whether that’s feeling proud as a healthy non-smoker while playing with your kids, or whether it’s being able to go for a long run without coughing and spluttering!

The more tangible and resonate this idea, the more motivated you’ll be when the going gets tough!

Create a Streak

Also called the “Seinfeld Strategy,” the aim here is to simply take a small step every single day toward your goal. While the “why” should provide the emotional heft that motivates you, this should not be your focus. Your goal isn’t to stop smoking.

So, what is your goal?

It’s to smoke no (0) cigarettes, every single day. What’s the difference? The latter goal is more effective because it’s something you can immediately pass or fail, it’s something completely within your control, and it’s something that you can try again tomorrow.

This removes many of the potential arguments we can use to smoke. There’s no “I’ll make up for it tomorrow.” There’s no: “I’ve already failed at my goal.” The goal starts fresh every day. You either succeed or you don’t.

This is called the Seinfeld strategy, because Jerry Seinfeld described using this strategy in conjunction with a calendar. On that calendar, he would put a tick next to every day he did the “thing” he was trying to achieve. This would create a streak (a line of ticks) and he’d find that the compulsion to maintain that streak was incredibly strong. In other words: you won’t want to stop smoking because it will mean a gap in your calendar!3

Change Your Environment and Routines

The brain is made up of billions of neurons, with many more billions of connections between them. This is why it is sometimes referred to as a “connectome.”

What that means, is that whenever one thing happens in the brain, it will trigger an action elsewhere in the brain. This is why we can only sing the alphabet in order, and it’s why one thought will often prompt a related one.

But what you might not realize is just how much this can also be a bad thing: when one habit or stimulus triggers us to do something we don’t want to. This is why so many people smoke when they drink, or at a set time in the morning for instance.

The solution is to look for triggers in your routine and eliminate them. But what’s more, is that you should consider changing your environment – at least for a while. Avoid situations where you would normally smoke, and try to change as much about your current routine and surrounds as you can in one go.

Find Other Habits  

Finally, keep in mind that it’s hard to give up one lifetime habit without starting something new. Find a new habit that can replace the old one, and use this whenever you get the itch to smoke. Ideally, make this something that you really look forward to and that will be motivating in itself.

  1. How it works: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  2. How to Set Goals That Are Connected to Your Values
  3. How to Stop Procrastinating on Your Goals Using the Seinfeld Strategy

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