Quitting Smoking: The Croutons Way

Since the theme this week is self-improvement, I thought I might share tips on how to quit the coolest of vices: smoking. I quit cold-turkey and can only speak from that experience. If you're looking for recommendations about patches, gums or medications I don't have anything for you.

I'll start this out by giving a few caveats:

1. Smoking is cool. I loved smoking. I have a cigarette case which I think might be my coolest smoking accessory ever.

2. I am under 30 and started smoking cigarettes when I was 22. It was significantly easier for me to quit than those who started younger and want to quit when they are older.

3. I am not better than you for quitting. I do already feel the positive effects of quitting, though. I breathe better at night, I don't get acid reflux any more, and my clothes don't smell.

4. I was an abnormal smoker in that: I smoked 4-5 cigarettes a day, did not smoke in my apartment, and did not smoke at work unless I was on lunch. This would put me in the 'casual' smoker category. I was smoking maybe 2 packs a week (that number would fluctuate depending on if I went out to a bar or party, however). I was not hardcore by any means.

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But what can I, someone who just laid out a litany of caveats, offer you? These tips that have helped me quit.

1. While smoking is a physical action, it's mostly based on mental triggers. The first thing I did, which was the hardest, was cut out my morning cigarette in the car to work. That sucked. I loved that morning cigarette. But I found that by cutting that one out - the one I thought that I needed the most - it was easier to cut out the lunch cigarette, the "I'm driving so why not light up" cigarette, and then the "I've had four beers let's go outside" cigarette. I cut it out by not doing it once and then mindfully thinking about not doing it again the next five times after. Naturally after that, I didn't do it. This chain breaking worked for my other cigarettes as well.

2. Be mindful about not smoking without obsessing over it. This might seem impossible, especially if you use cigarettes as a way to relieve stress. And really, the hardest part of doing anything isn't the first time that you do it. It's the third, fifth, and twentieth times because you have to keep it up. But don't focus on quitting so much that it dominates your thoughts all day that you question yourself, feel overwhelmed, and then smoke. Incorporate quitting the way you incorporated smoking into your life with a gradual confidence that overtakes your bad habits.

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3. While I did quit cold-turkey, I didn't do it in one day. I was over a two-week period that I went from 5 a day to zero by cutting out habits and being mindful (but not obsessive) about not smoking. Not everybody is going to do this and that is fine. If you can quit in one day then go for it. Just as long as you have a goal to stop completely and stick to it.

4. You need to want it. Yes, that sounds like something a high school sports ball coach would have painted in some locker room but it's true. If you don't really want to quit and you aren't committed, then you're not really going to do it. And most of all you need to want to. If your partner or a friend or your family is guilting you into quitting and you don't want to, then that is when most people turn into Secret Smokers or worst of all, Distant Promise Makers who keep saying "Yeah, I'll quit next week" and only frustrate their partner. Commit to it because you want to.

5. What people don't really talk about is the physical symptoms of quitting tobacco. It's not fun: sweating, intestinal discomfort, headaches, fatigue, tingling in the hands and feet, and you may feel as if you are catching a cold. Also the cravings that hit you in the stomach like you need to eat right fucking now. Cravings pass and you will be fine. Just breathe. You can get though it. And that coughing and sneezing? That's your lungs clearing out.

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6. Mental things that can happen when you quit: you are more irritable, feel more anxious, feel depressed, listless, and mentally sluggish. Since I wasn't a heavy smoker I just got irritable and anxious as now I didn't know what to do with my hands outside of bars and at parties. I also got depressed since I didn't have my adult binky to suck on every time I was out doing something. Just breathe through those as well. If you find yourself suddenly irritable for no reason, just take a step back and breathe through it.

7. Work out. Do yoga. Walk around. Get on your bike. Whatever. Just sitting thinking about not smoking isn't going to help. Distract yourself by doing a physical activity. Also, sweating out more of that nicotine will make you feel better and fight the inevitable post-quitting blues. Be sure to drink water.

8. Don't stop doing the things you liked to do while smoking, just learn to do them without a cigarette in your mouth. Did you love coffee and cigarettes? Just learn to love coffee. You will find as you are quitting that your taste buds and sense of smell return. Concentrate on the taste of that coffee by itself. Did you love a cigarette after a few drinks? Learn to love drinking without it. It might be bittersweet in the beginning but after a while you will find a new way to enjoy the things you associated with cigarettes.

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Quitting smoking is hard. And it sucks. The physical stuff sucks. The mental stuff sucks. But trust me, it is worth it.

Good luck.