There’s no getting around it, quitting smoking is a challenge but ask yourself this— are you making it harder than it needs to be? Quitting cold turkey is a question of will power, and some don’t always make a complete break with cigarettes on the first attempt. This is in part because your willpower will get tested every time you encounter smoking “triggers” or “cues”. Did you used to smoke on your coffee break? The smell of coffee could then be a smoking trigger. Are you accustomed to having a cigarette when behind the wheel? Driving could also be one of your smoking triggers. Identifying your smoking triggers and planning in advance how to cope with them is a crucial part of making sure your willpower isn’t tested more than necessary when you’re trying to quit!
If you’re a smoker, you know the drill… You finish a meal and all of a sudden you feel a powerful craving for a cigarette, or you get up from your desk to take a break and all at once you want to light up. Certain times of the day, certain places, certain people, and even certain foods can spark a strong urge to smoke. Experts call these triggers. For long-time smokers, daily life can be filled with these triggers… Drinking coffee, enjoying a glass of wine, driving in the car, checking an email, feeling bored, talking on the telephone, negative feelings such as being angry or under stress and even positive feelings of happiness or pleasure – all of these can trigger a powerful urge to smoke.
Learn to Recognize Your Own Smoking Triggers
Smoking triggers make it tough for smoker to quit and they will often differ from person to person, meaning that you’ll have to do some detective work, but once you learn to recognize your own personal smoking triggers, you can use a few simple strategies to avoid or defuse them before they wear down your resolution. Before your quit date, keep a small journal with you that you can easily carry around. Every time you light a cigarette, record:
- The time of day
- How intense your craving feels (on a scale of 1 to 5)
- What you’re doing at that moment
- Where you are
- Who you’re with
- How you feel (happy, stressed, bored, etc.)
Be as precise as possible. Keep your journal for at least one week, since your routine is likely to be different on certain days of the week, especially weekends. Once you’re done, review your journal. Make a list of the most powerful triggers, based on the intensity of your craving. List the triggers that occur most frequently and note places, people, situations, and moods that set off these cravings to smoke.
Defuse Smoking Triggers in Advance
Triggers are a form of conditioned response. For example, if you’re used to smoking a cigarette during a coffee break, you begin to associate even the smell of coffee with smoking. But conditioned responses like these can be broken. Before your quit date, defuse triggers in advance by changing your routines. If you’re used to smoking in the car, for example, practice driving short distances without smoking. If coffee triggers a craving, practice taking your coffee break without having a cigarette. Focus on breaking your own most powerful triggers in advance of quitting.
Avoid Situations That Spark a Craving to Smoke
Before your quit date, look over your list of triggers and put a checkmark beside those that you can reasonably avoid. If you have friends you’re used to smoking with, for example, decide in advance not to see them during the first few weeks of quitting. If drinking coffee is a strong trigger for you, switch to tea. If you associate smoking with watching TV, skip television for a couple of weeks and take a brisk walk around the neighborhood instead. The more thoroughly you change your usual routine, the easier it will be to steer clear of triggers. If you usually step outside to smoke a cigarette first thing in the morning, do a few simple exercises instead. Whenever possible, go to places where you can’t smoke, such as libraries, museums, or theaters.
Plan Ways to Resist Smoking Triggers You Can’t Avoid
Some situations or feelings can’t be avoided, of course. By acknowledging in advance that they’re likely to spark a craving, you can be better prepared to ride it out. Make a plan on how you are realistically going to manage them. Bring along something else to put in your mouth instead of a cigarette—a mint-flavored toothpick, a piece of gum, or some carrot sticks, for example. While you’re walking, take deep breaths, focusing on how good the fresh air feels in your lungs. Other useful strategies to ride out a craving include sipping ice-cold water through a straw, enjoying a healthy snack, calling a friend to distract you, exercising, keeping your hands busy by squeezing a rubber ball or doing a crossword puzzle… However, it doesn’t all have to be about willpower. There are other ways to deal with smoking triggers. If you find you’re really struggling with your cravings, nicotine replacement therapy is another solution that comes in various forms including gum, patches, lozenges and sprays, and gives your body the nicotine that it’s craving, but without the toxic chemicals. Ultimately, it’s about finding the strategy that works best for you. It won’t necessarily be easy, and you might need more than one attempt, but regardless of how you do it, just know that you will get there in the end!
Remember, each time you resist a trigger and don’t light up; you’ve lessened its power over you. Most cravings only last a few minutes. If you can find a way to ride them out and fight that pesky urge, you’ll be one step closer to a lifetime free of smoking!