What started as a casual cigarette by the beach in my early teenage years stuck with me for the major part of my 20s. Smoking had become ingrained in myself that I never wondered if I should stop smoking. It was beyond habitual, and unknowingly I placed the act very highly even in spiritual context, of what smoking cigarette means to me.
It was a slow self destruct act that perhaps symbolize self sabotage bordering of feeling overwhelmed and worthless to soldier on waves of challenges.
It was such a recognizable patterns that I would retreat to this familiar act every time I am facing new problems.
Until I decided to make it my next project.
I asked myself, why did I need to smoke?
What I hoped it would do to me?
In removing this pointless, yet admittedly so addicting habits, what could I gain?
Financial Savings as the WHY
When my finances are really bad, I would spent countless hours looking for leaks in my spending. I remember going for close to 3 months without buying anything in Impulse category items (items which are deemed wants by my standard). I only broke the constraint once I am very sure that the RM20 alarm clock was worth it. Having written it in my journal for previous 3 months, of course.
That was a state of desperation. No books/magazine either and I always looked back with amazement how I could survive that period.
It’s normal that soon I noticed RM150 spent for a pack of Dunhill 20s every two days. It was a very fast decision that I could take the opportunity to finally get rid of this killing habits. What clear to me at the moment was how the driving factors for myself at this point was the extra money. I had no remorse over saving my health, improving moods or anything I couldn’t muster my thoughts to relate yet.
(lung cancer? who cares?)
However, when the reason of stopping smoking for myself is coupled on the saving money objective, I become a hungry ghost willing to let go of anything, rather than spending a dime on cigarettes anymore. It goes down pretty well, and I enjoy the stride, and for the first time in my life, I am not needing to reach my cigarettes everytime I had even the slightest sensation of cravings.
I am so focused on saving that extra money.
Save for a few slippage, I managed to go for 2 months unscathed. Which is pretty good given I had never seriously stopped before.
Until my finances are back in order.
I got that extra money to buy Impulses again, my bank loans are up to date with no more credit card debts. I lost my motivation and started smoking again.
I even had records on that period; 2 months of not spending a dime on cigarettes followed by spending for RM24 on it for November.
The experience is not in vain. Although I failed, I learned that; everyone is capable of stop smoking, only if we know our WHY. I thought previously that my WHY for stopping smoking is to save, to tap on frugality. It works for a while, and my body seemed to be able to withstand the change. But clearly it lacks permanent drive.
Realizing my true WHY – ‘freedom’
I began to search inward, what is the best reason I will need to stop smoking. Simply for pushing myself beyond unimaginable territories seemed plausible. That is my motivating factor in cultivating running. But I am wary of the magnitude of the challenge. There are friends whom have been in and out of smoking for years, never been able to fully bury the ratchet habit.
Until someday I saw a smoking colleague who are on his way for a smoking break. It is just a familiar sights that happens everyday, however on this particular day the image of hurried look of wanting and needing the escape paradise, however brief and superficial it is, send a vibrating message that resonates with me. At those important juncture, I realized;
I am previously in prison. I am not free as I will need to satisfy my hunger every time life throws some challenge to me.
I stopped and stared at this friend to interpret what this historic encounter would mean. I spent perhaps for a good 2-3 minutes watching from afar seeing my friend smoking very fast and hurried for the tasks that he must be leaving for a quick break.
I am a proponent of quick breaks to revitalize, or re-boost your energy for the remaining days; but why does it had to be cigarettes?
Few weeks after that, I remember jotting down these words on my ‘Stop Smoking’ plan worksheet.
When I looked @ people who smoked, I felt sad that they’re not free. At the cars and downstairs people (just) need to smoke. Bau busuk. Stop. Stop. Stop.
At that time of writing, the feeling is so intense I shivered. But now I look at it with a smile and wonder how such an act can imprison me long with me not giving a shit. Part of me also want to punch my old self in the face for being too melancholy.
I am glad that I took the chance and restarting my attempt to stop smoking. This time, armed with Leo Babauta’s slogan of ‘not a single puff ever’, I have discovered my WHY which I believe the most important thing you need to have before you start to stop smoking.
Habit Changing Neuroscience All Over Again
At this point, I was pretty familiar with Charles Duhigg’s body of work in his ‘The Power of Habits’. In a single sentence, habits modifications are all about manipulating and amplifying your cues and rewards.
So, I set out to list what are my previous cues;
- Encountered big problems which I am not normally accustomed to both in work and personal life. Needing a place to think alone.
- At office, the first thing to do after arriving and having my coffee done with my friend.
- After eating. Anytime.
- At offshore, especially during the stay at workboat after getting back from platform. You would see majority of people hanging out at designated smoking location and I would be zombies; automatically having a puff.
- While driving.
There are varied cues I found which all pointing towards the same rewards; temporary satisfaction of the cigarettes provides, in the adversity/routines. I would feel that I am doing something to face the challenges, (despite, duh) and being productive (really?).
Although I had fairly successfully incorporating habits of running at this point, I’m well aware that it’s not an easy habit replacement mechanism. As it turns out, the WHY (freedom) is sufficient for me to keep at it longer.
It is also essential to be ready with the replacement actions, once the cue emerged everyday. On this part, I had prepared in every single situation;
- to have Menthol at my office & car,
- brushing my teeth at noon, so I don’t feel to contaminate my mouth again,
- drinking plain water/coffee,
- read a book (this is only at offshore workboat, luckily I’m a bookworm)
- listen to Good Life Project while driving,
- listen to Pierce the Veil/Dance Gavin Dance; channeling the angst to cigarettes
- and when it becomes too unbearable I just run from it, literally.
I don’t know which is the keystone habit which enabled me to permanently kick-out the habit, but I pretty sure I didn’t leave any stones unturned. I am ready before the cravings hit me.
Looking back, it’s the most epic change I have ever done in my life.
Now, I am wanting to do the next project.