First of all, I want to tell you that this article has nothing to do with “dying of cancer,” or “willpower,” or all of the things you’re fed up with hearing when you think about your smoking habit.
I know that if you’re reading this, you either want to stop smoking, or you have stopped. That’s a great start for me, because I know that you’ll appreciate this. I promise that I won’t say anything about cancer, though, because that narrative doesn’t work to get people to quit. It just makes them feel bad, and anxious, which generally leads to more smoking.
If you’re one of those people who has quit, but you still “want one every day,” you did it the wrong way, and you’ll probably smoke again. And that’s OK if you do, because someday you’ll end up doing it the right way, and you’ll be happy to be a non-smoker. (Maybe even after you’re done with this article!)
I smoked for years. I loved to smoke. I associated smoking with every part of my identity. I had a cigarette in my hand everywhere I went, and I found my raspy voice to be a badge of honor; a battle scar. My life was “hard” and smoking “eased it.” The world was so “cruel” and “cumbersome” and I was trudging through it, needing to display how well I was handling all of that by proudly displaying yellow fingers.
Smoking was “sexy.” I remember vividly the time that I went upstairs with a stranger in the Roosevelt Hotel, back at the tail end of 2008. He was English, and we were smoking Benson and Hedges together all night. It was meant to be the grandest one night stand ever as we tore one another’s clothes off with lit cigarettes hanging out of our mouths. I ended up with a hole in my dress, a burn mark on my shoulder, and not much else, because as it turns out, when you’re drunk enough to do that, you’re not going to be getting much in the way of physical pleasure. Who knew?
I was a smoker. I loved that the man at the bodega knew exactly what brand I wanted when I went in. It made me feel like a local celebrity. It always produced a small surge of happiness, rather than having to explain what kind I wanted to the sales associate at Duane Reade.
“No, no, not that one. No, one to the right. No, green box. No.”
The best part of it was the camaraderie I had with other smokers. I developed some wonderful, raw friendships because of my smoking. There’s something that bonds people together in a really intimate way when they regularly end up standing outside an establishment together in the pouring rain, or the freezing cold. You really get to know people in that time. That’s what I liked the best, truly.
I quit when I was 32, after smoking for 18 years. Do that math. I smoked for more than half of my life, and I’ll tell you what- I never want to smoke another cigarette again.
How did I do it? Well, basically, I had to change the entire formula in which I thought about cigarette smoking. I had to make it so negative in my mind, that stopping it would lead me to near ecstasy.
OK. Pause. If you’re a smoker, you’re already starting the “I don’t get it. This is dumb.” Before your smoker brain starts to tense up with the very thought of quitting, and the anxiety you’re having takes over, let me tell you, this is not hard to do. You just have to change your thinking. I will help you do this in the next few paragraphs.
You need to know that your life right now isn’t sexy. It’s crap. All of those things I described in those paragraphs seemed sexy with the way I worded them, and in your mind, you are also believing some similar sexy things about yourself. However, they’re all made up. You’ve created that narrative in your head because you are a drug addict.
The real world does not see you as strong. They see you as weak, gullible, unable to make sound decisions, untrustworthy, unable to handle stress, and smelly.
You are about the furthest thing from sexy that ever could be described. You don’t even know how bad you smell.
You annoy everyone around you with your constant need to take cigarette breaks. Your friends and family members hate you because you delay meal times. They roll their eyes at you when you have to excuse yourself to go smoke.
This image of yourself that you’ve created in your head about how flawless and elegant you are, or how much you resemble “Audrey Hepburn” or “Don Draper” - you’re none of those things and neither of those people. You’re a smelly bum who can’t afford nicer clothes because you smoke.
Your life is not attractive in the way you want it to be, and it could be! You’re a badass- you got that part right! You have to be a pretty resilient person to insist on spending your hard-earned money on a chemical that tastes like absolute shit, that doesn’t provide you with a single reward.
I used to be standing outside of my job smoking, and people would constantly badger me for money. People asked me for money every single day. I thought that excessive panhandling was just one of the nuisances of daily life in New York City that I needed to learn to deal with. When I quit smoking, people stopped asking me for money. The assault was over. Sure, it happens from time to time, but not the way it was. Smokers get asked for money because they’re an example of a person who doesn’t value it.
There’s a strategy to quitting smoking, and it’s very simple. Your life will be better without it. That’s the secret.
Now, for the hard part. You have be willing to be uncomfortable for about three months. You have to rewire your brain to not associate wanting to smoke with every activity you do throughout the day. Depending on how long you have smoked, this process can take a while. BUT, the reward is, you get to live THE REST OF YOUR LIFE as a free human being.
You’ve probably been putting off quitting for years already because you don’t want to go through a few months of hell. You could have been through those months already, having had years of health and wealth since. You could start today. Nothing is stopping you.
Think of it- you’re no longer going to have anxiety at airports, or after a meal, or after sex. You’re never going to have to plot and plan and worry about when you’ll be able to break from a designated activity to piss everyone around you off. I know you don’t think you care about the money, but when you have an extra few grand, you’re not going to hate it. You’re not going to have to deal with the shame of a doctor visit, or the shame that you feel every time you're around a healthy friend, because secretly, you want to be healthy too. You want to feel like you will live a long life.
It sucks. You’re a drug addict. You have to start calling yourself that, because it’s what you are.
For me, the last lingering hangup was standing outside of my job. I went through the hurdles and the leaps and the “going to bars” and all of that crap. However, I stood outside of my job smoking before work for almost ten years by the time I decided to quit. It took months for my brain to not want to smoke when I would approach the building.
You know what I did? I stood there anyway. I stood there, and I took deep breaths. Because, really, that was my “calming down and preparing myself mentally for work” time. I didn’t have to give up that time because I no longer smoked.
Do you want to know how I got through the “not going for a cigarette when I was at the bar?” I went out anyway. When my friends went to smoke, I went with them. Turns out, I really just liked escaping the room for a few minutes, not so much the smoking.
Nicotine completely rewires the pleasure center of your brain, and you have to work hard to undo that damage. It takes perseverance. It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve done a lot of hard shit, (like when I ran my first marathon in 80 degree heat, for example.)
When you finally decide to do it, your whole life “gets good.”
Let me tell you a secret. Everything that’s not going well in your life can be fixed with a simple shift in how you think about it. Quitting smoking taught me this in a very real way. I changed my thought process about being a non-smoker from “this is going to be horrible and I will forever miss out” to “I have endless possibilities to grow and expand if I make this one tiny shift.”
Everything in my life got better relatively quickly. I became athletic, and fit. I don’t care how much you don’t want to hear it, or how “not right” it is — endless doors of possibility open for you when you look better.
I began to have a level of energy I didn’t think was possible. I started pursuing passions I never would have before. I have run thousands and thousands of miles, 3 marathons, 7 half marathons, and a whole bunch of little races in between. My 5K pace is about 7:25. I have a resting heart rate of 45 bpm. I ran for 118 straight days at the beginning of COVID-19. I smoked for 18 years.
But that’s not all. I’ve saved, as of today, $6,549 (according to the App “Smoke Free,” which I highly recommend) in less than two and a half years.
I loved my friends I made standing outside of buildings, but now, I have a whole new group of friends who are healthy, and committed to making themselves and their lives better.
People always thought I was fun, and funny, but now they almost look up to me. I always thought holding that cigarette made me look like the strongest person in the room, but it turns out, kicking a habit more addictive than heroin actually is the real thing that makes you look like the strongest one.
I always thought that smoking was sexy. I remember men lighting my cigarettes for me in bars in the early 2000’s. You know what’s really sexy, though? Not being a drug addict. That’s really sexy.
I’m not trying to make you feel bad about yourself. I’m trying to make you hate your smoking habit, and see that the other side is so much richer. That’s how you have to think about it. It’s all about the shift in your mindset, to know that making this one decision will change your whole life.
Once you’re able to overcome this obstacle, you will have the tools in your toolbox to be able to accomplish anything you want to in life. Quitting smoking is the ultimate example of “unlearning” to make your life richer. Once you’ve done this, you’ll be able to equate your life to a bar of gold.
Any challenge you face after you quit smoking will seem effortless. If you have a weight problem, you’ll have an easier time controlling it. If you maybe drink a little too much- you’ll have the knowledge and skills to be able to abandon that as well. If you don’t think you have enough love in your life, you’ll be able to find love much more easily.
You think I’m kidding, but all of these things can be accomplished with the same strategy you’ll use to quit smoking- and that’s about the process of changing your mind about the way you think about life after cigarettes. Life after cigarettes isn’t a hellish fight until your inevitable death. Rather, it’s a climb upward toward the most happiness you’ll possibly ever achieve, in a land of freedom.
So — if you're ready to do it, you’re going to need more than this article. I’d recommend Allen Carr’s “The Easy Way to Stop Smoking.” This book has helped millions of people quit worldwide, including me.
Second thing- there is an amazing community of supportive people on Reddit on the sub r/stopsmoking. Don’t go at it alone. I hate asking for help, but I did in that forum, and I still go back to that sub, two years in. I don’t want to smoke anymore, but I love to give back, and help people get the freedom I have found.
Third, definitely get the Smoke Free app. You’ll love watching your health return to normal.