When I was a 10 year old kid, I used to spend my summer vacations in a small village in North-Western Romania. Those were the times when I started smoking as a result of the environment to which I was exposed and as being influenced by the others around me.
The first smoking experiences were very exciting because we were practically hiding so that our parents or other people wont see what we’re doing. We felt like committing illegalities by smoking and that was probably the cause that made me stick to this habit. It was definitely not the awful taste of first time smoking.
I spent most of my summer vacations in that small village and as I was growing up, I was smoking a pack of cigarettes every 2-3 days. Considering the young age, that was not really good for me. I was building really bad habits because every weekend, if not most of the evenings, we were having drinks and were smoking as part of social habits which we considered made us more connected to each other.
Those were the times when disco nights were trending. Back then, I never ever considered quitting smoking. It was part of me and it felt like normal.
All my major life events have had something related to smoking in them. In high-school I was once caught smoking on the school perimeter, my parents were called, and I would have been expelled if it weren’t for a great professor who helped me get out of the situation.
In the 9 years of nicotine addiction, I never really enjoyed the taste of smoke in my mouth. That’s why most of the times I was using mint-flavored chewing gums.
I used to wonder how come I kept doing something that provided with constant negative effects (bad taste, smelly clothes, and, occasionally, dizziness). I later found out the answers in a book called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhig, which is featured on Amazon Best Seller list of 2013.
Flash-forward to 2010. I’ve been constantly partying every Friday and Saturday night. It was my early 20s. Life was nice.
One Saturday night I was out with some friends. We had been drinking and smoking up until 6 A.M. I remember it as it was yesterday. We left the pub in the morning. We were the only ones on the street. It was the beginning of a beautiful Sunday, in May 2010.
I slept for about 6 hours and I woke up with no hangover at noon that day. After having breakfast (or lunch since it was noon), everything collapsed. I don’t know what chemical reactions took place within my body, but I never felt that sick ever.
It was a warm Sunday, and I was lying in bed all covered up as I had shivers. I had thrown-out more than 4 times that day.
I had that Harajaku-Moment (revelation implying immediate action).
I realized that my body does not deserve this kind of treatment anymore. There were two quantified selfs of me: my body and my self as a rational entity. I felt sorry for having my body suffer as a result of my negligence all those years.
It was one of those moments that change you forever. I didn’t have to promise that I will force myself to quit smoking. I knew that I will leave smoking behind.
Do not force yourself to quit. Just let it go.
You see, the key point here is not to say to yourself that: I want to quit smoking (or any other bad thing you do) starting tomorrow. And when tomorrow comes, you’ll always think of the efforts and sacrifices you make to resist the temptation of smoking.
For me there was no temptation anymore. It was a life-changing perspective. I didn’t feel that I was forcing myself. I knew I was doing the right thing. It was not easy.
Rewiring your brain
That following Monday I went to college. Everything was different because during breaks I didn’t join the group of smokers as I usually did. We used to have 10-20 minutes breaks and in that time we were smoking and socializing.
My brain was so f*cking wired up and it didn’t feel like normal. My normality was:
1. getting out of the house and lighting it up,
2. reaching the bus station and smoking another one,
3. reaching college and smoking,
4. having breaks and smoking,
5. getting home – the same ritual,
6. going out – smoking.
7. everything – smoking.
So it was something that was part of me for more than 9 years. From a neurological perspective, all my life experiences and my habits have had something related to smoking; all my neural connections had terminations firing smoke cravings.
This is the tricky part when removing the bad habit. However, the reason that I had for quitting was powerful enough to support me in my struggle.
I had to practically rewire my brain with respect to my past experiences and habits, as well as create new sticky and better habits. I started kickboxing training. This created a different set of habits within my life.
It took a while for me to adjust to the idea that getting out of the house does not imply smoking. I had to constantly do that until it started to feel a bit more normal. My conscious was doing well. But my unconscious killed me.
While sleeping, I had dreams of smoking every 2-3 days. These dreams (or nightmares) lasted a freaking year long.
Can you imagine how deeply rooted into my brain this habit was?
Since not being able to express during the day time (as I didn’t smoke), it was expressing itself while I was asleep.
So, it took a year for my brain to literally accept a new identity, perceive it as normality, and leave a 9-year old identity (addiction) behind. It was well worth because as time passed and I didn’t relapse, I was becoming more and more confident in myself and in the things that I can do with my life.
I never told anyone that I quit smoking until a month has passed. I didn’t need acceptance, nor critique. I knew that I can handle it myself.
I googled to see the best books to quit smoking and I found Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking which gives a totally different perspective to this habit. I think that 99% of the smokers cannot see the things from his perspective until reading his books. Personally, this book provided me with support, since no-one close to me could help (because I didn’t tell them).
Another important thing is that: I never said I would never smoke again.
I left the smoking habit behind, knowing its time has passed and I need to move on to better habits.
You can imagine how pressure relieving this strategy was. You basically do not limit yourself or force yourself into not doing something you used to do. You just post-pone it as much as you can.
One year after quitting, I was at the beach with some friends and I decided to smoke a cigarette because I felt that it was a special occasion. It was like I’ve never quit. Everything was the same: the breath-in, the breath-out, the taste, everything.
I didn’t feel guilty because I knew that it would take more than a cigarette to get me back on the negative track of smoking.
Then another 6 months have passed and it was the New Year’s Eve of 2012. I felt that was a special occasion which needed a light-up. This time it was a bit strange. The taste of the cigarette was more unfamiliar than familiar.
Then other months have passed. I smoked 2 to 3 cigarettes in 2012, each of the time feeling stranger.
This last summer of 2013, I went to a beautiful Greek Island, Crete, for a 2 weeks vacation. Since this was a special occasion, I decided that it had to have some magic moments in it.
That’s why I bought 2 cigars, which I planned to smoke when I felt it was the right time.
So, one night after party in Crete, I decided it was the good time to light the cigar up and spend some quality time with myself and my thoughts. Here’s a picture from that morning.
I lit the cigar up and from the very beginning it felt bad. It had that awful taste in my mouth, the same taste it had when I started smoking, back when I was 9 or 10 years old.
It didn’t feel good so I threw it immediately after lighting it up.
“Maybe it’s because it’s a cigar and not a cigarette”, I said to myself.
So, to make sure, few nights after I asked a friend to give me a cigarette. The same thing happened. I didn’t like it and I threw it. That’s when I knew that my body and my brain is unfamiliar with this habit, again.
What’s the point of doing something you don’t enjoy, just for the sake that you enjoyed it for so long? It’s only the present moment that matters.
Feel that you are totally free
Maybe I’m contradicting Charles Duhigg, who says that you cannot remove habits from your brain, only replace them, but this was the moment that not smoking often enough and for long enough, made my body totally reject something with which it was used for more than 9 years straight.
So, I never will and never say that I will not smoke again. However, there is a very small chance for me to start smoking again since I know so many things about habit creation and how your brain looks if you smoke.
I became more aware of the neural implications with respect to our habits and our personalities after literally devouring Dr. Joe Dispenza’s Evolve your Brain and Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence. These alone are advocating that my relapse is less likely to occur.
I feel completely free and mostly because I did not and will not say that I’m not going to do “this” or “that” ever in my life.
If you say that you will never do something again, like never smoke again, your brain does not accept that. It does not like to have limits and barriers and it will most likely find ways to make you do that same thing which you said you’ll never do. So, be smarter!
Knowing so much about this right now, and knowing that so many people fight the same battle that I fought, makes me eager to help anyone I encounter who wants to quit smoking or quit any other negative habit.
That’s why I ask you, the reader, to tell me the hardest thing to accomplish if you consider quitting bad habits.
Is it the people around you? Is it that you don’t think you have the power? Have you ever tried quitting? What helped you quit or what lead to your relapse?
I really want to help you with this, so please share your thoughts below.
Allen Carr – Easy Way to Stop Smoking
Charles Duhigg – The Power of Habit
Dr. Joe Dispenza – Evolve your Brain
Daniel Goleman – Emotional Intelligence