I think two things are key; time and repeated conscious choice.
By time, I mean our conception of time and the conventions we’ve built up around that concept; I don’t know how successful I was in presenting my ideas about this, but I wrote about this in a tale called “what time is it?” that you may want to read (it’s part of a larger collection of stories that I wrote during the first year of my quit that are posted at a site called “tales from the quit“).
“Right Now” is the Time of Action
The bottom line is that the only time we can act is right now, and yet, a lot of us spend an enormous amount of energy trying to act in some other time (i.e., regretting the past or worrying about the future). This is why regret and worry are two of the most counter-productive ways we can waste our time; they’re both ways of trying to act in some time frame other than right now.
Since the only time we can act is right now, the only time we can smoke — or choose not to smoke — is right now. By wallowing in regret over the times you’ve failed to quit smoking in the past, or projecting worries into the future about how difficult it might be to stay quit for some arbitrary period of time (or under some arbitrary set of circumstances), you’re trying to do the impossible: act in some time frame other than right now.
And if you try to do the impossible, it should come as no surprise that you’ll only end up frustrating yourself.
One Day at a Time
As long as you never choose to smoke right now, you’ll be smoke-free forever. In other words, as long as you don’t smoke today, tomorrow will take care of itself. This is why my patented two-step quit plan, while a little tongue-in-cheek, never fails to work, if it’s followed to the letter.
Make the Right Choices
I’m sure I don’t have to explain what I mean by “repeated conscious choice”, but I will point out that, like anything else you do repeatedly over the course of time, choosing not to smoke gets easier to do every time you do it. But you have to do it a lot: think about how many times you had to consciously choose to smoke when you first started, and how many times you unconsciously chose to smoke over the years; probably millions.
One of my favorite historical figures is Thomas Jefferson, who once said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance” (or words to that effect). At the beginning of my quit, I decided that I had to do something to maintain eternal vigilance, and I decided that, first thing every morning, I would get up, stand in front of the mirror, look myself in the eye, remind myself that I was a nicotine addict who could not afford to feed that addiction a single time, and consciously commit not to smoke, just for today.
And Write Them Down
I also chose to write my reminder and my commitment in my journal. In fact, I filled 3 journals by writing out my daily reminders and affirmations every single morning for the first 2 years plus of my quit (they were 250 page journals). Add to that the thousands of times I made the conscious choice not to smoke right now in direct response to a crave, and you begin to get the idea that it takes a fair amount of repetition for the commitment to take root.
I’m not suggesting that you do exactly as I did, but I am suggesting that, first of all, you concentrate on the moment of action: don’t distract yourself by trying to do the impossible (in other words, stop trying to choose not to smoke in some time other than right now). Secondly, I suggest that you repeatedly make the conscious choice not to feed your addiction, not only in the heat of the moment (when you’re having a craving), but that you reaffirm your commitment to making that choice as many times, and in as many ways, as it takes to firmly plant that commitment in your mind.
That’s what’s kept me free for over 10 years now (and counting).