I used to be a smoker.
On November 19th, 2001, I started making some new choices for myself: I started choosing life. I started choosing health. I started choosing strength, and self-control, and freedom. I started choosing not to smoke, just for today.
I remember hearing “older” quitters saying that if you stuck it out long enough, there would come a day when you’d forget that you had quit smoking. That, in fact, there would come a day when you’d forget that you’d ever been a smoker at all.
I wasn’t sure I believed them.
But I started choosing not to smoke anyway. And I always chose not to smoke just for today. In fact, in the early days, a lot of times I had to choose not to smoke right now, because I wasn’t sure I could realistically promise myself that I wouldn’t smoke for the next 10 minutes, let alone the entire day. And I kept on making that choice, over and over, until it became second nature to me. Then I did it some more, until it became a part of who I was.
That’s When it Started to Happen for Me
I started having whole days when I never thought about smoking at all except for two times: once as soon as I got up in the morning when I would recite my mantra (you can find it here and here and here if you’re interested) and write it out in my quit journal, and once just before I went to bed at night, when I would congratulate myself for getting through another day without smoking.
I filled three journals writing out that mantra and making the deliberate, conscious choice not to smoke, just for today, and the days when I never thought about smoking at all turned into weeks, and then into months.
Practice Makes Perfect
After some time (600 days? 750? I can’t remember now whether those journals were 200 pages or 250), I stopped writing my mantra in my quit journal first thing every morning, because by then it had become part of who I was. But I continued to congratulate myself every night for several years for getting through another day smoke free. And that was generally the only time I ever really thought about smoking, or the fact that I used to be a smoker, or the fact that I wasn’t a smoker any more.
What About Now?
At this point, it’s been many years since I got up and recited my mantra, or wrote it out in my quit journal, or congratulated myself at night for making it through another day smoke-free, and it’s been years since the last time I had anything even remotely resembling a craving for a cigarette. (In fact, it’s been so long, I can’t honestly remember the last time it happened.)
Never Underestimate the Power of Choice
Never underestimate the power of repeated conscious choice: making the repeated conscious choice to smoke is what got us addicted in the first place, and it’s the only thing that will make us free and keep us free now.
Think back to when you first started smoking: you had to make a deliberate conscious choice to smoke back then; it didn’t come naturally to you. You had to work at it. And you did; you made the deliberate conscious choice to smoke, over and over, until it became second nature. And you continued making that choice until it became a part of who you were.
After you’d been smoking for a number of years, if somebody had asked you how long you’d been smoking, you’d have had to actually stop and think about it to come up with a number: normally, you weren’t even aware of being a smoker; it was just part of who you were.
Practice Making the Right Choice
Likewise, when you first quit, you have to make the deliberate, conscious choice not to smoke. It won’t come naturally to you. You’ll have to work at it. And every time you choose not to smoke is another victory. If somebody asks you how long you’ve been quit in the early days, you’ll probably be able to tell them to the hour (if not to the minute) how long it’s been.
But if you continue to make the deliberate, conscious choice not to smoke, over and over, until it starts to feel natural, eventually, you’ll reach the point where someone will ask you how long you’ve been quit and you’ll have to stop and think about it to come up with an answer: because you’ll no longer be consciously aware of being an ex-smoker; it’ll just be a part of who you are.
And once it becomes a part of who you are, you’ll reach the point where, if someone asks you how long you’ve been quit, you’ll wonder what they’re talking about, because you won’t even remember ever having been a smoker.
The Impossible Dream?
If you’re on day one — or early in your quit — today, this probably sounds like the impossible dream to you. Just remember that I was where you are right now on November 18th of 2001, and it seemed like the impossible dream to me, too. But I knew I could do one thing: I knew I could choose not to smoke right now. I knew I could choose not to smoke just for today. And that’s all I’ve ever had to do.
It’s all you’ll ever have to do, too.