Resistance is Futile

An oak and a willow stood side by side near the bank of a river. The oak bragged to the willow, “I am the mightiest of the trees. I’m so big and strong that nothing can move me. But you: you’re so light and weak, you bend and sway with the slightest breeze.”

One day, a terrible storm swept down the river valley, and the oak, who counted on his size and strength to resist the winds, was uprooted and thrown across the river. As he lay there, dying, he noticed the willow still standing peacefully on the other side of the river.

The oak asked the willow, “You’re so light and weak; how could you possibly have survived the winds that uprooted me and threw me over here?” She replied, “You resisted the wind and it broke you; I accepted the wind and allowed it to blow through me. I bent so I wouldn’t break.”

So what does this ancient fable have to do with you quitting, and, more importantly, staying quit once you do?


Most quitters try to be the oak: they think they can count on the strength of their will to resist the urge to smoke, and they spend an enormous amount of energy fighting those urges. The problem is, fighting the urge to smoke is like fighting the wind; the urge is a relentless force, and, like the oak, you can’t possibly win by resisting.

Resistance is futile. In fact, it’s worse than futile; it will actually help the urge to break you: the more you push, the more it will push back, and eventually it will wear you down.

Much better to be the willow: accept that having the occasional urge to smoke is a natural, normal part of recovery, allow it to blow through you, and live to tell the tale.

How to Be the Willow

When you feel the urge to smoke, don’t fight it; just notice it, and acknowledge it in a way that doesn’t give it more power: say to yourself, “ok; having the urge to smoke again,” but say it as if you were noticing that the sun is shining or that the grass is green: no big deal, no drama, no resistance, just an acknowledgment of what is.

Next, make a deliberate, conscious decision about how you’re going to respond to the urge. This is easy; there are only two choices: you’ll either feed the urge by smoking (thereby reinforcing your addiction and making it easier to give in and feed it again the next time) or you’ll starve it by not smoking (thereby reinforcing your freedom and making it easier to choose not to feed it again the next time).

Whatever you choose, act on your choice without regret and move on to the next thing you need to do without giving it another thought. No looking back. No second guessing. Just let it go and get on with your life.

If you’re still smoking, you can try this the next time you get the urge to light up. Notice it, decide whether you’re going to feed it or not, act on your decision, and let it go. I think you’ll find it’s easier than you might think. Once you’ve tried it, come back and leave a comment to let us know what you felt while you were doing it.

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