I really need to quit smoking, but I don’t think I have the willpower to do it. I’ve tried a few times, but it just never ‘took.’ Do you know of anything that can help someone like me?
Weak-Willed in Iowa
Think about the last time you wanted a cigarette really badly. Maybe it was during a stressful time, or after some extended event where you couldn’t smoke. Remember it?
Now imagine that just before you lit up, a genie appeared, laid a cool million bucks right on the table in front of you, and offered you a deal: The money’s yours, if you just wait another 10 minutes to smoke that cigarette.
Would you have been able to do it?
Most people – even those who feel they have zero willpower – say yes to that question. (If you said no, just keep filling in that blank until you come up with a dollar value – or something else – that you would say yes to.)
So you could refrain from smoking for 10 minutes for a million bucks – what’s the point?
The point is, if you can refrain from smoking for some period of time if the reward is big enough, then this really isn’t about willpower. It’s about motivation. And that’s good news, because unlike ‘willpower,’ motivation is something you can influence.
There’s another point, too: I’m betting that no matter what you put in that blank, quitting smoking is actually worth more than that to you, if you can tap into your real reasons for wanting to quit.
Why do you want to quit?
OK, I know that every quit smoking program or advice website from here to Kalamazoo says ‘write down your reasons for wanting to quit.’ And you’ve probably even done that a time or two, right?
So this is probably not a new idea to you. But most folks write things like, “I don’t want to get cancer” or “I want don’t want to smell bad” or “I want to save money.”
This is all wrong.
Not that those are bad reasons to quit. Those are fine reasons – if they are really the ones that are making you desperate to quit.
Or are your reasons more like, “Oh, man. I was so embarrassed yesterday. I got in the elevator right after smoking a cigarette outside, and my boss got in behind me. I know I reeked of cigarettes. I just wanted to shrink up into the corner…”
The key to this one is the word ‘embarrassed.’ It’s not just that you don’t want to smell bad – it’s that it’s embarrassing. You reason here is that you want to quit having to feel embarrassed about your habit.
Here’s the secret: emotions are motivating.
So if you want to come up with reasons that will really keep you moving forward, make sure you include emotion words in your reasons. And make sure to tap into the reasons that are real for you right now. For me, some of these things literally kept me awake at night…
When I used to smoke, periodically I would have dreams about my teeth falling out, one by one. I didn’t particularly want my teeth to fall out, but the emotional undercurrent of that dream was all about guilt. I felt really guilty about what I was doing to myself with smoking – and ashamed that if (when?) my teeth did fall out, it would be my own stupid fault…
So one of my reasons for quitting was “so I can quit feeling guilty about what I’m doing to myself.”
Another was, “so I can quit feeling ashamed that I haven’t been able to quit.”
Another was, “so I don’t have to worry about my teeth falling out.”
The last one is the one most people would write down, but the first two are really much more powerful, because they contained the emotions that were actively making me miserable – I was desperate to quit because I felt guilty and ashamed about my smoking. Combining those reasons with the horrifying mental image of my teeth falling out packed a real motivational punch for me.
You need to write your own reasons, of course.
But the key is to make sure your reasons capture the emotions behind what’s going on for you and smoking – if you don’t have a strong emotion-word in your reason, it’s not going to motivate you to quit.
Give voice to the emotions, and create a picture for yourself.
By the way, this isn’t just an exercise in self-flagellation.
The point is that these things are the real cost of continuing to smoke for you, and somewhere down deep, you already have all these pictures and emotions. They are the reasons you are desperate to quit.
The point of bringing them into the light of day is so that they can provide you with the energy to make them not happen. Otherwise, they just stay underneath, sapping your energy and will until they actually do happen. Bring these things up, and let them move you in the direction that you want to go.
What to do next
Go ahead and start a list now – jot down what you can think of. It’s OK to start with your ‘usual’ list of reasons, if you want, but then dig deeper. Focus on strong emotion-words related to what’s going on for you.
Over the course of the next few days (or weeks, or months – it’s up to you), make it a point to begin to notice the emotions that really bug you about your smoking. Are you frustrated? Scared? Disgusted?
Keep your reason-list handy so you can add to it, and refine your understanding of what’s really going on for you. When you get ready to quit again, make sure to carry this list with you, so you can keep your real reasons for wanting to quit right in front of you.
What are your reasons for wanting to quit? Have you tapped into the underlying emotions? Leave a comment and share your ideas with others.