Kicking the Habit: Taking Time to Build Skillpower
Smoking, as you well know, is a hard habit to break. What makes this seemingly simple behavior so difficult to quit, from a behavioral standpoint, is the sheer amount of conditioning that goes into installing the habit. If you smoke a pack a day, you take an average of 160 puffs per day!
The stupefyingly high frequency of smoking behavior can only compete with breathing, walking, and eating. Indeed, can you think of anything else you tend to do at least 160 times a day, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year?
Furthermore, smoking, as a habit, has a tremendously wide conditioning footprint. Smoking is connected to just about everything: to a whole gamut of emotions; to a variety of places, people, and things; to a range of activities, such as eating, thinking, reading, driving, and having sex. So, if you think of smoking as a kind of psychological cobweb, its strands are everywhere, and its triggers linger in every corner of a smoker’s life.
But here’s the kicker: traditional smoking-cessation programs give you only about two weeks to extricate yourself from this psychologically sticky web. That is, most of these programs recommend that you set a quit date two weeks from the time you start your quit efforts.
For some people, this two week timeline makes sense. Perhaps you’ve had previous quit attempts, you’ve learned some coping strategies, and you are highly motivated to leave cigarettes behind for good.
For many others, however, two weeks to quit constitutes a rush job that ultimately sets you up for failure. Our advice?
- Don’t be arbitrary in setting your quit date. Take time to evaluate your areas of weakness, to develop multiple coping strategies, and to be truly skills-ready as well as motivationally-ready to quit. Is two weeks enough time to prepare? A month? Three months? (Some readers of this post may accuse us of enabling the smoker by allowing this longer term approach to quitting – the idea here is that there is no “one size fits all” approach. Preparation, for any major life change, can mean the difference between success and failure.)
- Don’t depend solely on willpower. Take time to overlearn some craving control skills like relaxation or mindfulness meditation. When these skills become second nature, you can turn to them in your most vulnerable moments.
- Finally, don’t expect the patch, pill, or gum to carry you through your toughest cravings. Consider using a self-help book or working short-term with a therapist to build your craving control skillpower*. Give yourself time to prepare. Let this quit date be the last one you ever have to set.
Please refer to Chapter 3: Skip the Drive-Through and Sit Down & Chapter 6: Craving-Control Skillpower (of The Smoke-Free Smoke Break: Stop Smoking Now with Mindfulness and Acceptance)
*What is skillpower? Pavel coined this term circa 2001 while working with substance use clients in a correctional setting, to help them shift from relying on willpower to a focus on developing the power of emotional self-regulation and craving control.
Woman smoking photo available from Shutterstock.
Somova, M. (2012). Kicking the Habit: Taking Time to Build Skillpower. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 4, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindful-living/2012/04/kicking-the-habit-taking-time-to-build-skillpower/