Don’t underestimate the importance of timing. The timing of your attack on the smoking habit is extremely important. In life, timing is the essence of a winning strategy. […] The popular concept among behavioral therapists is that no time is better than the present to take action against an addictive habit. In theory, it sounds right. But the cold light of reality presents a different picture. I am convinced that there is a tremendous advantage in a well-prepared, preemptive attack against the smoking habit.
Balasa Prasad, Stop Smoking for Good
The standard smoking cessation quit-date timeline is 1-2 weeks. Here’s an example of this kind of blitzkrieg quit-date advice from a 2003 American Cancer Society publication, “Kicking Butts:” “Pick a quit date – about seven to fourteen days from now.” (p. 88). Other programs are more generous: they suggest 2 to 3 weeks.
1-3 weeks, 7-21 days? Really?!
Ok, let’s do some math, maybe we* are missing something. Let’s just see what you can possibly accomplish in 3 weeks of preparation for a quit date. First of all, we have to shave exactly a third of that time right off the bat – for sleeping. So, all of a sudden the 3 weeks became 2 weeks (21 days – 7 days = 14 days).
Now, subtract another week worth of time since most of us spend an average of 8 hours a day working. So, we are down to 1 week worth of potential prep time. How are you going to spend it? Maybe, just maybe, you’ll log in a few hours with some kind of therapist in a face-to-face training. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll spend a few hours reading over some supplementary materials. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll be diligent enough to spend a few hours practicing craving-control skills (if you’ve been lucky enough to be introduced to them).
So, and we are being optimistic here, you might spend a day’s worth of actual prep time. A day of prep against years of massive conditioning! Who are we kidding with this?! No wonder most people in smoking cessation programs don’t stand a chance of succeeding.
Clearly, a day worth of prep time, heck, even a full week of prep-time is not enough to combat the massive inertia of the smoking habit. It is simply clinically naïve to expect any lasting results with so little skills-training.
So, to sum up, we have a major clinical beef with this “2-weeks-to-launch” standard of care. First, this isn’t treatment but a drive-through hook-up for a patch or a pill. The timeline is premature and arbitrary. Second, this kind of approach gets in the way of rapport since the “2-weeks-to-launch” smoking cessation providers don’t seem to trust you, the smoker, with your motivation and seem to wish to nail you down with some kind of verbal “pinky promise” contract that you’ll quit.
We’ve seen this silliness first hand, in our training, during feel-good group-quit ceremonies. Third, in our analysis, the current “2-weeks-to-launch” quit-date deadline has the stampeding impatience of an anti-smoking crusade. What’s our solution to this drive-through quit-date approach? A mindful sit-down.
So, skip the drive-through approach to smoking cessation and awaken the zombie-mind instead. Start your program of smoking cessation with the prep-work of awareness-building. Toss a monkey wrench into the machine of your smoking mindlessness. Break a pattern to infuse a lungful of mindful fresh air into the staleness of the habit. Smoke mindfully to quit mindfully. Warm up that cold turkey with the illuminating heat of mindfulness before you quit.
Exercise: Change Your Hand to Change Your Mind
Awaken your smoking mind. Start your smoking day from the wrong side of the bed, so to say: switch your hand. If you always smoke with your right hand, smoke today with your left to change the process. If you always smoke with your left hand, make it the right smoking hand even if it feels wrong. Try to remember to smoke with your non-smoking hand all day today. Try this out for a week. Share your experience.
Here’s a link to Smoke Breaker. Smoke Breaker (just like ) is an opportunity to anonymously share (online) your mindful smoking moments as you experiment with various awareness-building, pattern-interruption smoking meditations in preparation for an eventual quit-date.
We will be updating the page with awareness-building/pattern-interruption exercises on a weekly basis. Smoke mindfully to quit mindfully!
* we = Pavel Somov, Ph.D., Marla Somova, Ph.D., co-authors of “The Smoke-Free Smoke-Break: Stop Smoking with Mindfulness and Acceptance” (in press, New Harbinger publications, fall 2011)
Photo by A.Magill, available under a Creative Commons attribution, non-commercial license.