I challenged my association between cigarette and pleasure

Following all the encouragements I received after the article on how I taught myself to love healthy food, I decided it could be useful to share how I could rationally associate smoking with pain, which made me quit rather effortlessly.

Just as a disclaimer, I was not a huge smoker, just having like 4–5 cigarettes a day, plus another 10 if I was partying. This is what worked for me:

1. Understand my associations

I used to associate cigarettes with parties, a good meal, social events, sex or having a relaxing moment. In a nutshell, I had created in my brain very strong neural pathways between smoking and pleasurable activities. I needed to understand this before I could try to change these associations.

2. Understand where the association came from

Why did I associate smoking with those great moments. After all, there was absolutely no rational reasons. Why would I feel like smoking would make a party better? I could not justify it. With other addictive behaviours, like drinking, I could understand. Being drunk made me more brave, whether it was to do something fun or go and speak to chicks. But smoking did not have any rational advantages. I deeply think this association was created by the marketing of cigarette companies, that implanted in my brain that smoking was cool. That smoking made me look like this cowboy in a movie. When I understood I was getting fooled by people making money out of me destroying my health, it made cigarettes unattractive.

3. Review of the pros and cons

So now I had a strong rational understanding of why I should not smoke. It may be debatable, but drinking or some drugs do have pros, I may like the way they change my behaviour. But when reviewing it, I could not rationally find any pros for smoking. The main con was easy to find, it was destroying my health, long-term, because I risked a cancer, and short-term, as it affected my sports performance. It also cost money. I knew it seems obvious but doing this exercise of really thinking these pros and cons helped me reinforce this belief.

4. Mindfulness: focus on the sensation

Ok so now I had a strong rational understanding of why I should not smoke, but it’s not that simple. Smoking is an addiction and it’s very easy to be tempted anyway. So I need to try and get almost disgusted by the taste. Every time I was smoking, I tried to focus on the taste, which is actually not good. I could mindfully feel the dryness of the smoke and the bad taste it left in my mouth. Sometimes, I would stop smoking a cigarette halfway.

5. Find a substitute

I also understood that smoking was a social behaviour. Many of my friends smoked and I associated it with a relaxing time. But I didn’t need the cigarette to do it. For example, at work or in a club, I think it’s great to go outside and have a 10-min break with other people. What is silly is that I didn’t need a cigarette to do so, but the only people who do it are the ones smoking. So I chose to keep doing it, I would simply substitute the cigarette with a carrot. Thus, I would go with the smokers and have a break and I would simply eat a carrot instead, which is definitely more healthy.

6. Avoid temptations

This is an obvious one but worth stating. I stopped buying cigarettes and tried to avoid being too much around smokers, especially when I knew my will power was weakened, like when I was a bit tipsy :)

I hope this approach can help anyone sustainably quit smoking. With the money I save, I can even get some hummus to make the carrots a bit more tasty!