A year and a half ago this week, after repeated attempts and repeated failures, I quit smoking. I did it for a number of reasons, but foremost in my mind was the health and happiness of my children.
As the father of six kids, I knew that the chances were good that if I kept smoking, they would smoke too. And live unhealthy lives and die young.
That’s a harsh reality, but it’s proven by the stats. And that kind of motivation will drive a dad to overcome the killer urges to have just one toke, to relieve stress, “because it won’t really hurt to smoke just one time.”
But it does. Because one time leads to two, and that leads to failure. As I’d seen so many times in my past (unsuccessful) quits. And my kids deserve better.
Again, I have six kids, and I work two jobs. There’s a fair amount of stress in my job. So smoking was a crutch — a way for me to handle the high levels of stress without actually dealing with it. Tough meeting? Go out and smoke. Just barely met deadline? Have a cig. Kids driving me crazy? I’ll just step outside for a few minutes.
But every time I smoked around my kids, I felt guilty. I would go around the corner to smoke, pretending to myself that the kids didn’t know and couldn’t see and wouldn’t model their behavior after mine. That, of course, caused further guilt — I was living a lie, deceiving my kids to get my fix. And I knew. I knew that they knew, despite my two-facedness.
How I Quit
I quit probably 7-8 times, unsuccessfully, before my last quit. Mostly I tried going cold turkey, thinking every time that I had the willpower, but in the end, it failed because I would ask myself: “What am I doing this for? Why should I suffer when I enjoy it so much?”
And that was the heart of the matter: it was pleasurable, and I really had no reason to give up that pleasure and suffer instead. I needed me some pretty strong motivation.
So I found a solution: I made a promise, to my wife and my daughter, that I would quit. I told them that I might try and fail, but that I wouldn’t ever give up until I succeeded — even if it took 50 quits before it stuck.
That promise worked. Every time I wanted to smoke, I would think of that promise, and how I didn’t want to look like a failure in the eyes of my wife and daughter.
There were, of course, other reasons behind my quit — my health, the expense of it all (I’ve saved more than $2,000 by quitting), and the self-esteem issue of letting this addiction control my life, to name a few. But the promise was the most powerful.
It took more than the promise. I attacked this addiction with a bunch of different weapons and strategies. Some of the best that worked for me:
- Online forum. I joined a forum, introduced myself, asked questions, became a part of a community of people going through the same horrible experience (and many of them making it). It was inspirational, and motivational, as I wanted to prove to them that I could do it too. Make a rule: before you take a toke, post to the forum. It helped tremendously.
- Let it pass. When you get an urge, ride it out. It will pass. Just give yourself a few minutes. Make yourself busy. Do whatever you can to distract yourself until the urge passes.
- Deep breaths, water, healthy snacks: Some of the best ways of getting through an urge. Take some deep breaths. Drink a glass of water. Eat some frozen grapes. Give yourself a massage to relieve stress.
- Exercise: Stress relief, of course, is the biggest reason people smoke. You need to find an alternate stress reliever. For me, it was running. I wasn’t good at running at first (especially with my smoker’s lungs), but I just did it a little at a time. By the end of one year, I ran a marathon.
Multiple strategies work best. Most of all, tell yourself, Not One Puff Ever (NOPE) — because one will definitely lead to relapse, whatever your brain tries to tell you.
I quit, and it was one of the best things I ever did. I think I made a major step towards improving my kids’ lives. And as a bonus, the success of quitting led to many other positive changes in my life: I became a runner, and now a triathlete; I became a vegan; I got a second job and doubled my income; I began to pay off my debt and saving; I became organized and productive; and now I’ve started a fairly successful blog that has really taken off, talking about all of these things I’ve learned along the way.
Ed. Note: Leo Babauta writes about simple productivity at Zen Habits. It’s our sincere hope that Leo’s story will encourage more parents to quit smoking for the love of their children.