Why is quitting smoking so hard?

quitting smokingWhen we try to leave old unwanted behaviors behind, we look to the thoughts and beliefs that block us, such as thinking “I can’t quit,” or “it’s too hard.”

Pleasures are not addictive. You choose to addict yourself to them. This happens when you create a set of thoughts and beliefs that fuel your actions.

Your thinking can trick you into believing that change just isn’t possible, or that you need some sort of miracle to get to a desirable outcome.  But when you look closer, you’ll find fallacies, illogical thoughts, and irrational beliefs.

For instance, you may claim to have no power or control in the face of a smoking addiction, and it seems an irresistible impulse to smoke even when you say you wish you could stop.

Here’s a list of fallacies that could be working against you.

  1. Circular thinking: If you believe the impulse to smoke is irresistible, you don’t attempt to resist the impulse. Then, having failed, you begin to view failing to exercise control as confirmation that you have no power to quit, thus using your failure as “proof” the impulse is irresistible.
  2. Self-fulfilling prophesy: Because of the circular thinking above, you may continue to smoke as if you were powerless to quit.
  3. Illogical conclusion that you’re a special case who can’t quit: People quit regularly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 2002 the number of former U.S. smokers has exceeded the number of current smokers.
  4. I just haven’t gotten around to the effort of quitting.” When you’re doing nothing to quit, you’re not doing nothing! Smoking involves this complex chain of behaviors: determining the type of business carrying cigarettes, locating a store that sells them, mapping out a route to the store, driving or walking to the store, obtaining money to purchase the cigarettes, making the transaction, finding a place to smoke, opening the cigarette pack, removing the cigarette, lighting up, inhaling. Quitting involves doing nothing.
  5. “I can’t resist them.” Cigarettes cannot force you to smoke: cigarettes are inanimate objects. They have no will or power of their own to force you to smoke. The only irresistible human behaviors do not involve tobacco: blinking, sneezing, convulsing, falling asleep, twitching, and others. Even a starving individual’s strong urge to eat can be resisted. In 1981 Bobby Sands, an IRA hunger-striker, died of self-imposed starvation in prison after choosing to refuse food for 66 days as part of a political protest. Certainly, then, a person experiencing the urge or craving to smoke can resist.
  6. “I must have the nicotine.” Smoking cigarettes is still a choice even in cases where an individual requires the regular ingestion of nicotine for some reason: It can be obtained from nicotine patches, nicotine gum, nicotine sprays, nicotine inhalers, and e-cigarettes.

Dr. Michael EdelsteinAbout the author: Dr. Edelstein is a licensed clinical psychologist in San Francisco. He offers in-person as well as telephone and Skype sessions. He is famous as the author of Three Minute Therapy: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life (1997), with David Ramsay Steele.  Recently, Dr. Edelstein created a YouTube channel with Tommy Bateman, featuring podcasts on topics of interest in REBT He also has a long-running website at threeminutetherapy.com.

You can also listen to Dr. Edelstein’s recent podcast “Self Esteem Can Be Toxic. How to Escape the Trap” by visiting the SMART Recovery podcast page.

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