New habits, new activities
Making the decision to quit smoking can become much easier when you find other activities to fill the time that smoking once occupied. According to the National Institutes of Health, an effective strategy to help kick bad habits like smoking is to replace them with new healthy routines. Although this may seem easier said than done, changing a bad habit may not be as hard as it seems. Research has shown that the key to changing a habit may lie in choosing your environment wisely.
According to studies conducted by Duke University psychology professor Wendy Wood, environmental cues play a large role in controlling our behavior. Wood’s studies show that when people have a habit that’s associated with a particular place, they have a tendency to repeat their actions even when they don’t want to but are in that environment. For example, people who buy fast food at a certain restaurant or watch TV in a specific location tend to continue to do so. Smokers who wish to quit by replacing their nicotine fix with a healthier activity can learn from Wood’s advice.
Wood’s research suggests that physical locations are some of the most powerful cues to behavior. She advises that if you want to quit smoking, start paying attention to where you usually go to smoke. When you commit to quitting, take steps to avoid spending time in those places. Choose to go somewhere else instead, such as the gym to do some exercise. Use different exits and entrances and avoid places that you meet others to smoke if you have designated smoke areas. Wood’s studies suggest that by changing your environment, you’ll have a better chance at sustaining new behaviors over time.
Let’s look at some specific ways to make a healthy change. Habit guru Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit,” suggests that habits consist of three elements:
- a cue that triggers the habit
- a routine sequence of habitual actions
- a reward that you get for going through the routine
To change your smoking habit, you need to change the cues by understanding what triggers your behavior.
Think about where and when you usually smoke. Many people mix social time with smoking time. If you’re one of them, then you need to find new ways to socialize and relax. For example, let’s say that your cue to smoke is break time at work. Every day at break time, you find yourself joining in with a social crowd of smokers. This triggers your routine, which is to smoke two cigarettes outside while you chat with colleagues. Your reward: social time with your friends, along with the rush that you get from nicotine.
If you are committed to quitting smoking, you’ll need to replace your cue, routine, and reward with a new system. Consider making a plan to spend your break time socializing in a different way. For example, you might ask a nonsmoking friend, who supports your decision to quit, to join you at break time to take a brisk walk. You’ll still get the reward of social time, but without the cigarette.
Smoking is a hard habit to break for many reasons. Not only is nicotine physically addictive, but smokers usually smoke multiple times a day. This means that you may connect smoking with many other activities and routines that make up your daily life. For example, many people crave a cigarette before or after eating a meal. To kick the smoking habit for good, it will help to develop some new routines that you don’t automatically associate with smoking.
How do you develop these new routines? It helps to shake things up a bit. Do you usually eat lunch at your desk, and then head outside for a cigarette? Make a change, and start eating lunch in the cafeteria with friends. Do you like to have a cigarette before starting to cook supper for your family? Instead, try taking time to chat with a loved one or play with your kids. Not only will you avoid smoking, but you’ll be reminded of one of the reasons you may want to quit: to set a good example for your family.
Even if you change the environment and routines you associate with smoking, you may still have to deal with the symptoms of withdrawal from nicotine. Fortunately, these symptoms are temporary. Moreover, the new healthier habits you build may help you persevere and stick with your decision to quit. Nicotine replacement therapy or other medications may help reduce they physical withdrawal symptoms. If interested, discuss these options with your doctor.
You’ll soon find that the new rewards of not smoking far exceed your old experiences. They include:
- fresh air instead of smoky air
- an invigorated feeling from exercise
- more time spent focusing on family and friends
In the long run, you’ll be glad you stayed dedicated to your new healthier habits.