stop smoking, personal resilience, mindfulness

If you want to stop smoking, read this first. The same advice is good if you want to change another habit, anything where you worry you might relapse and return to your old ways.

I’m using smoking for several reasons; it has serious consequences for health, many people struggle with quitting and fail, and because it is a great way to illustrate how, when you prepare mentally for the challenge, success is more likely. 

I also have personal experience as a former smoker, which is how I came to develop these ideas.

The Good

When you stop smoking it’s one of the greatest things you’ll ever do for your health. Not only that, it can benefit those around you too when you are no longer exposing them to the risks of secondary smoking.

There are more immediate benefits too; you save money, smell sweeter, improve your complexion, and free yourself from a nasty habit which, in many places, is seen as anti-social.

If you’ve decided to stop smoking, the good news is that you are not alone; thousands drop the habit every year, many, overnight. This is clear proof that – whatever your beliefs about this ‘addiction’ (more on that later) – success is possible if you know how to go about it.

The Bad

But it’s likely that just as many fail. If you are worried that you might be one of them you can reduce the risk of failure by following the ‘golden rules’ below. 

In addition to having helped dozens of people break the habit and quit smoking, I was also a smoker well into my adulthood. Like many smokers, I tried to stop smoking and failed every time. Until I had an insight which freed me and made success inevitable.

Effort and failure

Until that time all my attempts had been directed at stopping smoking. I saw the process as a contest between me and my tobacco dependence. It took a lot of effort, the more I tried to ‘beat’ my habit, the more I failed!

As I struggled and felt bad about failing, I got to thinking about how I’d succeeded with other challenges in my life. 

Success is goal-oriented

Success at anything I’d tried usually involved learning something new. More importantly, I realised, whenever I had succeeded at one of my ambitions, whether it was passing an exam, riding a bike, or becoming a better swimmer, I’d always looked forward with a clear idea of what success would look like and how it would make me feel. I had a goal and a vision of how I wanted things to be, of what I wanted to become!

So my insight about quitting tobacco was that I needed to focus on what I wanted – to be a non-smoker – rather than trying to force myself to lose a habit by thinking about ‘stopping smoking’. 

Simply put, I needed to move towards my goal of becoming a non-smoker, rather than attempting to move away from the habit I wanted to lose.


This may seem like a subtle shift, or playing with words, but it was the insight which empowered me to reach my ambition effortlessly. 

I needed to become a non-smoker, so I started to think and act like one. The result was instantaneous; from that moment I walked, talked, and thought like a non-smoker.

Since that day over 30 years ago I have lost count of the number of people I have helped change a habit and change their lives, by thinking this way.

Get your head straight

Deciding to stop smoking is an important decision. But, as you and I both know, deciding to do something is easy; making it happen is where we often fail.

So when I say ‘get your head straight’ I mean sort out your attitudes and beliefs about quitting. It isn’t difficult to do this, but most people never do it. 

There are pervasive beliefs around smoking which make it harder to stop. These are a powerful influence, and so deeply ingrained that we generally don’t question them. Whether you consciously accept them or not, they are there in the background like a negative mantra, holding you back. 

Beliefs like:

“Smoking is an addiction” 

Nicotine may be an addictive substance, in the same way that caffeine is, but thinking about smoking as an ‘addiction’ is not helpful because of the associations of that word. It is more effective to think of nicotine as habit-forming. A habit can be tricky, but it is still easier to change than an addiction. Addiction takes away your ability to choose, but a habit you can change.

“I won’t be able to deal with the craving”

To stop smoking you have to deal with your reliance on nicotine and the fact that smoking has become part of your daily routine. ‘Cravings’ can be managed in two ways. They are often triggered by associations, so your old habits around smoking (when, where, with whom), must change. Then, there are some simple tricks to help you manage the cravings, such as breathing, outlined below.

“I’ll put on weight”

Nicotine doesn’t stop you getting hungry. You burn calories faster when you smoke, but if you compensate by cutting down on sugar (another harmful substance), you won’t put on weight.

“All my friends smoke”

(subtext – stopping it will ruin my social life)

It won’t. If you hang out with smokers you are more likely to smoke. Maybe there will be a shift in your social group when you show you have the guts to quit, but real friends don’t leave you because of it. As less than 20% of people now smoke that leaves a lot of choice for new friends and new experiences.

“I can’t do it alone”

It follows that if you believe that you are addicted you’d need support to break the habit (nicotine patches, gum, e-cigarettes, or whatever). The problem here is that these reinforce the ‘addiction’ belief and prolong the agony. Turning to one of these aids replaces one toxic habit (ingesting nicotine), for another. This route can act as a stepping-stone to becoming a non-smoker but, eventually, you’ll still have to take the final step alone.  

“Smoking relaxes me”

It doesn’t, nicotine is a more powerful stimulant than caffeine (and toxic). You may be confusing cigarette breaks and the social aspect (taking a break, chatting to other smokers on the doorstep), with ‘relaxation’. You’ll relax more and handle stress better if you take a similar number of breaks each day and breathe fresh air.

“Smoking runs in my family”

Families get a lot of blame for our habits, but they are not responsible for how you behave, you are. Some children of smokers end up smoking (as I did), but many more choose not to smoke because their parents did. Quit the excuses, and stop smoking.

“Self-serving excuses”

These are some of the beliefs which smokers use as excuses for not quitting. They should not be reasons to keep up a habit with so much evidence stacked against it. 

If you would like to quit, go for it, and don’t let false-beliefs like these sabotage your excellent decision.

Then, when you have clarified your thinking, make a plan as to how and when you will stop.

The Golden Rules

Whenever you want to change a habit you’ll find it easier, and you’ll be more likely to succeed, if you consider these ‘rules’.

Prepare your mind

Are you ready? You may want to change, but are you genuinely motivated to stick with your decision? If you are unsure of your ability to achieve your goal after reading this, consider getting the support of a therapist or coach.

Identify your triggers

Think back over your routines and identify the times when you were most likely to light up. Identify the triggers and change your routines to avoid them in future.

Think and act like a non-smoker

Starting now, train yourself to think like a non-smoker. How do people who don’t smoke behave and think? If you can’t answer this ask around, or find a role model. This is simple shift is the single biggest advantage you’ll have in stopping smoking.

Learn to breathe

Treat your body with the love and respect it deserves. We take breathing for granted and don’t appreciate that how we breathe affects both our physical and mental health. Learn to control your breathing (consciously at first until it becomes habitual), and you’ll have a powerful tool to eliminate cravings.

Understand that no decision is forever

This may seem crazy, but often, clients who have successfully quit smoking said that telling themselves that they were free to start again any time they chose helped them in their resolve. “Deciding to stop smoking felt like losing something, and it comforted me to know that I could start again if ever I wanted to”, said one. 

And, of course…

Follow the standard advice on diet and exercise. This is not one of the rules, just sensible lifestyle advice. Since you are giving yourself a gift (stopping smoking), it makes sense to wrap it up in all-round improvements in the food you eat and how you keep your body in shape.


Congratulations on your decision to change your habit. Remember, most people stop smoking (or change other habits) by simply deciding to do it (that includes people with serious addictions). So don’t undermine your efforts with faulty beliefs or self-serving excuses. 

If you have the odd slip-up, don’t beat yourself up, just start again, follow your vision, and aim to complete each day in a way you can be proud of.


I’m a psychologist, coach, and therapist. All my work is aimed at enabling people to improve personal aspects of their lives and work.