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11 October 2016​

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I’ll never forget "11 October 2015" not only because it’s the birthday of one of my best friends, but also the last time I’ve smoked a cigarette.  Exactly a year after, I can proudly claim that I’ve been a successful quitter.

After regularly smoking for 18 years, I’ve managed to stop cold turkey without medication, patches, withdrawal, depression or dramas.  Fast forward to 365 days, not a single stick was lit, nor a casual puff made and definitely, no turning back to the old bad habit.

I won’t write down the benefits of quitting ciggies since everyone knows about it anyway (especially smokers).  Instead, I’ll be happy to share my year’s journey in snackable bits to inspire you to hopefully follow suit.  Fairly simple and no secrets or tricks, but just 5 reminders that landed me to label myself now as a "non-smoker".

1.  It’s simply a mind game and you need to always win – no but's, no if's, no excuses.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve attempted to quit smoking.  Yet, it was the first time that I was determined to make it happen, not half-hearted about the decision and really psyched to ditch the habit.

This made the huge difference versus previous "tries".  This time, I’ve had my mind set to doing it and wasn’t simply trying my luck if I can strike a goal.  I made it seem as if I don’t have any other inevitable choice and fought every single bit of temptation in my head.  Easier said than done and was really painful the first few months especially every time the cravings kick in.  Yet, I won the mind game and didn’t allow my thoughts to be tricked anymore.  Every single day, a silent voice used to say stuff like “go ahead, give in to one stick” or “skip the attempt today, do it tomorrow instead” or “you’re crazy, give it up” – yet, I’ve managed to maturely answer back with “I’ve made a decision and I’m tougher than you, so sorry but not giving in”.  And 3 months after, I no longer heard the voices, can comfortably hangout in places where people smoke without having cravings (and even got annoyed by the hideous smell) and just don’t feel any urge to want to light a stick.

Similar to when I decided to resign from being fat and unfit, the process and challenges were the same.  I’ve used the same kind of discipline, commitment and irrevocable decision and learned that you’ll simply win because the fight is between you and yourself.  Trust me, it’s all in your head and your actions are just pushed by whatever decision you make.  Thus, if you’ll attempt to quit, decide to do so and don’t negotiate.  Simply do it and respond with a simple “no” to any temptation that you’ll surely face along the way. Seriously, it’s that dead simple.

2.  Find alternatives and embrace new habits.

First thing to do after waking up, while driving to work, morning break, after lunch, afternoon break, while driving home, after dinner, before going to bed – yes, ‘tis my organized and well-scheduled smoking habit on a daily basis (not to mention that I burn more sticks when I go out on weekends and on holidays).  As an OC person who’s always structured in his ways, how did I cope as I’ve broken the routine that I’ve embraced for years?  I just created new ones made up of more ideal, productive and healthy actions.

People are creatures of habit.  21 days into doing something and we’ll end up adopting it and inculcating whatever that is on to our system.  Knowing this, I looked into alternatives to my daily smoking routine before I even decided to quit.  I’ve opted for choices that are better than how it felt to smoke away a few minutes of my life – meditation after waking up, singing or thinking of positive thoughts while driving to work, walking around the building where I work for morning and afternoon breaks to burn more calories, doing quick errands after lunch, drinking tea after dinner and reading or writing before going to bed.  In addition to being more productive, I felt more fulfilled and saw more meaning to my daily life as I’ve replaced the mundane ciggy breaks.

Each one of us will have different interests or activity preferences, yet what’s key is to find what will make us tick to stick to our new crafted routine.  When deciding on the alternatives, focus on those that trigger positivity and tangible results that will make you feel that it’s indeed worth the effort – say, more quality time with you kids, spare minutes to do extra work for good credit, learning a new hobby or finishing a good book.  Bottomline, pre-plan your attack to the smoking cravings that you’ll face – if you have a list of ammunition, you’ll manage a good comeback and won’t fall into the trap of failing on your decision to quit.

3.  Track your progress, learn self-motivation and reward yourself. 

A friend introduced me to a free app called "Smoke Free".  Similar to all other fitness apps like those that track your running performance, daily steps or calorie intake, this does pretty much the same.  After setting a “quit date”, it then keeps track of the days you’re smoke free, the money you’re saving, the % risk of heart attack, the way you manage your cravings and some “achievement badges” for every milestone that’s worth celebrating on your journey to becoming a non-smoker.  Since I’m very visual, competitive and somewhat grade conscious, seeing my progress through an app on my mobile reminds me about my decision to quit on a daily basis.

To make the tracking more effective though, it’s important to create positive personal implications for the progress you’re making.  You do this by continuously motivating yourself to press on with what you’ve started and find ways to reward yourself through tangible means that truly matter to you.  After a week of success, why not treat yourself to a really good meal? After a couple of months, why not a nice staycation or an out of town travel?  After 6 months, why not a charity donation?

Do whatever floats your boat.  What’s important is that you give yourself fun and concrete reasons why you’d need to keep going.  You may think it’s immature, but it’s a way to psychologize yourself just like how you’d encourage kids to do something.  Trust me, gratification works and you’re doing it for a good reason anyway, so go ahead and indulge since you truly deserve it.

4.  See and feel the positive results and use them to your advantage. 

For weeks, you’ll literally feel like there’s a lump of phlegm stuck to your throat that you can’t get rid of or that you keep on salivating for something sweet or salty to munch on to.  Worst, you’ll experience days with of unending coughs and colds.  After overcoming this challenging phase of anxiety (which I’m sure will vary depending on each person), the rest will all be replaced with positive changes and feelings.

For someone who exercises regularly, my endurance and strength improved a lot – managed to run farther without panting quickly and lift heavier during weight training.  I used this result to push myself harder in my CrossFit sessions and have seen how it improved my performance.  Food also tasted better – seems like my taste buds were reborn.  Since I’m a real foodie, I’ve used this to really enjoy scrumptious dishes especially on weekends when I tend to indulge on my cheat days.  Mentally, I felt that I can think and concentrate better without having to depend on smoking as a way to let my creative juices flow especially while working.  Emotionally, I think I became stronger and have learned to manage stress better.  If before, I needed to smoke just to get some air, relax myself and free my mind from a tiring workday, this time, I face the challenges head on without any scapegoat and am more confident with my thoughts, words and actions.

The results that you’d see and feel will of course be unique to yours as we have different journeys.  Yet, the commonality on how we can best leverage them is how we’d use every bit of the positive experience to our advantage that will for sure give us further strength to keep on going.

5.  Share and celebrate your success with others. 

Success is fulfilling, meaningful and sweetest when shared with people that matter – or even strangers that need a bit of inspiration to change for the better. 

That day, I told my family and friends about my decision to quit smoking and they were all very supportive.  They constantly checked on my progress – some were pushing me to keep my eye on the goal, while others were skeptics who were just waiting for me to give up (thanks to them too, I’ve used their jaded thoughts to challenge myself).  As they’ve seen my perseverance, sacrifice, commitment and dedication to do what I felt was right, they celebrated all the milestones with me.  More importantly, their words of encouragement pushed me to keep on going especially on those difficult days and nights when I felt tempted to just drop the whole idea.

This is the last piece of your puzzle and I suggest that you remember it.  While it’s a battle in your own mind, you’d need some reinforcement to push, help, remind or even slap you.  And just like what I’m doing today, sharing and celebrating this success with anyone reading this post will hopefully be a starting point to get them thinking that successfully quitting smoking is possible – challenging yes, but definitely achievable.  If I’d positively influence even just one smoker to be converted, I’ve done the job not only for myself but also managed to help save someone else’s life.  No other kind of feeling will top that!   

One full year without Marlboro Lights – a proud moment (yes, this is a 'humble brag') that’s truly liberating and definitely looking forward to more without it.  Paying it forward by passing the baton to you – please don’t drop it since the journey and results are all worth it!    

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