As we begin another residential program today, our tobacco treatment specialists will spend the next week working with a group of ten patients to stop smoking and create individual plans for living a smoke-free life. As we have discussed in past blogs, for those who have become addicted to tobacco, smoking not only integrates itself into their daily life, but may be viewed as a piece of their identity. Maintaining this addiction impacts not only how they interact with people, stressors, and the world, but how they view themselves. This week, a core focus our counselors will explore with their patients is how to create a new identity as a non-smoker.
Often, our current behaviors are simply reflections of how we think of ourselves. I frequently hear statements like “Dr. Hays, I am a stress smoker”, “I ALWAYS have a cigarette with coffee”, or “smoking is just what we do when I’m with my friends.”
Our actions reinforce how we think of ourselves and – vice versa – how we think of ourselves can maintain the cycle of smoking.
One solution is to change our behaviors to fit the image of the type of person we want to become. “Train the body and the mind will follow” is a popular saying in fitness and recovery circles. This action-oriented approach leaves little room for our minds to second-guess our next steps. In changing our behaviors, we start believing new things about ourselves.
Another approach is to change how we think about ourselves and let that guide our actions. A popular phrase our residential patients use to cope with cravings and triggers is to say, “I am a non-smoker; having a cigarette is not an option anymore.” Choosing to see ourselves as healthy non-smokers means choosing behaviors that support this new identity.
Perhaps a little bit of both of these approaches may work better for you. Whatever you choose, here are a few thoughts to consider when reflecting on your new identity:
* Write a goodbye letter to cigarettes. For many, smoking has been a best friend over the years and ending this relationship can bring up mixed, sometimes, unresolved emotions. Saying goodbye provides closure that enables us to move on.
* Rekindle an old hobby or discover a new one. Find something you are good at and get better at it! We all have skills and abilities that may have been hidden or put to the side because of the smoking addiction. Now is your time to explore and develop different habits that will help to form your new identity.
* Avoiding the undesired behavior often requires assertiveness! Remain diligent and do not let your guard down. For example, avoid places where you know there will be smoking and ask family or friends not to smoke around you.
* Reward yourself for behavior change, as rewards help to fuel the revised identity. Be kind to yourself; celebrate little successes such as making it through a holiday or a stressful weekend without smoking.
* Social support in the form of family, friends, or a support group can be used as an incentive for self-examination and a source of praise for continued success. Reach out to those who you know will be your cheerleader!
* Lastly, believe in yourself! Think about positive and empowering thoughts. Talk to yourself more than listening to yourself. Tell yourself things like “I can do this”, “I am committed to quitting smoking”, or “I will succeed”.