Do you bite your tongue every time a beloved family member or friend lights up or steps outside for a smoke? Or maybe you’ve tried the opposite tack: nagging. Neither approach works, experts say. What has helped thousands of smokers to quit, they point out, are the following simple strategies.
Keep the focus on you — not on the smoker
Saying “I hate it when you smoke” is likely to provoke an equally negative response. But talking about how the person’s smoking affects you might just lead to a breakthrough, or at least a moment of connection. If you hate the way the house or car smells, say that. If you’re getting to the point that you avoid kissing your smoker unless he’s come straight from brushing his teeth, that’s an important point to make. State your feelings as simply as possible in a way that sounds personal rather than accusing.
Trap to avoid: Anger. It’s important to distinguish between the anger you might feel about a smoker’s habit and your own underlying worries that prompt those feelings. Maybe you heard the smoker in your life cough and felt a pang of worry before lashing out in frustration, for example. Try expressing that feeling of concern instead of the frustration, experts say, and you’ll get much better results.
Keep it positive
In order to quit smoking, smokers must come to the realization that they want something else more than they want to smoke, experts say. Usually this takes the form of some very basic pros and cons; smokers have to want better health and freedom from addiction more than they want the temporary pleasure of smoking. When the smoker in your life expresses an interest in quitting — even if it’s just a passing comment — help him think about how his life would change for the better without cigarettes.
Encouraging positive images can be especially helpful. Smokers who quit successfully say they did it by articulating the rewards awaiting them in a nonsmoking life. “I ask smokers, `What is it you want — do you want to become thinner, healthier, happier?’ Then that’s what we focus on,” says Tim Shurr, who leads smoking cessation workshops in Gary, Indiana. “People don’t want to wear braces, but they want straight teeth.”
Trap to avoid: Fear. A big reason smokers fear quitting so much is that they’ve convinced themselves they “need” to smoke, and that without that crutch they won’t be able to cope with the pressures of life. “To smokers, the cigarette is their buddy; they absolutely believe that smoking a cigarette is going to make them feel better,” says Shurr. In his workshops, Shurr helps smokers think about how to meet their need for stress release in other ways. “We talk about other ways to manage stress and feel comforted. Most people don’t know there’s a better way. ”
Use family ties as a motivator
The most powerful motivating factor for many smokers is the simple realization that smoking is keeping them away from friends and family, experts say. Elizabeth Lombardo recounts the story of an older man who’d stubbornly smoked and refused to consider quitting all his life, until his granddaughter was diagnosed with asthma and couldn’t come to visit anymore. “He came in and told me, ‘I want so spend time with my granddaughter, and she can’t come stay with me because of my smoking.’ Suddenly he hated what he was doing and wanted to quit.”
Visual and other reminders can be especially helpful in this regard. Tack a photo of a beloved grandchild to the fridge, or put it on the mantel as a reminder of why the smoker in your life wants to quit. Even better, schedule a trip or family visit as a “carrot” to strengthen his or her resolve.
Trap to avoid: Guilt trips. All guilt does is make the other person feel bad, and feeling bad is the opposite of how you want your smoker to feel. In order to quit he has to feel empowered, not crummy about himself. Let family ties work as a positive motivator, but zip your lip when you’re tempted to chide.
Wait for the right moment
Readiness is the single most essential factor in smoking cessation, experts say. What tells you a smoker is ready to quit? He’s reached the point that he really doesn’t want to smoke anymore; he wants to be rid of this habit that’s affecting the quality of his life. The motivation has to be his alone; if a smoker announces he’s quitting because the doctor told him to or to make you happy, that’s not going to fly, because his motivation is to please someone else.
Trap to avoid: Forcing things. Even if you succeed in prodding a smoker to try quitting, it won’t last, experts say. “I tell people it’s like making kids clean their room before they go outside,” says Pam Mills. “Do they clean their room? Well, sort of — they throw the dirty clothes under the bed, stuff everything in the closet, and they’re mad and resentful about it the whole time. Does the room stay clean? Of course not.”
Enlist expert help
Many medical centers have stop-smoking programs and support groups, and these can be extremely helpful when the smoker in your life is ready to quit. Doctors can be powerful allies, talking to the smoker about the health risks of smoking and — once he quits — emphasizing how quickly his body is recovering. Hypnotherapists and counselors also have powerful techniques that can make quitting less tortuous. Support groups and counselors can have an important role in making a smoker feel less alone — and more accountable — in quitting.
Hypnosis isn’t a magic spell that cures smoking, but it is a powerful tool that can help strengthen the resolution to quit, curb cravings, and cement positive images and goals. Good hypnotists claim success rates as high as 90 percent, but they’re also choosy and only take patients who are truly ready to quit. Then they use hypnosis to help the smoker strengthen his resolution and stay focused on his goals. In addition, hypnotists can teach smokers self-hypnosis techniques to combat anxiety and stress, replacing smoking with a much more effective stress-relief tool.
Keep in mind, though, that smokers are often dismissive of seeking expert advice. “I’ll quit when I’m ready and I don’t need any help,” is a common response. Gently remind the smoker that hypnosis and counseling are simply tools that can make quitting easier or more effective. You might point out that quitting smoking cold turkey is like trying to do a job without tools — he wouldn’t do that, would he? There’s no reason to do this particular job in the hardest possible way.
Trap to avoid: Doing it yourself. It’s not unusual for a well-meaning family member or friend to try to set up an appointment for a smoker with a therapist or hypnotist specializing in smoking cessation. Don’t bother; most experts won’t even see a smoker unless he or she shows enough initiative to make the appointment.
Quitting smoking is really, really hard work. So why shouldn’t smokers be rewarded for making the effort? Incorporate both small incremental rewards and big picture rewards into any stop-smoking plan. After a day without cigarettes, have a nice meal out or go see a movie.
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One idea: Take all the money the smoker in your life is saving on cigarettes (you’ll be surprised how quickly it adds up) and put it in a jar or bank account to save for something special, like a trip.
Trap to avoid: Nagging. It’s always better to use positive reinforcement as much as you can. The problem with nagging, experts say, is that it doesn’t work. “The only thing that nagging does is make smokers feel bad about themselves,” says Pam Mills, an addiction counselor and hypnotherapist in Denver, Colorado. In the long run nagging can have the opposite effect, leading the smoker to shut you out. “”Nagging has the same effect on smokers that it has on kids: It makes them angry and belligerent, so even if someone was thinking about quitting, it pushes them in the other direction,” Mills says.
Don’t give up.
When someone is trying to quit smoking, relapses are common. They don’t mean the smoker has lost the battle. Smoking is one of the most powerful addictions there is; some experts liken giving up tobacco to getting off heroin. Once you accept the power — both physiological and psychological — of the nicotine addiction, it’s easier to feel like you’re on the same side as your smoker: You’re both trying to beat this thing, and it’s going to take persistence.
“It takes the typical person seven times to quit smoking,” says therapist Elizabeth Lombardo. This is totally normal; what’s important is to keep the smoker from getting discouraged and giving up. “I tell smokers if they do relapse, it’s not a failure; it’s data,” says Lombardo. “They can learn from what happened.”
Analyzing the reasons for any relapses that happen can be especially helpful. “I tell smokers to ask themselves, ‘OK, I had a cigarette — why?’” says Lombardo. “What was happening that led up to that? What can I do differently next time that happens?” Taking this approach is empowering; the smoker feels like he can try again and not repeat the same mistake.
Trap to avoid: All-or-nothing thinking. Just like dieters who dip into the ice cream then give up and eat the whole tub, smokers tend to beat themselves up when they have a cigarette — then turn around and have five more. This is the result of what experts call “all-or-nothing thinking” — you feel like you had a cigarette, you blew it, so why bother trying to quit at all?
If you see the smoker in your life falling into this trap, point it out gently: “Just because you had a few cigarettes doesn’t mean all those days without one don’t count.” Keep the focus on quitting, and remind him that setbacks are normal.