Quit Smoking: Plan for Success

Focus on empowerment

For the next 15 minutes, promise to focus on you and your relationship with cigarettes. Chances are you've tried quitting cigarettes before. Maybe you've stopped smoking for a few weeks, even months. The fact that you did quit smoking before shows that you can do it again, and this time you can stop smoking for a lifetime. Findings show that each time a smoker tries to quit, they become stronger and learn more about what helps and what hurts their commitment to being smoke-free.

According to lung transplant pioneer Joel Cooper, MD, not only does quitting cigarettes bring health benefits, but smokers get psychological benefits as well.

"Most smokers regret their decision to start smoking," Cooper tells WebMD. "When they quit, they gain a sense of control, a sense of empowerment."

Learn about the realities of physical addiction

Ever wonder why you keep smoking even with all the dangerous health risks? Blame nicotine, the main drug in tobacco, for your smoking addiction. Nicotine acts on some of the same brain pathways as cocaine.

When you first start smoking, you might feel a big rush from just one cigarette. But the more cigarettes you smoke over time, the more you need to smoke to get that same feeling. This is called "tolerance," and it is the mechanism behind addiction.

Make a plan

To succeed at stopping smoking, or anything in life, you need a firm plan. Try to plan your stop-smoking launch date when there's no added stress—a major roadblock in quitting cigarettes. You might select a three-day weekend or a time when the kids are spending a few days with friends. Mark this launch date on your calendar. Stay mentally and emotionally focused on this date as a time for new beginnings.

It's also important to clean up your smoking environment. On the evening before your quit day, throw away all cigarettes, matches, lighters and ashtrays. Don't buy cigarettes when you run to the store. Don't have others buy them for you. If you don't have cigarettes around, you won't smoke them.

Plan some special activities for your launch day to keep you busy, such as a long walk, a movie or an outing with a friend. Ask family members and friends not to offer you cigarettes or to smoke in front of you. Your goal is to get through that first important day smoke-free, which will help you succeed on Day 2, Day 3, and every day after that.

Get real support

Know that the first few days of quitting cigarettes are the toughest. You may feel irritable, depressed, slow and tired. You will be hungry and may want to eat snacks all day long—anything to occupy your hands and mouth. If you can get past these first few days, you will begin to feel more in control, even with some cigarette cravings.

Stopping smoking is guaranteed to increase feelings of stress, anxiety and even depression, so ask your doctor, family, friends and co-workers for support. Tell seven people about your goal to quit smoking and ask them to help you be accountable to your commitment.

If you tend to get stressed easily, look into cognitive behavioral therapy before your launch date to learn some helpful coping skills ahead of time. A therapist can help you identify reasons why you reach for cigarettes, come up with ways to get through cigarette cravings, and provide emotional support when you need it most.

Deal with personal smoking triggers

A smoking trigger is anything your brain has connected with smoking, and everyone's smoking triggers are different. Your smoking triggers might be the smell of cigarette smoke, the aroma of a freshly brewed espresso, seeing an ashtray or pack of cigarettes, or talking with someone with whom you normally smoke cigarettes after work or at a club. Sometimes just the way you feel—sad or happy—is a trigger. One of the biggest keys to quitting smoking is understanding the personal smoking triggers that make you crave cigarettes.

Make a list of your personal smoking triggers before your stop-smoking launch date and aim to avoid as many as you can.

Understand the change process

After starting your stop-smoking plan, be kind to yourself. If you slip and have a cigarette, don't beat yourself up. Most smokers slip several times before they quit for good.

If you do start smoking again, at least minimize the amount you smoke during the relapse. For example, if you smoked a pack a day before quitting and only smoke 10 cigarettes a day when you relapse, you have made some progress.

It's still important to completely stop smoking in order to get the most health benefits. But you're at least one step closer to quitting.

Remember your goals, and why you made this decision

As you begin your commitment to stop smoking, stay focused on your goals—especially when life's interruptions at home and work cause you to slip. Your goals might include taking time out for yourself each day, taking responsibility for your health and lifestyle habits, and visualizing yourself being free from cigarettes, the bad smells and the damage smoking does to you and those around you.

Above all: Don't lose hope. Quitting cigarettes or any addiction is a lengthy process that takes time, commitment and self-love.