New Year, Same You
My first cigarette was stolen from my great-grandmother’s secret pack of unfiltered Camels. At 14, I believed that smokers knew something about life that I didn’t. I was desperate to know it too.
Pack after pack, I started noticing the consequences of smoking — shortness of breath, dry skin, the constant stench of cigarettes. As every year ended, my New Year’s resolution was to stop smoking.
This resolution was generally forgotten about by the first week of January. I smoked for over a decade. Mark Twain is reputed to have said, "quitting smoking is easy, I’ve done it a thousand times." How often have we uttered similar sentiments about a habit that was no longer serving us?
We want to drop "bad" habits. We force ourselves to give up sugar, stop watching Netflix, or curb our drinking. But what is overlooked is the reason why we engage in that habit. What void is it filling? How does it contribute to our lives?
It was difficult to quit smoking because it fulfilled a perceived need. Smoking was a form of teenage rebellion and a social tool to make friends. Cigarettes dramatized my life, broke up the monotonous days, and became part of my identity. That’s why they were so hard to give up.
I quit smoking in my mid-20’s. Yoga helped me tune in to how I felt physically and mentally before, during, and after each cigarette. Mindfulness allowed me to notice cravings before they got out of control. Simple actions interrupted the craving-habit cycle. Eating a bag of baby carrots, exercising, or calling a friend distracted me. I outgrew the desire to be rebellious. I found new ways to strike up conversations with people. The reasons I started smoking no longer held relevance. It took years, but eventually, I replaced cigarettes with new habits.
When making a change in your life, reflect on the reasons behind your decision. For example, if you want to cut down on social media, a benefit could be that you will have more time to do other things. But what made social media attractive in the first place? Perhaps it was a way to maintain relationships. Evaluate how you can keep the underlying need and weed out the harms. Intentionality in actions creates a space for choice. You can choose to engage in social media for the purpose of connection. Once scrolling no longer satisfies your need, consider what you can do instead.
Contemplate these questions as you map out positives and negatives that result in breaking your habit:
What are the benefits of stopping this habit?
What will you miss about this habit?
Can you find a different way to have what this habit gives you?
Once you have answered these questions for yourself, planning will be easier. Adjustment to new ways of being happens gradually and can be uncomfortable. Find success in the small shifts and keep track of your efforts to see how far you’ve come. Transformation starts with an adjustment in perspective. Treat yourself with kindness as you embark on this journey.
The Power Of Habit illustrates how to break habit loops:
Duhigg, Charles, author. (2014). The power of habit: why we do what we do in life and business. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks.
Motivational interviewing is a technique developed for people who are working toward change:
Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2013). Motivational interviewing: Helping people change (3rd ed.). Guilford Press.