Distraction or Avoidance?

Why quitting smoking shouldn’t be about denial.

There are always new ideas popping up about the best things you can do when you are quitting smoking. Past theories have included chewing on carrot sticks, or cutting up straws into cigarette-sized lengths and inhaling through those.

When you have a read around the place it seems that distraction as a quit smoking method has been gaining some publicity. The kind of things that are being suggested include having a shower instead of lighting up, calling a friend for a chat, watching a movie, or going for a run.

These seem like the kind of thing that someone who has never smoked might suggest. They’re well-meaning suggestions – they make perfect sense to a non-smoker: don’t smoke, do this instead –  but they are a little misguided. Most smokers know it’s not that simple.

Distraction is just denial dressed up as another activity.

Distracting yourself like this is just replacing one behaviour with another behaviour. It might be a more healthful activity than smoking, but it’s not the same thing as being free from your habit.

Distraction methods are based on the idea that the feeling of wanting a cigarette – the craving for a cigarette – is a transitory thing. And this is true. That feeling does pass, and usually a lot quicker than you might expect it to. But true freedom means that you can be in those uncomfortable moments, observe the associations you have made with smoking without needing to do something to fix them or run away from them. 

You had to practice to become a smoker. Your first cigarette probably felt very unnatural. You had to learn how to light up, how to inhale the smoke, how not to cough. When you are quitting smoking, you are learning new responses. These too require some practise. But if you are constantly trying to avoid certain feelings by distracting yourself with other activities, you’re not really addressing the real issue of the way the habit is working in your mind.

To ensure long-term success you will need to face those tricky moments, regardless of the method you are using to quit smoking. When you allow yourself to have those moments instead of trying to avoid them entirely, you’ll be able to observe the feelings for what they really are – old associations, old habits – and their power will be diffused. Sooner rather than later you won’t have to deal with them any more.