One of the most difficult things I have ever done is to quit smoking cigarettes. Do you know how it feels to be so physically and mentally addicted to something that you would do anything to get it just so the anguish would stop?
Let me explain:
When the nicotine cravings hit, anxiety started boiling in my belly and I wanted to die. It felt as if something heavy was sitting on my chest, but I couldn’t see it because it was the weight of the thousands of cigarettes I had smoked over the years.
My breathing was short and labored. Each mouthful of air was torture. I started to sweat and my hands trembled.
My mind was focused on the one thing that will stop the pain, and I became single-minded in my quest to find it at all costs.
The physical symptoms of nicotine withdrawal combine with the mental cravings and create a perfect storm of pain with only one purpose — to drive me to smoke my next cigarette.
With any difficult change I make, there will be pain. Most times, making a change in my life isn’t as difficult as quitting smoking, but it is a challenge nonetheless, and I expect it won’t be easy.
Why is it So Difficult to Make Changes in Our Lives?
At first, things are fine.
We have decided to make a change in our lives and we are ready to take action and do whatever it takes — for however long it takes. We can almost feel ourselves winning. We have a dreamy feeling of euphoria when we think about what our lives will be like in the future.
But soon, our quest to make changes brings discomfort, yet we press on. We realize our decision to change won’t be as easy as we first thought, but we are committed, so we press on.
In the end, our choices bring pain and we start to wonder if we have the strength to keep going.
Then, we convince ourselves that cheating in a small way and going back to our old habits won’t matter in the long run. After all, it’s just one time.
It’s “just one just one more cigarette,” I’d tell myself.
But, just one always turns into more as we realize the behavior we are trying to change is the one thing that stops the pain and discomfort.
The best thing we can do for ourselves is not to try to make the process of change too complicated.
I’ve made some huge changes in my life, and after struggling with trying to do too much in the beginning, I gave up and tried this simple and easy way.
Step One: Know That Success is Not Easy — Decide to Change
Trust me when I say the following happens to everyone.
When we start something, we have good intentions. We get fired up at the prospect of a new challenge, and our minds can’t even imagine failing. Our confidence is sky-high, and the feel-good chemicals — endorphin, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine — are working on our brains.
The key, in the beginning, is to make sure we are 100% committed. We have to KNOW deep down inside that this change is what we really want.
I tried to quit smoking for 30 years before I finally knew, without a doubt, that I would become a non-smoker.
I wanted nothing more than to have fresh breath, and clothes that didn’t smell like they were on fire. I wanted my hair to smell of shampoo instead of an ashtray. I wanted my wife and kids to be proud of me. I didn’t want to spend all my money buying cigarettes.
I knew I wanted it more than anything I ever wanted before. I needed it!
Before we attempt to do something, we must make sure we are fully committed to the path of change before we step foot on it. If we never doubt why we are making the change, we are less likely to give up when the going gets difficult.
Step Two: About a Plan — We Must Make One
Few people I know are great planners, myself included. When our confidence is high, we want to get out there and kick ass without figuring out the details.
We should do ourselves a favor and sketch out at least a simple plan. It doesn’t need to be a huge production with bullet points and stars. Write down exactly how we plan to successfully do the thing we want to do to change our life and nothing more.
Do not make it difficult for ourselves.
When we are satisfied, put that list somewhere where we will see it all the time. Put it on the bathroom mirror, a laptop screen, the refrigerator, or the dashboard of our car. Keep it in front of our faces and the top of our minds, so when we are weak, we can remember what we want to accomplish.
Step Three: We Must Take Action — Put in the Work!
When we know what we are doing and plan how we do it, we must start it right now!
Don’t wait around for the perfect time to start. When I tried to quit smoking all those years, I always told myself I would do it Monday. Most times, Monday rolled around and was so stressful, I was back at the store buying cigarettes before long. I should have started when I made the plan instead of waiting for the perfect time.
After I pulled the trigger and made the change the first time, I had to keep it up every minute of every day. I had to put in the work. This is the hardest part because I had to figure out for myself how to make the change and still go on about my normal life.
At this point in the journey, pain and discomfort begin. It will start fine, but soon the difficulty will come full-force.
I was ready for it and did the work!
Step Four: Make Tiny Improvements Every Day
When we keep making small changes and improvements every day, magic happens over time. We review our goals and plan the next steps, and keep chugging along until we win. Along the way, we must learn how to sidetrack our minds from glorifying the thing we are trying to change.
Soon enough, we will forget all the pain and struggle and bask in the afterglow of having changed or quit something difficult successfully!
Remember, it’s as simple as this:
- Decide, without a doubt, that you want your life to change
- Make a plan
- Take action and put in the work
- Improve a little each day with tiny changes
Before we know it, the thing we have been working so hard to quit or change will seem like a distant memory, and we will wonder how we ever made it a habit in the first place.
We will find out that success is sweet.