Stop kidding yourself. You’re not ready to quit.
And that’s okay. The sooner you admit that you’re not ready, the sooner you’ll be able to quit once and for all.
I smoked for over 10 years. A pack a day for most of that time.
I tried to quit 14 times. Some attempts lasted a few days. Others lasted as long as 9 months.
But all 14 attempts had one thing in common — I wasn’t ready.
“It’s easy to quit smoking. I’ve done it hundreds of times.” – Mark Twain
Not convinced? Still think you’re ready? Fine. Then answer this question:
Right now, this very instant, can you honestly say that you are ready to never take another drag from a cigarette? Not a single drag. Not ever. Starting right now.
If your answer was “no,” or if you found yourself arguing with the question, then you’re not ready. But I already knew your answer. How did I know? Because you’re reading this article.
I’ve helped dozens of students to successfully quit smoking. If you follow the steps below, then you’ll succeed too. And you won’t have to fail 14 times like I did.
Step 1: Admit It
You’re an addict. There’s no shame in admitting that. I am an addict too. And I quit smoking years ago!
So why do I still call myself an addict? Once an addict, always an addict. Especially with nicotine, the king of addictions.
During one attempted quit, let’s call it attempt #5, I actually picked up someone’s half-smoked cigarette from the ground. It was surreal, as if I wasn’t in control of my actions. I stopped myself midway, as if waking from a nightmare, but wow — that’s addiction!
I can admit that I’m an addict. Can you?
Step 2: Know Thy Enemy
Nicotine is powerful stuff. It crosses the blood-brain barrier and messes with your dopamine pathways. After years of smoking, those pathways get altered. In other words, smoking physically changes your brain.
If you’ve been smoking for a few years, then your brain has been conditioned to responded to nicotine. Think about how many cigarettes, day in and day out, you’ve smoked. That’s a lot of training. No wonder your brain changed.
Can those dopamine pathways heal? Probably. I agree with Dr. Rankin that there is “no such thing as an incurable illness”, and I’ve seen the incredible power of self-healing in myself and thousands of students.
But when it comes to nicotine, it can take years to heal those pathways. So it’s a conundrum. By the time your dopamine pathways heal, by the time you MIGHT be able to take a drag without getting addicted, you’ll no longer have any desire to do so.
Step 3: Know Thyself
I can sit in a bar, surrounded by smokers, and have zero desire to smoke. If someone offers me a cigarette, I say “I don’t smoke” without hesitation, and without a second thought. Even when major stresses come into my life, I still don’t feel any urge to go buy a pack.
So I’m “cured” of smoking, right? Yes. But you know what? Even after all these years without a cigarette, even with my daily Qigong and Tai Chi practice, even with all the acupuncture I’ve received — I’m still not sure if my dopamine pathways are 100% back to normal.
And it doesn’t matter. Because I’m not going to find out. Even after all these years as an ex-smoker, I believe that a single drag might be enough to reignite the dopamine pathways and send me right back into addiction. That belief, whether it’s true or not, serves me well. It helps me in my mission to remain smoke free.
I’m an addict, and I understand the addictive nature of nicotine. I’ll never take another puff in my life. I won’t risk it. Period.
Step 4: Make Peace
Are you bargaining in your mind? Are you trying to rationalize a future where you can smoke cigarettes now and then? If so — forget it. That’s the addiction talking. Once you break the addiction, you’ll think much more clearly.
You don’t have to quit now (we’ll get to that part soon). But once you do, you can’t smoke ever again. Make peace with that. You don’t have to like this advice, but for your own sake, you should make peace with it.
If you do the research, you’ll find that all ex-smokers agree on this issue. All of us have one thing in common — we’re completely done with smoking. That chapter is over.
What about those people who can just smoke on weekends? Personally, I think they may be aliens in disguise. I’m not sure that they’re human. Certainly, they are not addicted like you are, or like I was. They aren’t REAL smokers.
I desperately wanted to believe that I could be like them, and I tried really hard to do it. But it didn’t work. At least 8 of my quit attempts failed because I tried to smoke “just now and then”.
It doesn’t work. Ask any ex-smoker. The next time you quit, it’s got to be forever.
Step 5: Quit Quitting.
Now for the fun part. If you’ve been stressed out thinking about never smoking again, then relax. You’re not quitting now. In fact, I want you to quit quitting.
The next time you quit will be the last. Until then, you’re going to continue smoking — and you’re going to do it completely guilt free.
Right now, there are too many negative emotions surrounding the act of smoking. Guilt, shame, anger, worry, fear. In the world of Chinese medicine, those emotions represent energy blockages. You need to start clearing those blockages BEFORE you try to quit smoking.
If you’re constantly trying to quit, and constantly failing, then there’s never a chance to clear those blockages. You’re spinning your tires in the mud. You’re just reinforcing negative emotions, and making it harder and harder to actually quit.
Quitting smoking is stressful. Of course, smoking is also your way of de-stressing. If you quit too many times, you’re creating more stress than you’re eliminating. You may actually be lowering your stress threshold rather than raising it.
Step 6: Enjoy Smoking
If you’re reading this article, then you’ve probably gotten to the point where you hardly enjoy smoking any more. You smoke because you’re addicted, because of the habit, because you would feel terrible if you didn’t smoke. Gone are the days when you truly enjoy smoking.
We need to reclaim that. I know it’s counter-intuitive. But if hating smoking made it easier to quit smoking, you would have quit already, right?
So I’m giving you a free pass. For the next 3-12 months, you’re going to smoke guilt free. In fact, you’re NOT ALLOWED to quit smoking for at least 3 months. If anyone questions you, tell them that Sifu Anthony said so, and they should take it up with me. (Don’t worry. I know Kung Fu.)
For 3 months, I want you to savor each cigarette. Be present. Smile from the heart. (Click here to learn how.) Be here and now. Notice the cigarette, the color of the cherry, the feel of the drag, the shape of the smoke. That’s Zen.
Here’s what’s NOT Zen. Lighting a cigarette and smoking half of it without hardly noticing. And then needing to smoke another one immediately after because you missed the first one.
It’s critical that you don’t feel guilty. Guilt just creates a negative loop. You feel bad, and then you want to smoke more, and then you feel worse, so you smoke more. You need to break the cycle, and the way to do that is by feeling good.
Step 7: Add Good Habits
In this online course, I talk about why most people fail with their New Year’s Resolutions. They fail because they try to subtract bad habits rather than adding good one. Don’t make the same mistake.
Don’t take anything away. Add good habits first.
The course above gives you everything you need to change your life using 2 minutes a day of qigong as your gateway habit.
Learn qigong ASAP. If you’re not going to learn it right this instant, then schedule a time to learn it. I’m serious. If you finish this article without scheduling a time, then no matter how good your intentions, you won’t do it. So put it on your calendar right now.
You first goal is to do 2-Minutes once a day. That’s harder than it sounds. You’ll probably be okay for a few days, but then you’ll forget. Keep trying until you succeed in doing it every day for 30 days.
Step 8: Set a Date
Keep smoking, and enjoying yourself, until you have made a strong habit of doing 2 minutes a day of qigong.
All of that enthusiasm and energy you periodically have toward quitting — put all of it into your daily qigong. It’s not time to quit yet.
Once you’ve managed to do 30 days of qigong (and not before), then you can think about setting a quit date. There’s never a perfect time. You’re going to be an absolute mess for a few weeks after you quit. But you’ve got to do it sooner or later.
Remember, this next attempt at quitting is going to be your last one ever. No more trying. Do or do not.
Set the date far enough in advance that you can continue to do two things for a few more months — enjoy smoking, and practice qigong for 2 minutes a day.
So let’s say that you’ve successfully done 2 minutes a day for 30 days. You decide to set your quit day 3 months down the road. Until that day, you’re going to continue enjoying your cigarettes (a Zen exercise), and also doing 2 minutes at least once a day (and preferably twice).
Step 9: Get Ready
With your quit date set, you have time to get yourself ready. Gradually start to arrange things for that day. For example, collect all of the ashtrays in your house, and throw out all but one. Tell people that you’re going to quit. Obviously, you’ll also need to get rid of all your extra cigarettes.
I’m a big fan of the acupuncture protocol called NADA (National Acupuncture Detoxification Association). If you’re in Gainesville, my wife offers it at her clinic. You should start doing this roughly 1-2 weeks BEFORE your quit day. (If you’re not in Gainesville, then look for a NADA practitioner near you.) This will help you to get ready for the big day.
But most importantly, get your heart and mind ready for the big day. You’re gradually psyching yourself up, reminding yourself of all the reasons you want to quit.
Step 10: Say Goodbye
So the big day is approaching. You’ve told all your friends so that they can support you (and not tempt you, if they’re smokers). You’ve gotten the house ready. You’ve gotten rid of all but a few cigarettes.
This is a personal choice, but I’m a big believer in the power of ritual. I still remember the last cigarette that I smoked. I made a little ritual out of it, and said goodbye, as if saying goodbye at a funeral.
I recommend that you smoke your last cigarette at night. That way, you can wake up the next morning and start fresh. And that’s exactly what you’re going to get — a fresh start on life.
Step 11: Go Cold Turkey
Forget the patch. Forget the gum. Cold turkey is the only way to go. Again, just ask ex-smokers, and the successful ones all agree — go cold turkey.
I’m not going to sugar-coat it for you. It’s going be rough for a few weeks. You’re going to go through withdrawal from one of the most addictive substances known to man. But that’s a necessary part of the process.
The suffering that you experience during the withdrawal is part of the equation. Don’t wimp out of this step with the patch or something similar. Going through the hell of withdrawal is necessary. A few months down the road, when you’re craving a cigarette, you’ll remember how awful it was when you went cold turkey. Because of that memory, you’ll be less likely to go backward, and more likely to go forward.
Use your tools, especially the 2-Minute Drill. It will be your life vest. It will also help you to detox faster. During the first 2 weeks, you may need to do it 10 times a day, or even more.
Don’t expect the 2-Minute Drill to make everything okay. You won’t be okay. You’ll probably be miserable. But the 2-Minute Drill will make it tolerable, and give you the strength to get through.
(A small percentage of people don’t experience the hell of withdrawal. This has advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that it’s easier to quit. The disadvantage is that it’s easier to start up again. If you’re one of these people, then you need to stay vigilant, especially 3-6 months after you quit.)
Step 12: Visualize the Future
Maybe I should have started with this part. Do you start with the good news, or the bad news? In this case, I started with the bad news. So here’s the good news.
Once you make peace with never taking another puff, and once you get through those first few months, once you quit for good — life becomes beautiful.
All those little things that you’re worrying about now — how you’ll drink coffee without a cigarette, how you’ll go to a bar, what you’ll do after a meal — all of that stuff will seem trivial once you’ve broken the cycle of addiction.
Take it from me — it’s worth it. You haven’t felt so alive in years.
I know that, from where you’re standing, it’s hard to imagine life without cigarettes. But from where I’m standing, it’s hard to imagine life WITH cigarettes.
Like I said, that chapter is over for me. My life is so much fuller and richer now that there’s absolutely no need for me to smoke again. Not ever. Not even one puff.
Let’s use the comments below as a community support group. Those of you who have already quit, please post your stories below. And those of you who are getting ready to quit — come back to this article and post your thoughts, questions, and concerns whenever you need a little help. I’m here for you. Mindfully yours, Sifu Anthony I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. I’ve already taught thousands of people from all over the world how to use qigong for their own stubborn health challenges. As the director of Flowing Zen and a board member for the National Qigong Association, I'm fully committed to helping people with these arts. In addition to my blog, I also teach online courses and offer in-person retreats and workshops.