A Guide to Psychology and its 
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a Nonsmoker


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Page Contents: Introduction / Reasons for Quitting / Preparing for Quit Day / Coping with Withdrawal Symptoms / Visualization Technique


MANY individuals become nonsmokers every day without professional help and with only the desire to achieve their goal of finding freedom from an overpowering—and, at its psychological core, self-destructive—habit. For, despite the glamor attributed to it by the tobacco, entertainment, and advertising industries, smoking does nothing to enhance life and everything to pollute and defile it. But you already know that, or you wouldn’t be reading information about how to stop smoking.

So, as you set out to become a nonsmoker, you will discover two things: smoking involves an addiction to nicotine, and it involves a pattern of habitual behaviors.


For some individuals, the nicotine addiction can be overcome simply through “will power,” while for other individuals nicotine patches or nicotine gum may be of help.

The nicotine addiction actually uses a deceptively simple, yet lethal, “trick.” Most smokers started smoking during a stage of identity formation or crisis in which they felt psychologically empty within themselves and wanted some way to make themselves feel accepted by the world around them. For example, adolescents who have seen adults smoking will believe that if they start smoking then they, too, will appear powerful and glamorous.

But once the nicotine gets into your body, it enslaves you to a continuous need for it. Like a deadly parasite, nicotine takes over your body so that you value this deadly chemical more than anything else in life, more even than life itself. So there you are, helpless and cowering in a cold doorway, damp with rain, desperately sucking the illusion of life out of a reeking cigarette. And all the while you’re thinking to yourself, in your bleak emptiness, “This is life?” And all the while, you fear that, without smoking, life will be bleak and empty.



Overcoming habitual behaviors involves deliberate, repeated attempts to break old patterns—patterns that make cigarettes seem like “old friends” whose absence causes life to feel flat and empty.

There can be many reasons, some completely outside your awareness, that keep you hanging on to those old enemies in friends’ clothing. Some individuals, for example, have such a profound unconscious sense of despair and self-loathing that smoking aptly serves a dark wish for self-destruction. But by becoming a non-smoker you can reclaim the self-respect that you have been throwing away up until now.

And remember—many persons who successfully become nonsmokers will have had at least one setback, because “just one puff” easily rekindles old patterns.



Ask yourself why you want to quit smoking. Write down your five most important reasons on an index card. Review these reasons several times a day, especially when you’re tempted to reach for a cigarette. In fact, tape a card to your cigarette pack. Below are some suggestions.

Stopping smoking will strengthen my heart, improve my breathing capacity, and bolster my circulatory system.

Stopping smoking will increase my immune response to colds, flu, and other diseases.

When I stop smoking I will be more productive in all that I do.

Stopping smoking will help me cut down on drinking.

As a non-smoker I will be setting a good example for children.

When I stop smoking I will breathe more easily and won’t have morning cough or phlegm.

When I stop smoking my senses of smell and taste will improve.

Stopping smoking will help lower my blood pressure.

When I stop smoking I will have more energy.

When I stop smoking I will feel more liberated and self-assured.

When I stop smoking I will feel more in command of my life.

When I stop smoking I will be part of an increasingly nonsmoking society.

Stopping smoking will help protect my unborn baby from Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) and decrease the risk of spontaneous abortion (miscarriage).

Stopping smoking will help protect the health of other persons from Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS).

Have you ever heard someone say, “My wife wants me to stop smoking. Even my four year old daughter wants me to stop smoking. I really love them, but I just can’t quit”? Well, as hard as it sounds, this man is really choosing to set his own pleasure above the health of his family. So ask yourself: What kind of love is this? Where is the “love” in an unconscious wish to destroy himself and his family? Real love, though, can be found in stopping smoking for the sake of others—for their good and for your good.




It can help greatly to plan deliberately for a “Quit Day,” whether several weeks or only a few days away. This planning will prepare you psychologically to break old habits, and it will make smoking more focused and more difficult until the Quit Day arrives. Here are some suggestions:

Repeat to yourself, several times a day, your reasons for wanting to become a nonsmoker.

Don’t do anything else when you smoke except focus on the sensations of smoking.

When you feel the urge to smoke, delay lighting up so as to focus your mind on what you are trying to accomplish.

Keep a record of every cigarette you smoke, and review it daily.

Change to brands that have less nicotine.

Smoke fewer cigarettes.

Smoke less of each cigarette.

Inhale fewer puffs of each cigarette.

Cut back on the coffee you drink.

Refuse any cigarettes offered to you.

Allow your ashtrays to fill up without emptying them.

Stop carrying matches and lighters.

When you can, avoid situations that trigger your urge to smoke.

Brush your teeth after every meal and notice how “fresh breath” feels.

Start exercising regularly.

Let people know that you will be quitting smoking.

Enjoy picturing yourself mentally as a nonsmoker.

Mentally imagine the “rewards” you will receive by being a nonsmoker.

How often were you criticized and humiliated as a child by your parents? How often did you then condemn yourself for being worthless and inadequate? And how often do you reach for a cigarette out of unconscious anger as a secret wish to carry out that condemnation?

  Isn’t it time to give yourself a break?




Smoking withdrawal symptoms include cravings; tension, anxiety, irritability, and restlessness; numbness in arms and legs; dizziness; coughing; and hunger.

Some symptoms are related specifically to nicotine withdrawal, while other symptoms are the result of your body returning to a healthy state and recovering from your habitual abuse of toxic cigarette smoke. If you stop smoking by using nicotine patches or nicotine gum, you may not experience all the symptoms described.

You can stop a craving by focusing your attention on something else. Cravings usually last for only a couple minutes, so an attention diversion need only be immediate and consistent, not complicated.


Muscle tension, anxiety, irritability, and restlessness can be reduced by using a variety of relaxation techniques such as Progressive Muscle Relaxation or Autogenics.

You may feel tingling sensations or numbness in your arms and legs. These sensations usually indicate improved circulation taking place as a result of your body experiencing freedom from the poisons in tobacco smoke.

You may at times feel dizzy or lightheaded. These sensations usually mean that more oxygen is getting into your brain now that the carbon monoxide associated with smoking is no longer present.

Some people find themselves coughing more after quitting smoking than before. The reason for this is that the cilia that line the lungs are working to clean out all the tars and other debris in your lungs. 

Increased hunger is a common withdrawal symptom. To avoid weight gain, it is important to exercise regularly, drink lots of water,[1] and have plenty of low-fat foods available for snacks and meals.



In general, changing unwanted behavior involves three basic steps:


Knowing how ugly the behavior is and how much damage it causes to yourself and to others.



Knowing the damage caused by the behavior.


Knowing the benefits of new behavior.

Note carefully, though, that in trying to overcome an addiction you will immediately encounter a frustrating paradox: thinking about the negative consequences of an addiction will only increase the desire for the addictive substance. So why does this happen? Well, the psychological defense at the core of any addiction is denial, so when contemplating any negative idea (such as getting cancer from smoking), your mind will crave the intense pleasure of the addiction as a way to override (i.e., deny) the frightening idea.

Therefore, even though it is important to know the negative consequences of the addiction, the fear of those consequences in itself won’t be nearly so much a motivation for overcoming the addiction as will be the hope of positive changes. Consequently, those positive changes need to be visualized very, very clearly.

So here is how to do it. Practice the following procedure at least twice a day until you no longer need it.

First, enter a state of relaxation. This is important because the next two steps (if done properly) will arouse considerable anxiety, and you need to be able to reduce that anxiety again. You may use any form of relaxation you prefer, such as Progressive Muscle Relaxation. If you have no prior practice with relaxation techniques, try this simple breathing exercise:


Begin a process of deep breathing, exhaling to a mental count that is twice as long as you inhale. With each breath cycle, increase the duration. For instance, inhale counting, “One,” exhale counting, “One, Two.” Inhale counting, “One, Two;” exhale counting, “One, Two, Three, Four.” Go up the scale to six counts in, twelve counts out. Then reverse: six counts in, twelve counts out; five counts in, ten counts out; and so on, down to one count in, two counts out.


Second, create a negative mood state in which you visualize the harmful and disgusting effects of the unwanted behavior. Instead of defending your behavior—to yourself and to others—see the smoking addiction for what it is in all its gruesome reality. For example, smell the stench of the smoke on your clothes and body; see the stains on your fingers and teeth; notice your shortness of breath and coughing; visualize the poisons coating your lungs and other internal organs. After the intense negativity of this mood has been felt fully, use your relaxation technique to neutralize the anxiety of these negative visualizations and return to a peaceful state of mind.

Third, contemplate how miserable and wretched your life will be if you do not change your behavior. For example, see yourself wheezing for breath and dying of cancer. Imagine other persons around you encouraged in their own addictions because of your negative influence. Then use your relaxation technique to neutralize the anxiety of these negative visualizations and return to a peaceful state of mind.

Now come the most important steps.

Fourth, create a positive mood state in which you visualize the beneficial effects of new, healthy behavior. For example, see yourself as calm and confident as a non-smoker, relaxed and able to concentrate, free of frustration and tension, a positive influence on others. Remember here your reasons for wanting to stop smoking. Use your relaxation technique to enjoy a peaceful state of mind with a deep sense of hope for yourself and love for others.

Fifth, reinforce your positive mood with positive statements of validation. Repeat them several times. Create your own, or select from the following examples.

I have no need for cigarettes. I am no longer a slave to an addiction. I have no need for cigarettes.

When grounded in quiet relaxation, I can work calmly and confidently. My mind will not wander. My self-confidence will not be bothered by small mistakes.

I approach all tasks with a calm focus on the matter at hand. I do not lose my concentration by distractions. I act with discipline and resolve.

I respect my own body. I can present myself to others with respect and dignity. I will listen to and respect others.

I can remain calm, relaxed, and composed in any situation.

My calmness and patience can result in compassion and understanding. I can get along well with anyone. I will return kindness to any insult.

My experience of peace and calm is not threatened by anything outside myself. I have no need for rivals or jealousy. I wish peace and good to all persons.

There are no good days or bad days. I can do what needs to be done at all times. I uphold my promises and value my word.

Sixth, conclude with a simple closure to the relaxation session. Take a few deep breaths and affirm that “I feel supremely calm.”



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1. Drink about a glass of water per hour, even if you do not feel thirsty. It’s true that you can put yourself into a state of water intoxication (hyposmolality/hyponatremia) if you really work at it, but if you drink only a glass (8 oz—or 250 ml) of water per hour you would be well below the maximum recommended ½ qt/hr (500 ml/hr) in moderate temperatures and easy work load. See:
    Kolka MA, Latzka WA, Montain SJ, Corr WP, O’Brien KK, Sawka MN. Effectiveness of revised fluid replacement guidelines for military training in hot weather. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine 2003; 74:242–246.

Additional Resources
General Information:
Assessing Nicotine Dependence  is an article from the American Family Physician.
Do I Want to Quit Smoking?  is a patient handout from the American Family Physician.
Health Impact  details the health implications of smoking; from the Tobacco Free Initiative of the World Health Organization.
Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence  from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Using the Nicotine Patch, Nicotine Gum, Nicotine Nasal Spray or Nicotine Inhaler  from American Family Physician.
Other stop-smoking resources:
QuitSmokingSupport.com  is a resource guide for help with quitting.
Catholic Recommendations for Stopping Smoking  provides guidance in using faith and prayer for help with stopping smoking.
QuitNet  provides help with quitting, a library of resources, news items, links, and an online support system for people who want to quit smoking.
Related pages within A Guide to Psychology and its Practice:
Autogenics Training
Death—and the Seduction of Despair
Hypnosis and “Negative” Hypnosis
Identity—and Loneliness
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Questions and Answers about Psychotherapy
Sexuality and Love
Stress and Psychology
The Unconscious
INDEX of all subjects on this website
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Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
San Francisco
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Psychology is a complex subject, and many issues are interrelated. And so, even though you may find a topic of interest on one particular page, an exploration of the other pages will deepen your understanding of the human mind and heart.

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A Guide to Psychology and its Practice



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