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My Stoptober diary, part three: a walk in the park

October 23rd, 2018 by Joe Lofts

Monday 15th October

Wowza, I’m actually at the midpoint of Stoptober. A fortnight of fighting the urge to smoke. And it’s actually been easier than I thought it would be.

Researching how smoking ravages the body has definitely helped keep the cravings at bay. Once you sit and dwell on what the habit does to you on a micro level - such as clogging the arteries, reducing the oxygen supply to your skin and causing mutations that can lead to cancer - it’s mystifying to think why anyone would start in the first place. More information on the grisly effects of smoking on be found via the NHS’ excellent Smokefree campaign.

Echo-smoking-effect-on-the-lungs

I’ve started putting this knowledge into practice by thinking about the harm smoking causes whenever I see someone with a cigarette. Observing someone else smoke is often one of the biggest triggers for cravings, so eradicating the desire to smoke is my main aim right now. As Allen Carr so succinctly puts it:

“Quite simply, the key to being a happy non-smoker is to remove the desire to smoke. With no desire to smoke, it takes no willpower not to do so.”
- Allen Carr, The Easy Way to Stop Smoking

Easy, right? Time will tell.

Tuesday 16th October

This morning came off the back of my second sleepless night in a row. Hardly the best way to start the week anew.

Perhaps it was the debilitating tiredness, but I’d already counted six cravings by 3pm - one for every hour I’d been at work. Complacency seemed to be creeping in after two weeks of success.

The reason I mention complacency is a concern that I’ll slide back into the “just one cigarette” mentality, which is exactly how all my previous attempts at quitting have come unstuck. As I mentioned in part one of my Stoptober diary, I’m not as addicted to smoking as the 50-a-day person who’s been smoking for 40-odd years. I’m still addicted, however, and “just one cigarette” will inevitably become two, then three, then four, then five… you get the picture.

Moments ago, a lighter just fell out of an old jacket I was hanging up - immediately plunging me back into the smoker’s mindset. While this everyday item has many other uses aside from sparking up a ciggie (lighting a gas cooker, waving it around at an Adele concert, etc.), it'll take time for me to see it as anything but.

Echo-blue-lighter-on-table-top
Friend turned foe.

Wednesday 17th October

Instead of worrying about the potential pitfalls of going cold turkey as I did yesterday, today I’ve had time to reflect on the positives.

Since giving up, I’ve noticed that my life is becoming more organised, bit by bit. This morning I got out of bed after the first alarm rang out (I’m normally a second or third alarm riser), and I’ve also been planning my working days with more precision and assertion than usual. Even little tasks around the house have become more commonplace, such as clearing surfaces or washing dishes as soon as I’ve used them.

I think the onset of these slight behavioural changes is directly correlated with maintaining smoking cessation. Of course, the physical effects of giving up will steadily give you more energy, but right now the psychological changes feel more powerful than the physical. In fact, they feel liberating.

Let me explain. Many smokers tend to go for a cigarette whenever they feel like having one, which can cause other responsibilities to fall by the wayside. Allen Carr equates smoking with being a “slave” to the cigarette, and he couldn’t be more right. Time and money get wasted and the habit becomes a needless focal point of the day. Gradually, cigarette breaks (fun fact: Aussies call them a “smoko”) become more and more frequent and start to disrupt your work and social life. Worse still, smoking becomes an excuse to not get things done.

At the peak of my smoking, nearly every task - whether work-related or not - was geared towards having a cigarette afterwards. Instead of doing a task for the sake of doing a task, the motivation often stemmed from getting a nicotine-fueled reward at the end of it.

In his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel H. Pink argues that rewards-based motivation does little to satisfy our inner psyche - and we don’t reach optimal performance because of it. True motivation stems from intrinsic desires; such as volunteering to speak in public because you want to be more autonomous or learning an instrument due to a deep-set passion for music.

The latter example is actually a personal one. I started playing the guitar when I was fourteen, but have barely picked the thing up in the last three or four years. This evening, I played my Les Paul (with a string missing) for over an hour when I got in from work, simply because I had the impulse to create. The joy came from undertaking the task rather than the end product - much like my current quest to quit smoking.

Echo-Gibson-Les-Paul-Junior-Special-Double-Cutaway-P90-pickups
I'm no B.B. King, but I've rediscovered my love of playing.

Thursday 18th October

Tonight was another big test, but a different sort: a gig.

Going to live music is, for me, even more synonymous with smoking than it is with drinking. There’s nothing quite like two hours of compulsive head-nodding and raucous dad-dancing before having a fag in the fresh air, is there? Besides, cigarettes are so rock ‘n’ roll. Liam Gallagher even said so.

As we approached the O2 Forum in Kentish Town - where it seemed every other person in the queue was smoking - I think I verbalised the fact I wanted one to my girlfriend, who turned at me with a look that expressed “not on my watch”. At times, I can be slightly agoraphobic in big crowds, so by now, the anxiety was really kicking in. The cravings ambushed me, and I thought I was going to either break or have a panic attack.

Luckily, we’d managed to traverse the queues by the time the cravings were at their worst, and once we were inside I’d practically forgotten about them. (In case you’re wondering, we saw Idles - a band I thoroughly recommend.) Throughout the gig, I didn’t have a single urge to inhale tobacco. Even after leaving the venue (where even more people were smoking than before), the euphoria of seeing an amazing live show took precedence over any impulse to throw away the progress of the last three weeks.

Idles-02-Kentish-Town-Forum-Thursday-18th-October-2018
Who needs nicotine when you've got this?

Friday 19th October

As parts one and two of this Stoptober diary demonstrated, my sugar intake show no signs of letting up. The last two weeks have seen many a biscuit demolished, and unfortunately, my sweet tooth does not discriminate. It has a particular weak spot for chocolate bars and almond croissants (a mindblowing new discovery), and I feel guilty for giving in to those cravings.

Perhaps the sense of guilt actually stems from doing Stoptober. By this, I mean that the discipline required to quit smoking has made me more acutely aware of other habits and how they impact my health - for better or worse. Habits are an innate aspect of being human, and maintaining good health largely depends on making sure these habits are geared towards positive behaviours rather than destructive ones.

Aside from quitting smoking, one such habit that I’ve consciously committed to is to walk as much as I can. I’ve been sauntering to the train station instead of jumping on the nearest bus, taking the stairs wherever possible, and going for quick twenty-minute yomps around the nearest park to stretch my legs and take in some nature. And to end the week on a high, I thought I’d even decide to walk the route home - all 6.6 miles of it.

The journey took around two hours. Although it was tough, by the time I’d got to the halfway point (as I crossed the Thames at Vauxhall Bridge) a sense of willpower enabled me to keep up the pace. According to Citymapper, I’d also burned off 547 calories. Adios, biscuit gains.

I’m absolutely exhausted as I write this, though I imagine the gargantuan walk will be good treatment for the insomnia!

Peckham-Rye-Common-in-October
This smoking cessation lark is a stroll in the park, quite literally.

Saturday 20th - Sunday 21st October

Yes, I’ve condensed two days into one. There are a couple of reasons for this (perhaps three, if you throw laziness into the equation). One, I developed a nasty sore throat and cold on Saturday which kept me indoors on Sunday, and two, having an incessant runny nose pretty much pummelled any opportunities to smoke into submission.

Actually, there was one cigarette-based encounter. On Saturday afternoon, I went to check out the Imperial War Museum with my girlfriend and a mate. Despite a battalion of sneezing toddlers running riot (which might explain my current snotty predicament), learning more about the unfathomable suffering of the men in the trenches a century ago certainly put my own worries into context.

After leaving the museum, my mate pulled out a cigarette and started to take his first drag. An unremarkable thing to comment on, yes, but significant because my perception was different to usual. The act of smoking looked almost alien, and I felt completely devoid of any desire to smoke. In fact, I think I might’ve even suggested that he should quit. Progress, yes, but I hope this doesn’t mean I’m going to become a holier-than-thou evangelist against smoking!

15-inch-naval-guns-Imperial-War-Museum-London
Looking up at two giant cigarettes, erm, guns.

Weekly round-up

Well, it looks as though this cold turkey business is working out nicely. On a macro level, the desire to smoke is rapidly declining - something I thought would take months, not weeks.

The by-product of this has been rather unexpected, too: I’m becoming more organised, have started getting outside more, and have replaced the urge to smoke with the urge to create.

Here’s a quick look back at the week:

Highlights

Lowlights

Stay tuned for the final part of my Stoptober diary next week!

Peckham-Rye-Common-in-autumn
Much better for the lungs.

Further reading

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