Beat the Mind Games When You Quit Smoking

woman smoking
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Smokers often think of lighting up as an enjoyable pastime. Cigarettes offer comfort, entertainment, and companionship—or so you think. At the same time, you might relate smoking cessation to feelings of pain, misery, and sacrifice. These opposing feelings are reinforced on a subconscious level, below the surface of your thoughts. The result is that you might adopt unhealthy and inaccurate beliefs as facts of life when in reality they are only your distorted perceptions of the truth.

Use these tips to help you learn how to recognize thoughts that don't serve you as you move through recovery from nicotine addiction and reprogram your mind with thoughts that do.

3 Quotes to Help You Quit

  1. If you want to change your life, change your mind.
  2. We either make ourselves happy or miserable, the amount of work is the same.
  3. This is the hardest thing I've ever done.

The first quote is from Terry Martin. It's a catchy little phrase, and very appropriate to quitting smoking. Or, it's another meaningless expression that do-gooders like to chant. The choice is up to you.

Your quit can be a horrible, difficult, torturous period of penance that may end with you becoming a smoker again because you really want to be smoking but feel you can't.

Or, your quit can be a somewhat uncomfortable but exciting path leading to new opportunities and higher self-esteem. You know you won't smoke because you're already feeling the freedom of living without chemical dependence. That too is up to you.

Smokers Are Experts at Mind Games

You have to be, to continue to do something as self-destructive as smoking and still sleep at night. If you allow those old mind games to continue, you are going to be facing a "horrible, difficult, torturous period of penance," so take the easy way. Make a mental change, and try some new, fresh mind games.

Don't quit smoking because you have to. Rather, embark on a challenging and rewarding adventure of teaching yourself how to be a non-smoker. The second option is more pleasant and, thus, easier. That is not to say it won't be without some effort on your part, but embracing the process instead of head-butting it is the best way to go.

14 Mind Tricks to Get You Started

Here are some tricks to get you started:

  1. Never allow yourself to think "I need to smoke." That's way too emotional. Change it to something wordy enough to take the passion out of the sentiment, like, "I'm feeling some tension that I would have interpreted in the past as a desire for a cigarette." Same goes for "I want to smoke." In addition to being unemotional, analyzing the feeling makes you realize that you are not actually in pain over a craving to smoke.
  2. Never allow yourself to think "I could have just one." Change it to "I could become a smoker again." They amount to the same thing.
  3. Never allow yourself to visualize yourself enjoying a cigarette. Instead, change the mental image to a picture of the nastiest, most uncomfortable, unwanted cigarettes you ever smoked.
  4. Often point out the good stuff to yourself. Everyone sees the healing changes at different rates. Even on your first smoke-free day, you can find something good, even if it's just your money jar. As you notice them, write them down. You'll be amazed at how fast you come to take the benefits for granted.
  5. Often tell yourself how good you feel. It's just as easy to say "I feel great" as it is to say "Oh, am I ever suffering". Easier, actually—there are fewer syllables. And your subconscious really does come to believe what you tell yourself. Try writing, "I am so glad to be free" on a post-it and sticking it to your bathroom mirror so that you are sure to remind yourself of this every morning.
  6. Never deny yourself something good because you quit smoking. Say you associate sitting on your porch with smoking. In the first days of quitting you may associate everything with smoking. Deal with the triggers early on and don't leave yourself feeling deprived. One exception is alcohol. Take it slow and easy on a trigger that also lowers your inhibitions and capacity for rational thought.
  7. Often laugh. Laughter is a much better, more effective, and healthier relaxant than inhaling poisons. Try some Youtube therapy.
  8. Never doubt that one cigarette will make you a smoker again. There have been too many stories of people who hadn't smoked for years and wound up right back at their old level, kicking themselves every puff of the way, for anyone to seriously question the law of addiction. Which, by the way, is a Law like "gravity," not a law like the "speed limit". You might be able to drive too fast without getting caught, but don't step out of a plane just because nobody's around to see you.
  9. Never let your mind fall into the old rut of junkie thinking. Don't think of quitting as an end. It's the beginning of a healthy new lifestyle where unforeseen opportunities will open to you. Don't let your "junkie" tell you that the damage is already done. Yeah, you may have done some damage, but you don't have to do one bit more. Don't keep telling yourself that it's hard. It takes a lot of effort but so does everything worth doing. You are learning new things and developing new skills every day. You are doing this.
  10. Never let your mind start to romanticize how great everything was when you "got to" smoke. And don't envy the smokers who are standing outside furtively getting their fix. Instead, remember what it was really like to need to smoke. If smoking was all that great, you wouldn't have ever considered quitting. Take a minute now and remember all the lousy stuff about needing to smoke.
  11. Never let yourself think that you "might smoke", even if it's in the context of being "afraid" that you will smoke. That's just giving yourself permission to do it, even if the permission comes with the price of beating yourself up later.
  12. Always recognize the truth—you control your hands and your mouth. Nothing can make you smoke unless you decide to do it. Make that decision with your eyes wide open. Any dubious relief that a cigarette would offer will begin to wear off the moment you put the thing out, leaving you with nothing but a reawakened chemical addiction. The only valid reason to smoke is to decide to become a smoker again and remain one until the day you die. And I really don't think there's any valid reason to decide that.
  13. Never say "never." The thought that you will never be able to smoke again is scary and might lead you to grab one because it could be the "last chance." This is false. Cigarettes will still be for sale tomorrow and next week and next year. You will always be free to smoke. All you have to do is to decide to be a smoker again and accept all of the negatives that go with that right back into your life.
  14. Always post a message to your social support system before you smoke. And once you do, wait for at least three answers to your call for help. By the time those three come in, the "urgency" to smoke will have passed. What if you're out and you won't be able to post until you get home? Think about how long you've already gone without smoking. What difference will a few more hours make? Give your friends a chance to help before you relapse. Even better, give your own intelligent, rational mind a chance to kick in.


Have a few "mindless mantras" that you can fall back on when you're just too tired to think anymore today. They're things that are too obviously true to argue with, and catchy enough to remember. You can often find them in people's signature lines. They include:

  • If I smoke one, I'll be right back to where I started. Where I started was desperately wishing I could be where I am today.
  • What if you abandon the journey today and the peace would have come tomorrow?
  • It is not a matter of if you will go to war with quitting smoking, but a matter of when you will go to war. Will you go while you are healthy and in control or when you are dying?
  • We own our quits

In times of stress, ask yourself, "WWND?" (What Would a Non-smoker Do?) Try to picture someone you know who has never smoked in the situation you're in and try to imagine them reaching for a cigarette to get through it. The absurd notion that a cigarette would help them will help you see that the notion a cig will help you is absurd, too. Congratulations to everyone who will not smoke today.

1 Source
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Quitting Starts Now. Make Your Plan. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Additional Reading

By Terry Martin
Terry Martin quit smoking after 26 years and is now an advocate for those seeking freedom from nicotine addiction.