I smoked for more than 20 years and managed to quit in 48 hours.

Patrick Poh
8 min readJun 2, 2021

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Quit Smoking.

It was around the middle of March 2019 when I made a decision to “Attempt To Quit”.

Decision to Attempt to Quit is not Decision to Quit

After smoking for more than 20 years, and having failed at quitting smoking several times before, I wondered whether it was possible, the uncertainty and self-doubt always returns.

How did others do it?

I hear stories and advice from others, such as “just go cold-turkey” or “eat sweets when you feel the urge”. These seem to be good and relevant advice but didn’t offer concrete steps, similar to how the usual advice for getting better grades is study hard. Good advice, but missing the “how”?

So What Changed?

How is it any different this time round?

Just prior to March 2019, I started to pick up on reading (thanks to non-fiction audiobooks). One of the books I managed to read was about habit change, as depicted within the book — The Power of Habit.

Google Images Search Results for The Power of Habit

In this book, the author wrote about a very simple concept

>> CUE — ROUTINE — REWARD

The mind expects a certain pleasure (reward) from the activity (routine such as smoking).

The activity was similar to a habit. In the sense that it was not pre-planned, not scheduled, and could be something as natural as brushing teeth or taking a shower first thing in the morning.

Generally, people don’t think about WHY the activity (habit) is carried out in this manner.

It has simply always been done this way, and nobody asks why (shrugs shoulders), it’s just a practice (or knowledge) passed down, from parents, other seniors, learned from siblings, friends, etc.

I learned how most of our daily activities are not “by design” but “by default”, i.e. through past experiences.

Also, I discovered we can alter our habits by making small changes, mostly in our environment.

Just as an example, if you want to drink more water, fill up a large transparent water bottle and put it on your desk. It is easier to “remember” to drink water since there is now a visual cue, and there is much less resistance. The process can now be done without leaving your desk, instead of how it was in the past, when the process of drinking water meant:

(1) stop work

(2) get up from seat

(3) walk to pantry

(4) take cup

(5) pour water

(6) drink

(7) wash and return cup

(8) return to seat

The key idea here is we can employ a strategy when trying to make changes in our lives, be it for promoting good habits or eradicating bad habits.

This strategy will need to target the “CUE” and “REWARD” in an attempt to have a permanent effect on the ROUTINE.

Well then, is it possible to

(1) forcibly prevent the cue from arising and

(2) offer an alternative reward that can replace how one feels during and after smoking

After my success in quitting the smoking habit, I realised it wasn’t so much about the physical discomfort which resulted in past failures, but the expectation of prolonged discomfort that was causing me to give up the quitting process.

The mind was constantly telling itself about how much more discomfort the body needed to go through, and then I discovered The Truth.

Photo by Kelvin Valerio from Pexels

Before getting to the Truth, have you heard of the 28 Days Theory?

The general rule is that a person will need to be consciously taking specific action for 28 days in order to create a new habit or eradicate an old habit.

Example link https://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/breaking-bad-habits-in-28-days.html

With this suggestion, there is also a “Quit Smoking Campaign” which suggests smokers take on a 28-days challenge to quit smoking.

Link at https://www.healthhub.sg/programmes/88/IQuit

For those who have tried to quit and failed before, you may have experienced moments when your mind was questioning your decision and reminding you the (OMG) discomfort will last for another 20 plus days and you might as well just stop the quitting process because there is simply no way you can last 20 over days of such levels of discomfort. Afterall, since you don’t even have a health problem (yet), why make life so difficult for yourself?

I realised the forecast of such a prolonged period of discomfort was a huge factor in why I didn’t manage to quit smoking in my earlier attempts.

The Truth: It only takes 48 hours

The truth (at least from my experience) was that the urge and discomfort happened for only about 2 to 3 days and I didn’t feel such a strong urge to smoke thereafter. Of course, after the first 48 hours, there will still be occasional cravings and thoughts about smoking, but these can be dealt with easily, and I share some “tips and tricks” in the following sections.

During the first 48 hours, the mind was constantly craving and thinking about having a smoke, and the body (especially the mouth, tongue areas) could even offer small bouts of sensory triggers that identify with the smoking habit.

When I made the decision to try to quit this time, I made some preparations.

Firstly, I ensured there would not be urgent work that needed my attention during this period, so I can leave work at any time I desire or even take leave from my workplace.

Next, I set a start date and time. I could smoke all I want, up until that last cigarette, and from thereon, everything must be thrown away. No, not hidden somewhere. Disposed of, trashed, rubbish dumped.

Lastly, I went for long runs. Running (or slow jog to some) has been a way for me to stay healthy through the years, even though I was smoking about 10–15 sticks a day. During my runs, I did not have my cigarettes with me. I know some people do, but that’s just weird (and ridiculous).

So, one key strategy for me was to make use of my running habit (a ready habit) to counter the smoking habit.

By running for as long and far from home as I could, I managed to stay outdoors, without any cigarettes, panting, all drenched in sweat, and this puts the mind and body in a state where the trigger cue to smoke would not come so easily.

By the time I got home, the body and mind were so exhausted that all I wanted was to hydrate, shower and sleep.

I do realise running might not be suitable for everyone, so here are some suggestions that you can consider for your journey towards quitting smoking.

Before You Start

Before starting on the 48 hours, you can go through this table below. Either type it out or print it out to write, pin it on the wall, make it obvious as a “NOTICE TO SELF”.

It’s a way for self-reflection and also to let your friends and family know that you are going to stop smoking.

Quit Smoking — Self Preparation Chart

What to prepare for the first 48 hours?

If you have made up your mind to “want to quit”, here are a few tips and tricks that may offer a higher likelihood of success for yourself.

  1. Tell people — friends and family, colleagues.

Let them know you are going to quit smoking, so they know why you may have some mood swings and lethargy. Seek their understanding and support.

Do you need any help? Let them know what you need. Perhaps you wish to have someone for “activity support”, e.g. go for long walks together, play tennis, etc.

Your colleagues can also help by helping to cover your work for the few days you are focused on quitting smoking.

2. Self-care — be ready with a list of things to do.

It can be watching movies, outdoor activities, reading, attending hobby classes, etc. There’s a pocket guide appended below with activities you can try.

3. Relax, stay comfortable, rest and sleep

By not being under stressful conditions, there is less likelihood of smoking urges. The activities planned, where possible, should help you be relaxed, result in some fatigue and help promote sleep.

Sleeping is one of the best ways for the body to self-recover, and allow time to naturally and easily pass. There is no “cue-routine-reward” through the sleep process. The entire time you are sleeping, the body is allowed to rest and recover.

After the first 48 hours

From hereon, it’s more of a mental game rather than a physical one. All the smoking habit cues and triggers should be avoided. It is also useful if you put up reminder notes to self — such as the points above listing out “WHY YOU WANT TO STOP”.

Write these out on Post-It Notes and stick them at locations where you usually go to smoke, e.g. toilet, kitchen, yard, garden, room, terrace, etc.

After you manage to succeed for the first 48 hours, you will already feel much less urge to smoke. For the first few weeks, you can make use of sweets to help when you have the urge to smoke.

It is also important to continue with any exercise or hobby which has helped you through the first 48 hours. Do the things that give you joy, there is no competition, no need for “improvements” even. Just simply enjoyment.

Having a tracking app or accountability buddy can also be helpful to keep yourself motivated and continue to stay away from the smoking habit. Some of the tracking apps can even remind you well you have done, and how your health is recovering and how much money you have “saved”. Spend The Money!!! This pool of money can be reward to trigger further success.

There will surely be occasions when the urge is strong, especially if your work or living environment consists of other smokers. It is important to minimise exposure and contact (as much as possible), but do explain why to these people, to prevent any misunderstanding. After you manage to succeed, you can share the experience with others, and they can then decide whether they wish to try it out themselves.

Whenever you successfully beat the urge to smoke, give yourself a reward! This becomes a signal for the brain to understand that Not Smoking equals success and reward.

I hope this article proves useful for you in your journey to quit the smoking habit.

TL:DR Your Pocket Guide to Quitting Smoking!

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