The second goal in a resolution is to prepare to achieve that behavioral change. This involves building up the confidence to change—not only confidence to make the actual change, but in our strategy to bring the change about. We do this by developing a commitment, a resolution, to make the required effort and bring a seriousness of purpose to stick with it. For smokers, the preparation phase in a successful quit-smoking plan will physically and mentally prepare them to accept going completely smoke-free. It helps to do this by interrupting the normal physical patterns of smoking, such as smoking-by-the-clock on a regular schedule, not just when you want to smoke. Another way to prepare is to identify beliefs that drive smoking, such as "I need cigarettes to help me cope with my boss." This, in turn, challenges the very idea that somehow smoking makes your life better, as if lighting up could help solve a real problem!
At goal three, we face the moment of truth and literally take action. We move beyond mental preparation to specific tasks that will bring about the behavioral change we have resolved to make. For smokers, that would include setting a date for the first tobacco-free day, planning to stay away from other people who smoke, making sure in advance that you understand how to use nicotine replacement therapy or other medication you may have chosen to use with your doctor to help make this easier and to prepare how you will cope with the onset of nicotine withdrawal symptoms, if you have them.
So far so good. But wait, there's more: relapse prevention. That is goal four. For a smoker, quitting is a monumental achievement. As with other addictive behaviors, though, staying quit calls for a sustained plan of action to make sure the new behavior sticks. So the goal of the relapse prevention phase is to learn to ask for appropriate support in an assertive way, such as asking friends and family not to smoke around you. Nonsmoking tools such as carrying and drinking from a water bottle, daily deep/slow breathing or daily walking also help, as does learning to be comfortable in your own skin without smoking and continuing to challenge old beliefs that might prompt a relapse, such as "I'll only have one cigarette."
The difference between making and keeping resolutions can be found in the series of specific steps and specific actions that we set ourselves to bring about true behavior change. Declaring independence from an unwanted behavior calls for "eternal vigilance," just as preserving our liberty does.
Dr. Seidman is a clinical psychologist and an assistant clinical professor at Columbia University Medical Center. He is a leading authority on how best to help different kinds of smokers quit. For the past 20 years, he has done research on smoking cessation and operated a variety of clinics in community settings, corporations and at NewYork–Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University, in which countless patients have learned to quit smoking. For more details, go to DanielFSeidman.com.
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