Quit Smoking Cards -- What To Tell Yourself When Strong Cravings Won't Go Away -- Intro (CardsA.html)

This is the "Card Therapy" introduction page

go to Quit Smoking Index page

[A] Introduction

There are many pages on this web site. This page and the cardsB.html page and the cardsC.html page, however, are the three most crucial ones. Especially the cardsB.html and cardsC.html pages. If you are interested in the "card therapy" idea, these two pages are the only two you need to read. The other pages on this web site are *not* important to read in order to gain an understanding of card therapy.

In August 1997 I quit smoking with the use of some 3 X 5 cards. On the cards, I wrote down reasons for quitting smoking, and I wrote down some of the rational thoughts that I used to combat cravings. As it turned out, I came up with 3 categories of cards:


(1) Smoking: What it was like (the essay)

This is where I wrote down in detail what it was like when I was smoking. This served as a reminder of how the smoking days were not pleasant at all. I wrote most of this section down before I had quit, so I would not later forget or discount the pain that smoking was causing me.

(2) The Main Non-Smoking Cards (thoughts to combat cravings)

Whenever I found myself craving, I asked myself what is the trigger (activating events) that caused the cravings to start? I wrote that down, as well as the irrational thinking that was feeding the cravings. Then I wrote down some rational thoughts, disputing the irrational thinking. And I wrote down the consequences of giving in.

(3) The Reasons to Quit List

This is a brief list of the reasons to quit smoking


Skip Ahead to The Main Quit-Smoking Cards Below

I used 3 X 5 cards because they were convenient and informal, and because if I wrote one that I wasn't satisfied with, I could just throw it away with little loss in invested time (since one can't write much on a card to begin with). Whereas if I instead used regular paper, I hated the thought of messing up and throwing away a whole sheet of paper which might have an hour or more work on it.

THE 3 X 5 CARDS WERE THE MOST CRUCIAL PART OF MY QUIT PROCESS. I made more than 20 of them as I went along. Typically, what would happen is that I would have a strong craving to have a cigarette (sickarette). Then, after reading some cards, the idea of having a sickarette would seem incredibly silly. I found that I always calmed myself down and that I *never* gave into an urge when I took the time to read some cards. The only times that I slipped were when I didn't have the cards with me, or when I said to heck with reading the cards. But though I slipped, I fortunately never completely relapsed back into regular smoking.

Whereas in many previous quits, I succumbed to the cravings even though I carried around and read a "reasons to quit list". Some of the cards are "reasons to quit". But most of the cards were, for me, much more powerful than that, particularly the ones that have rational statements to tell oneself when the cravings hit, like:

"Having just one sickarette won't sooth my cravings for long -- I will just want another sickarette even more strongly 10 minutes after I'm done with it."

"A sickarette might taste and feel good, but not all that great, certainly nothing to blow a quit over".

"I don't want to have to go through another quit. I may not succeed in quitting again, or it might be terribly difficult, even more difficult than this quit."

Skip Ahead to The Main Quit-Smoking Cards Below

A reasons - to - quit list is helpful. However, I already knew that I very much wanted to quit. My problem was that I kept thinking that I could get away with 'just one' sickarette every weekend or during crisis situations.

Few of us think we are going back to full time smoking when we first slip. Rather, almost all slips and relapses begin with the thought that we can get away with 1 or 2 sickarettes.

So I believe that we need to spend more of our effort fighting the "I can get away with one or two sickarettes now" gremlin, rather than the "to heck with it, lets give up and go back to smoking" gremlin. The gremlin is smarter than to use the latter argument, because it knows that we have our "reasons to quit list", and he senses that we are determined not to go back to "full time smoking". So, to get around that, the gremlin will try the "just one" line of seduction.

Another problem about my reasons - to - quit list, was that most of the benefits to quitting are far out in the future, or vague. Such as "if I don't quit smoking, I might get cancer in 20 years". But I found I can't stop a strong nicotine craving by telling myself what might happen in 20 years or even 3 months. But I found I could stop a nicotine craving cold by telling myself what would happen 10 minutes later after finishing the sickarette -- namely that I would start craving the next sickarette, and that I would be mad at myself and depressed for having given in. And many more such reasons that are on the cards.

Therefore, most of the cards that I used, which are on this page and on the cardsb.html page, are directed towards fighting the 'just one beast' and reminding myself what the consequences of having 'just one' will be 10 minutes or a few days later.

People have commented that "card therapy" sounds complicated. But its no harder than writing a few things down now and then as they come to mind. Here is a simple recipe for applying card therapy:

(a) Before you quit, write out on a card or two some reasons to quit.

(b) After you've quit, write down a few things you need to tell yourself when the urges strike, e.g. "Having a sickarette won't solve any problems", or "Having 'just one' will make me want another even worse a few minutes after I'm done". When struggling, read your cards and write down a few more "things to tell yourself". That's all. No "RET" involved. No books to read.

I participate in a lot of quit-smoking online discussion groups. In almost every posting that I see to one of these groups, people are giving a couple of reasons not to smoke, or saying other things that they need to remind themselves when they are thinking about smoking again. So everyone is doing this naturally anyway. The only thing I am urging, based on my experience, is to carry these reasons and reminders around. I have a copy of the cards at work, at home (in 2 places), and in the car.

Skip Ahead to The Main Quit-Smoking Cards Below

Maybe an easier and quicker way to begin is simply to print this page, cardsA.html, that you are reading right now. And print the cardsB.html and cardsC.html pages. They won't take long to print. Then line out those things that don't apply to you. Highlight those things that grab you. Write your own stuff in the margins. Carry these around, especially the cardsB.html and cardsC.html pages printout. I promise it will help a lot the next times strong cravings hit.

Whenever I had a trigger situation or trigger thoughts that were not already covered by an existing card, I'd write a card to cover that situation or thoughts.

I finally learned that even after several weeks without a slip, JUST 2 SICKAETTES would cause increased cravings and enhanced sensitivity to stress for AT LEAST 2 WEEKS. When I learned this lesson, I really made up my mind not to ever touch a sickarette again. All of what follows are things that I actually wrote on index cards during my quit, except that what follows was rewritten in longer form for other people to read. I also added a considerable amount of explanatory material. (What I originally wrote on the cards were short cryptic phrases and sentences that I could understand, but others would not be able to understand many of them.). Also, I don't attempt to show the physical demarcations of the actual cards. Nor were they as well organized as the below. Many of the sections below covered several physical cards.

The point of putting these cards on the web is to give you examples and ideas for coming up with your own cards (or sheets of paper or whatever) of things to tell yourself when the urge to smoke won't go away.

At last, here are the cards:

The Main Non-Smoking Cards (thoughts to combat cravings) and the Reasons To Quit List

Click the above link to get to these cards and the reasons to quit list. The reason these are on a separate page is that (1) they are the main cards and the reasons to quit list that I carried around. And (2) Geocities won't allow more than 32 KB of information on a single page. Therefore, I was forced to split all this card stuff into two files -- cardsA.html (which you are reading now) and cardsB.html.

[B] Smoking: What it was like ("The Essay")

I did not actually carry around section B as a set of cards. That is because they were a long-winded essay. However, I did have much of this written down at home on some sheets of papers.

[B1] Constant Deprivation

For most of the past 3 years, I kept some controls on the amount I smoked. Even when I was smoking a half a pack a day, I would not buy another pack until 48 hours had expired since the purchase of the previous pack. Sometimes that meant I ran out of sickarettes several waking hours before I could buy another pack.

When I was down to say 3 cigs a day, I smoked those in about 4 hours, and then had to endure 16 hours without a sickarette.

In both cases, I often cheated and bought the pack early. This led to either increased smoking, or later having to not smoke for a long difficult period of time, like 1 or 2 full days.

Even during periods of my life when I exercised no self-control over smoking, such as when I was at the Univ of Minn (where I smoked 5 packs a week), I had unsatisfied urges. E.g. having to pack up all my stuff (when I was at the library) and go outside to smoke.

In short, the deprivation I suffered back when I was smoking was more often and more intense than the deprivation I experienced more than one week after my quit

I am in a smoke - free workplace. If I was still smoking, I would definitely suffer from more deprivation (4 hours in a.m., 4 hours in p.m. without a cig) than the amount of deprivation that I'm experiencing now that I have quit.

[B2] Constant Obsession With the Problem

I was constantly trying to keep control of the habit, or trying to quit. In particular, the last 15 months of my smoking days (May 96 - Aug 97) were in 'perpetual quit mode' where I was constantly trying to quit, or cut back, or maintain at low levels, or at least not increase my smoking frequency further. I was constantly obsessed with the need to smoke, or I was obsessed with the problem of smoking and trying to quit.

I like it better now that I'm not smoking -- not continually obsessed with the need or the problem.

[B3] Lack of Freedom and Waste of Time

Often I'd rush to the grocery store to buy a pack. Even though I needed to buy groceries, I'd go buy the pack immediately, smoke half a sickarette, and then immediately take the rest home. (I took them home right away because I allowed myself only 3 a day at one point, and I wanted to have them at home where they could act as 'fuel' while I did difficult computer work). I wouldn't even bother with the grocery shopping because that meant I'd have to go back in the (non-smoking) store, and shopping was time - consuming and stressful.

In a book store or the library, I would have to 'pack up' and go outside every hour or so to smoke. Usually I had to go all the way to my car, where my cigs were, to smoke.

During breaks at a conference or meeting, I would run outside to smoke; even though I really wanted to talk to someone or be in on some informal discussion. Or when visiting non-smokers, I was anxious to get away so I could smoke. I was also anxious for a non-smoking event to be over. During non-smoking events, visits, or activities, I either suffered or left early. In neither case did I particularly enjoy myself.

Quitting efforts were exhausting. I slept a lot. I also wasted a lot of time writing and reading my cards, and reading addiction books.

The 1 day quit every 2 days kept me oscillating between simple work (which was all that I was capable of during withdrawal) and more difficult and stressful work (that I was capable of doing when I resumed smoking).

I deferred difficult projects while only working on easier, less stressful projects. Often, I'd run out of cigs and have to wait say for a day or two before allowing myself to buy more cigs. During those times, I avoided work on stressful projects. This greatly slowed many critical path activities -- several things I wanted to get done quickly were delayed for several days or even weeks.

I made many special trips or side trips to the store just to buy sickarettes and nothing else.

[B4] Self Esteem

When I was smoking, or when I relapsed, it was a blow to my self-esteem. I felt that I have had 3 relatively stress - free years, but in all that time, I hadn't been able to quit. In the past 2 years, I have accomplished nothing tangible. I needed to have one thing to put on my list of accomplishments -- namely, that I was able to quit smoking.

And a bigger worry - if I can't control (stop) my smoking, then maybe I can't indefinitely maintain control other some other problems.

[B5] Job Interviews, Future Jobs

I think most potential employers will be very biased against smokers. And their pre-employment medical screening will turn up nicotine, whether it comes from the patch or from smoking. For urine tests -- 3 to 4 days (from what I've heard somewhere). For hair tests -- months.

Medical data bases may have my dental record, and that I have signed up for a quit-smoking class. And I have various postings online about my smoking (Internet, alt.recovery.nicotine, Compuserve Recovery forum).

Coughing at an interview -- I don't want that to happen!

Employers visualize smokers as people who can't control their urges, who stand outside the building in the cold and rain smoking when they should at least be near their phone, colleagues, and findable. And as people who are always trying to 'break away' to smoke, rather than thinking about the company's business.

Employers know that smokers have more sick days and ask for more time off for doctor's visits.

Employers know that the company's medical insurance cost -- which is based on the company's claims history -- will be higher with smoking employees. Medical insurance costs are soaring for employers (and for employees).

[B6] Other Irritants (short term)

[B6.A] Visiting the dentists and being given a lecture

Or having to say that I've quit in the last X weeks or that I've cut down to say 2 a day.

[B6.B] Dental cleaning sessions tougher

[B6.C] Dental surgery needed every 5 - 10 years

Remember that awful scraping. (A good thought stoppage memory).

[B6.D] Finding a girlfriend will be more difficult

More than 80% of women are NON-smokers. Very few non-smoking women want a boyfriend who smokes

Many women who smoke have a preference for non-smoking men, as quitting smoking and staying quit is much easier when one's mate doesn't smoke. (Most smokers want to quit and have tried to quit).

Looking at the long-term, a girlfriend who smokes will age faster (Smoker's Face -- An Evident Reason To Quit) and have more health problems

[B6.E] Chewed a lot of gum -- made my teeth sore and brushing painful

Also, a lot of gum would collect on the toothbrush.

Also, finding a place to park the gum. The gum collecting between my teeth makes cleaning take longer and is less effective.

[B6.F] Insurance rates

Medical insurance rates are considerably higher for smokers. Likewise life insurance and long-term care insurance.

[B6.G] Money -- cost of sickarettes, gas to drive to store

A pack a day is $1.80/day = $657 / year. [2009: $5.00/day is $1825/year] (Before I quit, I was buying a pack a day, smoking 3, throwing the rest away). Also, gas and wear and tear to drive to the store. And having to shave and dress.

[B6.H] Money spent on gum and patches -- $ hundreds

[B6.I] Quitting with the gum and patch were hassles

With the gum, it was difficult because I couldn't drink anything for a few minutes before or after. I had to constantly park the gum. As for patches, it was a long ritual to cut and paste on. The gum/patch would help me quit for awhile. But then I'd be flooded with smoking urges that would continue for more than an hour, and I just couldn't get it out of my head. So I don't think it will be easy to quit again. It might be impossible for a long time.

go to Quit Smoking Index Page