zen habits : breathe

I Tried to Quit & It’s Too Hard!

By Leo Babauta

You might have uttered the title of this post before — I know I did when I tried to quit smoking. And when I considered giving up meat, cheese, sugar, and more.

Quitting something can seem incredibly hard, so much so that we don’t even want to put ourselves through the suffering.

Have you tried giving up alcohol? Marijuana? Biting your nails? Complaining? Cigarettes? Junk food?

I can confirm that it’s hard to quit an addiction, but there are several things that stand in our way:

  1. The physical addiction — this is hard but it only lasts a few days. Fortunately, I can tell you that if you really put your mind to it, you can do anything hard for a few days.
  2. The reliance on it as a coping mechanism — this is a problem because we’re so used to using the addiction as a crutch when we’re stressed or sad or things are difficult or we need to socialize. Fortunately, there are plenty of other healthier ways to cope.
  3. You don’t believe you can do it. This is the worst one, because if you give in to this obstacle, the other two are not conquerable. Fortunately, this one is entirely self-caused, and so the solution is entirely within our hands.

Because it’s so important, we’re going to focus on the last obstacle first.

You Think You Can’t

You’ve heard of the Little Engine That Could … well, our brains are the opposite. They’re the little engines that think they can’t.

And they are amazing at rationalizing why.

Just try giving up something that you rely on (this is what my Year of Living Without is about). At first, you might start to think, “This isn’t too bad … in fact, I’m kinda excited about it!”

But then, when things get a bit difficult, your mind tends to think things like, “This is too hard! I can’t do it! I want to give up!” And then you start to ask, “Why the hell am I doing this to myself? Life is too short to suffer so much.” Then you think, “Just once, one little time, won’t matter. No one will know. One exception won’t hurt anything. It’s the long run that matters.”

Except that one exception does hurt. It leads you to the same rationalization the next time (“One more time won’t hurt”) and then in your mind, you’re not quitting anymore.

Our minds get in our way.

So what can we do? Well, luckily this is entirely fixable. We just have to 1) examine our beliefs, and 2) change them.

Yes, our beliefs are changeable. I know because I’ve changed numerous beliefs, and tested those new beliefs with self-experiments, and found the new ones to be true. The old beliefs will be true, too, if you believe them. Experience will bear out the beliefs getting in your way, if you believe them. But experience can prove better beliefs to be true too, if you’re willing to give them a try.

Let’s take some examples of beliefs that stand in our way:

These are only examples — there may be numerous other beliefs that you have about the issue of quitting. But you can’t change them if you don’t know they’re there. Pay attention to what you’re saying to yourself, examine your beliefs, and hold them lightly. They aren’t necessarily true — and in fact, I don’t believe they’re true at all.

It’s just the scared child in you wanting to be comforted.

The Physical Addiction

The suffering of withdrawing from physical addiction really only lasts a few days. I’ve seen it with alcohol and drug addiction (in others close to me) and I’ve gone through it with cigarettes. It’s a tough time.

But do you know what’s tougher? Going through pregnancy and labor (based on helping my wife through those), running a marathon or ultramarathon or doing some other physical challenge. Starting your own business or going on stage or cramming for the bar exam or going through a tough disease or helping a loved one who is dying or raising a child.

These are things many of us have done — not all of them, but perhaps one or two. And if you haven’t done these things, you’ve done other hard things. Hard things aren’t things to be dreaded. We can make it through them, and be stronger and better off having done it.

Some tips to get you through a hard few days of overcoming physical addiction:

Find the strategies that work for you, but you can do it.

Your Coping Mechanism

One of the biggest problems with quitting an addiction is that you use it to cope with real problems. When you are stressed, or sick, or sad, or depressed, or going through a crisis, or lonely, or need to socialize in an uncomfortable situation … you use the addiction to cope.

But it’s only a crutch. You can cope without it. You just need to find new strategies.

A few strategies for coping that might help:

These strategies can work, if you believe you can do without the addictions. So go back to the previous section (You Think You Can’t) if you’re having troubles.

Final Words

Quitting something can be hard, it’s true. But not quitting them is harder — you have to live with health problems (or other problems) for the rest of your life. That’s years of pain vs. a few days or weeks of struggle. To me, the choice is clear — choose yourself.



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