28 April 2008

How I quit smoking

How I quit smoking
By Paul Burri

I know several people who are trying to quit smoking and I appreciate how difficult that is. It took several years for me to break the habit. It was quite a few years ago and here’s how I did it.

It was way, way back in 1954 and I had just been discharged from the Army. Many people will be surprised that as early as the fifties, there were cancer warnings about the dangers of smoking. But back then we had none of the patches, pills, medications and other aids for quitting. At the time I had been smoking for about six years and was up to two packs a day. I tried “cutting down” with no success. I tried substituting candy and chewing gum with no success. I tried self-hypnosis. I was trapped in the old cliché: "It’s easy to quit smoking; I’ve quit thousands of times."

At the time, both my wife and I were working; I in Los Angeles and she for Walt Disney in Burbank. We had only one car so I would take the bus to work every morning. In the evening the bus went right past the Disney parking lot so I would get off there and wait around for 15 or 20 minutes for her to get off work. Then we’d drive home together.

Since I had been doing this for several months, I got familiar with one of the guards at the Disney parking lot and he and I would talk about various things. One day as we were talking, I took out my pack of cigarettes and lit up. At the same time, I offered one to my friend. He recoiled in mock horror and said to me, "Are you trying to poison me?"

I replied, "I guess you’ve quit, huh? I wish I could."

He answered with a remark that I have never forgotten. He said, "You can too if you really want to."

I never smoked another cigarette from that moment on.

As always, I look for what lesson is to be learned from that experience. I think it is that you can achieve whatever you want to if you are really sincere and the motivation is really there. Conversely, if you find it "impossible" to break a habit or to achieve a particular goal, it’s because you do not have sufficient motivation.

I am reminded about something I wrote in an earlier column that had to do with setting goals. At a seminar I attended we were asked to make a list of 10 goals we wanted to achieve. On the second day, we were asked to make a new list showing what we needed to do to achieve those goals. On the third day we were to list what we were actually doing. It was pretty embarrassing because we had goals, we knew what we had to do to achieve those goals — but few of us were doing what it took to get there.

I do not want to minimize the pernicious nature of various kinds of addictions nor the extreme difficulty of escaping from them. I also do not want to oversimplify the problem, but I do believe that one’s own strong self-motivation is an important first step. I sincerely believe that you can achieve whatever you want if you are really motivated to do so.