Trying to quit smoking isn’t easy and we all make the occasional mistake. Here’s how to get back on track after a slip-up.
Look at the bigger picture
If you’ve snuck in a cigarette after a stressful day at work or with your mates on Friday night at the pub, rest assured that one slip is unlikely to affect your new healthy habit. In fact, research published in The British Journal of General Practice found that a new health-related behaviour becomes automatic after an average of 66 days – thankfully, missing the occasional day didn’t affect the habit-formation process.1
Take pride in what you’ve achieved
For most people, it takes more than one attempt to quit smoking. A recent study found smokers might need as many as 30 attempts before they finally succeed.2 So even though you might feel disappointed about slipping up, it’s important to take pride in what you’ve achieved. Every day you've spent sans smoking has made you healthier.
Understand and eliminate triggers
Associating a simple action with a consistent context can help behaviours become habit, so it makes sense that identifying and breaking these connections – what psychologists call ‘triggers’ – is crucial to preventing future slip-ups. If you're used to smoke with a morning coffee or bum a cigarette off a colleague after an afternoon meeting, switching to tea and heading straight back to your desk after the meeting can help to reduce the chances of future slip-ups.
Chat to your doctor
There’s no doubt that quitting is challenging, especially if you've tried before. But research shows you’re 4x more likely to succeed in quitting with the help of a healthcare professional compared to quitting unaided.3Talking to your doctor about why you slipped up and what you can do to avoid future slips is a great way to bounce back from a setback.
Restart quitting straight away
You know what they say about getting back on the horse or bicycle? Quitting smoking is no different.
Remind yourself why you decided to quit in the first place and make notes on what you learned about the slip-up.
What situations do you need to prepare for or avoid? What helped you avoid triggers before your slip-up? With these ideas jotted down, you'll be ready if the going gets tough again.
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1 Gardner, B., Lally, P. and Wardle, J. (2012). Making health habitual: the psychology of ‘habit-formation’ and general practice. British Journal of General Practice, 62(605), pp.664-666.
2 Chaiton, M., Diemert, L., Cohen, J., Bondy, S., Selby, P., Philipneri, A. and Schwartz, R. (2016). Estimating the number of quit attempts it takes to quit smoking successfully in a longitudinal cohort of smokers. BMJ Open, 6(6), p.e011045.
3 West. R (2012) Stop smoking services: increased chances of quitting. NCSCT Briefing #8. London: National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training.