Back when I was a smoker (Marlboro Lights in a soft pack), an old family friend told me how hard it was for him to quit. Smoking’s not just a habit, he said, it’s an identity.
I sneered when he said it. Smoking didn’t define me, it was just something I did. But, I couldn’t get his words out of my head. And over the next few years, I started to wonder if he was right. I spent about 2 hours a day with a cigarette in hand. The habit determined who I took breaks with at work. It dictated the restaurants I went to, the friends I hung out with, the activities I liked doing, and — probably — the people who wanted to hang out with me.
Not only that, but there’s this unspoken philosophy that comes with every pack. It’s a live-in-the-moment, f*ck-it-all, tousled-hair, I’m-not-scared-of-anything-
To quit means rejecting that philosophy. It means that maybe you’re afraid of dying of lung cancer, after all.
Quitting comes with practical problems, too. You have to stop taking breaks with those old buddies at work. Good luck not offending them. Your bar friends step out on the patio to smoke, and there you are staring at the video poker machine like a tool. You wake up in the morning and your routine has to change. Your drive to work is different. So is your post-meal activity, your bedtime ritual, everything.
Quitting’s the death of one lifestyle and the start of another. My old family friend was right. When I quit, I was forging a new identity.
I sneered at what he said so long ago, and that should have been my clue. To paraphrase Mark Manson, the more uncomfortable something makes you, the more likely it is to be true.
What is an identity, after all, if it’s not a label for your habitual behaviors? Show me your habits, and I’ll show you who you are.