Do you ever wonder why smokers find it difficult to quit? Everyone knows the dangers of smoking and quite a few smokers have tried quitting at some point only to relapse after a few days. Sheer willpower is often not enough to give up the habit once it has formed. To understand this, I need to quickly point out a few things about the habit loop (Special thanks to James Clear whose writings helped me understand this). A habit has three parts: a cue, a craving, a response and a reward. The cue can be anything that triggers you into taking action. For a smoker, the sight of a lighter is often enough to make them feel like reaching for a cigarette. The response is often to oblige so they can get a nicotine hit which makes them feel good. The longer they do this, the more automatic the loop becomes and the harder to break such that as soon as they see an ashtray, they reach for a cigarette without thinking about it.
Habits can be very difficult to break, especially those that offer an addictive reward like smoking. In order to break the habit loop, the smoker might have to start by rearranging their environment such as throwing away the lighter and getting rid of the ashtrays. They would also not want any cigarette packs within sight and might need to stay away from places where others smoke until their brain forms a new habit loop. Another way to deal with the problem is to replace the response with a different one that also offers a reward. In the anime fullmetal panic: invisible victory, antagonist, Kurama, tries to break a smoking addiction by placing pocky sticks in his cigarette holder. Each time he gets the urge to smoke, he opens the cigarette case and eats a stick. The action completes the loop and gives him a reward, temporarily satisfying his urge to smoke. He does note that the process does makes him irritable.
The next time you find yourself struggling to break a habit, you should ask yourself what the cues are. If you would like to eat healthier meals but stock your fridge with unhealthy microwave fast food and have chocolate bars lying around, you are going to indulge in them. If you put healthy vegetables in the fridge instead, you are likely to cook them. Do you snack by eating a chocolate bar everytime you head to the kitchen and would like to change, try placing fruits in your kitchen instead of chocolate.
The opposite of this also applies. You can reinforce a positive habit by making the cues more obvious. If you always sat in the same chair whenever you wanted to work, your brain would eventually associate that chair with working and you would find it easier to start.