Thought-Stopping Techniques to Manage Cigarette Craving

Published on October 10, 2013

One of the challenges of quitting smoking is dealing with the craving. The strong urge to smoke while abstaining is both physical and psychological; your body may already have developed a tolerance to nicotine, and you have adapted to the cigarette habit in your life. The longer you’ve been a smoker, the harder it is to resist.

One of the more effective ways of managing cigarette cravings is through thought-stopping techniques.

As the term implies, thought-stopping refers to the process of deliberately ignoring a self-defeating thought, and replacing it with an empowering one. The technique belongs in the Cognitive-Behavioral school of psychology, which asserts that our behavior is largely guided by our thoughts and perceptions. If we can change the way we think about a certain object, fact or event, we can change our behavior towards it. In essence, thought-stopping is simply “mind over matter.”

How can we use thought-stopping to manage craving for nicotine?

First off, it’s important to remember that it’s impossible to tell your mind not to think of something.  

If I ask you NOT to think of a “large, yellow elephant with flowers in her hair,” isn’t that what you end up picturing? Similarly, if your plan of resisting craving is telling yourself “I will not think about cigarettes,” you’d end up obsessing about them. The more you use willpower to resist an urge to smoke, the more you give permission for thoughts about cigarettes to enter your mind.

Here’s the key: instead of resisting the urge, you should simply distract yourself from thoughts of smoking. Yes, it may feel like the cowardly route to take. But many have found that re-focusing one’s attention is the most effective technique to manage urges. At the very least, distraction can tamp down the feelings of frustration, deprivation, and despair that comes with craving.

Use the Cease, Calm and Change strategy.


Once you recognize that you're thinking about cigarettes, e.g.  you are saying to yourself “I feel so stressed right now, I could do with a smoke…”, do what you can to snap out of the thought. Ways to stop thinking can be clapping one’s hands loudly several times, suddenly standing up and jumping, snapping a rubber band on one’s wrist, and picturing a huge “STOP: BURNING LUNGS!” sign in one’s mind.

You may also set up an alarm clock to ring exactly a minute after --- this way you can indulge in thoughts of smoking but only for a limited time.

And if you have an adventurous side, doing something that will make you incredibly self-conscious, such as wearing a ridiculous hat, bursting into song in the middle of the street, or reciting the preamble to the constitution, are simple but surefire ways to distract yourself from thoughts that cause craving. Rule of thumb: the more ridiculous you can make yourself, the more distracted you’ll be from cigarette smoking!


Once you've successfully snapped out of a self-defeating thought, it’s time to calm yourself back down. Employ some stress management skills: execute breathing exercises, listen to relaxing music, visualize a peaceful seaside or mountain top. Prayer also helps at this stage; surrender to God as you understand Him to be all your worries, tiredness, and frustration.


Once you’ve calmed down, it’s time to deliberately transform negative thoughts into positive ones. This process is called reframing: changing perspective on a situation so that you can see an angle you haven’t thought about before. For example, you can stop thinking of your craving as a withdrawal symptom. Instead, think of it as a symptom of recovery. If you can conceptualize your frustration as a positive thing, you can better manage your emotions.

Other reframes can be:

  • thinking of quitting as an investment rather than a sacrifice,
  • thinking of one’s self as not really stressed, but as simply a symptom-carrier of other people’s stress,
  • thinking of the emptiness that comes with quitting as created by cigarettes instead of treated by cigarettes, or
  • thinking of cigarettes as simply “plants wrapped in paper” instead of a powerful and addictive substance

You may also simply focus on the gains you expect to get from quitting, such as a healthier body, a smoke-free home, savings, and mental clarity. If you can clearly picture the benefits of quitting in your mind, you can easily manage cravings caused by temporary feelings of deprivation. 


In Quezon City and interested in psychological help for smoking cessation? Do visit Childfam-Possibilities Psychosocial Services through (02) 4040699, +639101269540, +639272244598 to know how you can get in touch with a counselor today.


Written by:

Kay Vardeleon

Karen Rose "Kay" Vardeleon, RPsy is a registered psychologist and a PAP-certified specialist in Counseling Psychology. She is a co-founder of Childfam-Possibilities Psychosocial Services in Quezon City, where she holds clinic hours.

She is passionate about work with persons with mood disorders, survivors of abuse and trauma, persons with non-chemical addictions, adult children of addicts, and individuals needing inner child work.

Kay Vardeleon belongs to Childfam-Possibilities Psychosocial Services - Makati Branch in Philippines

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