Reward mechanism.
April 4, 2006 11:44 AM   Subscribe

I've ceased smoking cigarettes. Problem - I have developed severe motivation problems. Suggestions for solutions?

The setup:

2/3rd to 1 pack a day smoker for a dozen years. Started 150mg Zyban for 3 days. Successfully defended MSc thesis. Upped Zyban to 150mg/day x2 daily. Stopped nicotine intake. Zyban was adversely affecting me and I cut back down to 150mg/day in the morning only.

It's been 19 days of nicotine abstainance (aside from a Marly light which didn't do anything for me about 4 days after the cessation - which confirmed that the Zyban is interfering with positive sensations of nicotine intake). Major symptoms are gone. Minor symptoms (difficulty concentrating, random desire for vapourized nicotine intake, minor irritability) persist. Symptoms intensify when smoking triggers (leaving the lab at the end of the work day, after meals, having alcoholic beverages with friends, &c) present themselves but I tolerate those.

Problem: I've realized that I used cigarettes heavily as a reward mechanism. I'll make myself do something "unpleasant" on the assumption that I will go for a walk and a cigarette afterwards. Also, cigarettes as a "break" when doing work/concentration intensive activities for extended periods of time.

Now that I've decided to abstain, I find myself with extreme difficulty concentrating on mental activities (say, writing a protocol to apply for ethics review board approval of a minimally invasive procedure) or making myself start such activities (like putting a huge bollus of data togather and preparing a manuscript for submission for peer review) or when I try to mentally engage in understanding written work (such as peer-reviewed scientific articles).

When I "man up" and make myself procede, feelings of irritability and lack of focus are very strong and is usually accompanied by dizzyness and occassionally blurred vision.

Solicitation: Can you suggest anything to help me overcome this diffculty in motivation?

Difficulty: I abhor sweets and chocolate. I do high impact, low cardiovascular exercise daily in the mornings before showering.

Sorry for being so long-winded.
posted by PurplePorpoise to Health & Fitness (16 answers total)
Take the walk without the cigarettes? Maybe listen to a bit of ipod music while you walk? Clearly, you need something to replace that reward, and it doesn't sound like you've found the right thing yet, but you will, just keep trying new stuff.
posted by bilabial at 11:53 AM on April 4, 2006

Oh, and the most important part, congrats on quitting.
posted by bilabial at 11:53 AM on April 4, 2006

I went through the same thing when I quit smoking, and honestly, the only thing that helped was time. I never really found anything that was an adequate substitute or carrot for the old habit. It really sucks, and I am sorry. It does get better, though.
posted by Maisie Jay at 12:00 PM on April 4, 2006

I went from 20 a day for 12 years to 0 a day for the past 9 months using Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking.

According to me and Allen, not smoking is really easy and the only reason anyone smokes is addiction to nicotine. All the reasons we invent for smoking are invented because the feeling of nicotine leaving the body is uncomfortable.

I submit that your nicotine addiction is trying to trick you into smoking with this motivation argument. Unpleasant things aren't more pleasant when you can smoke afterwards. You aren't being deprived of anything.

(Yes, I sound like -- and am -- a brainwashed cult-member but I'm also a happy non-smoker.)
posted by eighth_excerpt at 12:20 PM on April 4, 2006

I also quit smoking using Zyban and had very similar issues. I replaced my "go out and have a cigarette" routine with going to get coffee. The caffeine in the coffee helped give me the stimulant kick I had previously been getting from the cigarettes - which in turn helped with focus and motivation. Time also helps - a lot.
Congratulations and Good luck!
posted by Wolfie at 12:49 PM on April 4, 2006

I found that taking a push up break instead of a smoking break helped my problems concentrating.
posted by lester at 1:21 PM on April 4, 2006

I quit smoking almost exactly a year ago. Was mainly a social smoker at the time of quiting, though at the height smoked a pack+ a day. I think there is a good possibility what you are going through is mild depression. I noticed the decrease in motivation and ho-hum of it all after quiting. This will pass. Personally, I found mega cardio workouts helped. 1hr on the elipse machine a day got me through the rough parts. Good luck and stick it out!
posted by JpMaxMan at 1:30 PM on April 4, 2006

Great work, by the way.

At a utilitarian level I can't see why some extra caffeine would be a problem. Wellbutrin/bupropion/Zyban can be mildly activating (or moreso) so that may be something to watch.

Keep focussed of the long picture - three months out or more- as you will no doubt continue to make transitions in your sense of well being, vigor, breathing, intestinal behavior, etc.

Consider returning to your doctor, who I assume Rx'd the Zyban, to discuss making some alterations in treatment or further suggestions. No matter what, keep looking out weeks and months, rather than days. And tell friends/peers what you are doing by way of explanation that you may be a bit less than on your game for a time.
posted by docpops at 1:34 PM on April 4, 2006

Congrats on quitting. A few thoughts (I'm coming up on a year, after 18 years of 10-20 cigarettes a day).

Thinking in terms of a replacement may or may not be a good idea. The magic bullet approach ("if I take this, I won't want to take this") seems to me to be passive--and ultimately a lot more painful, than changing your approach.

I found what I missed most was the "scratching an itch I didn't know I had" feeling. So I learned to scratch new ones through cardiovascular exercise (always hated running, took it up, got habituated). I also joined an adult ice hockey league. And spring water, cold, often.

I hope you altered your dose under medical supervision. Monkeying with meds is a frequent habit of bright well-educated (heck, all) people--don't assume you know what you're doing, or that the reasonably anticipated results will occur.

Actually, this brings me to the key point:
You may be quite observant, but your nicotine habit has interfered with your connection to your body--in this one area, you are learning-disabled.

Nicotine numbs you to some responses, and the stimulant rush tends to paint over whatever you were feeling immediately before it hit. You have trained yourself to seek escape from certain situations, rather than to cope. Time to retrain.

You are gradually learning in this area, and it will be a while before you really know what your body is telling you:

--Maybe a twinge of panic, issued by your mind, is coming back to you through your restless limbs, and you think that's a nicotine craving.

--Maybe an acquaintance who is a stress-case has just left you a voice mail, and having picked up on his mood, you would ordinarily decide to numb yourself with a cigarette.

You said: "When I "man up" and make myself procede, feelings of irritability and lack of focus are very strong and is usually accompanied by dizzyness and occassionally blurred vision."

ALL of those symptoms are also associated with poor breathing habits, such as occur when you feel mild stress and your breathing becomes shallow. Tihs is often not easy to notice--you are holding your breath, but softly. It's a stress reaction, and you can train yourself out of it. Concentrate on "belly breathing" and on physically grounding yourself.

Look those things up. IANAH (I am not a hippie), but I know they help. A lot of what you read will be yoga-related, but some is not.

Learning to focus on breathing, new-agey though it may sound, can eventually do a lot of the work here. It is possible to get to the point where breathing can be a rush.

If someone had said the to me when I was an otaku grad student I would have laughed in their face and lit up. But it's in the areas of self-knowledge and connection to the body that relief lies.
posted by Phred182 at 2:00 PM on April 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

Great answers so far.

I agree that mostly what you are describing are withdrawal symptoms. These will shrink and eventually disappear completely as your body readjusts. I also used a smoke break as a reward mechanism, and for a long while my breaks seemed empty and frustrating without it. But, when you remove the nicotine element, the cigarette is really just a prop, and not crucial for the rejuvenating qualities of the break. These days I get the same effect from taking a stroll without the smoke. I also use websurfing (usually this page in fact) as a reward mechanism for completing tasks, though this can derail you. Lately I've also been using listening to vignettes from NPR's All Things Considered, the advantage being that you can continue to perform fairly manual tasks.

Since nearly all vices depend on a hijacking of the dopamine reward system, something that gives you a quick perception of progress, inducing dopamine release could help fill this void. When working at home, I also used the quick exercise break. If you take up a sport, you can spend a couple of minutes practicing the moves, or simply count pushups, pullups, or practice a yoga pose. If you can take a run at lunch, it will do great things for your fitness, and you will get a massive sense of accomplishment as you observe how quickly your cardiovascular system recovers from the abuse. The coffee tip would probably be the most simple fix, the problem being that you are merely substituting one addiction for another.

Good luck, I love to hear about people quitting, since it was a life-transforming change I made myself 20 years ago. Don't succumb to temptation, and don't give up if you do, its all about kicking the physical addiction. And brush your teeth immediately to kill the post-meal craving. Really works!
posted by Manjusri at 2:11 PM on April 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

I second bilabial's "go for a walk" suggestion. One of the best things about smoking (for me) was both having an excuse to spend half an hour to an hour a day outdoors. When I stopped smoking, I still needed to go outside at least three times a (work) day for a while to stop feeling so restless and to get enough daylight into my system. I was probably suffering from daylight deprivation as well as nicotine deprivation when I quit smoking. Plus office ventilation systems are notoriously terrible, so it felt nice to get out of a stuffy office and into some fresh air.

Are you exercising outside, in daylight? That might also help.
posted by crazycanuck at 2:45 PM on April 4, 2006

Buy and espresso machine. Make yourself an espresso as a reward. It will force you to take a break from work, and pack a great stimulant kick.

Honestly though, I have no idea what will work for you.
posted by Packy_1962 at 3:14 PM on April 4, 2006

First of all, congrats! I smoked 1-2pk/d for about 15 years before finally kicking it about 3 months ago (3rd attempt, used nicotine patches).

Each time I quit, I felt demotivated for a while - hit me really bad after getting off the patches this last time. All of the above advice is good - but what worked for me best was just slugging it out, sticking with it and taking a couple month (60-75day) hit in overall productivity and allowing receptors to up/downregulate and generally get the hell back to normal. After that, things got pretty much back to normal for me.

That said, depending on where you are, spending some time outside with a highlighter and a good couple of journal articles is a really nice way to spend part of a day and could serve as a good personal reward (especially if you're in an academic setting with undergrads roaming the campus!)
posted by gage at 4:14 PM on April 4, 2006

This loss of motivation is normal for a while. I suggest you hunker down for 3 months of lazy-brain and just get through it. Now is not a great time to start looking for pharmaceutical solutions - you're kicking a chemical dependency, after all.

It WILL pass. As will the crankiness, the constipation, the cough, and all the other crap symptoms that come with quitting.

It's worth it. Hang in there. Be a vegetable for a while. It won't last forever. You've gotta give yourself some leeway. Quitting smoking is a major life event and is going to take up some of your time and possibly push other goals aside momentarily. Let it. It's an important thing to achieve, and like any other goal, it requires you to commit some time and resources.
posted by scarabic at 9:07 PM on April 4, 2006

You could try doing what an ex-colleague of mine did - put the money you don't spend on cigarettes in a pot, and after a while use it to help you in your goal of getting your motivation back (investing in nice coffee equipment, for example).

posted by altolinguistic at 2:41 AM on April 5, 2006

I went through the same thing when I quit. I'll be coming up to two years off the cigs in July. Like others have said, this will go in time. Congratulations for quitting. You've done the right thing!
posted by ob at 9:05 AM on April 5, 2006

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