Twenty years back in the month of October, a very young me was getting bored on the 2nd day of a 5 day weekend. So I decided to quit smoking.
I had started smoking in college and had smoked for about 6 years. By October 1998, I was a chain smoker, smoking between 50-70 cigarettes a day - the days I did not drink it was 50 and 20 cigarettes got added with the beers or whisky.
From smoking 50-70 cigarettes a day I went cold turkey, and quit. I’ve remained a non smoker for 20 years – not a single exception. The Chinese have two brush strokes to write the word “crisis” – one stands for danger and another stands for opportunity.
Stopping smoking is like doing a sprint but quitting and remaining a non smoker for 20 years is closer to doing a marathon. Having quit (chain) smoking and run marathons for a hobby (37 half marathons, 12 full marathons and 1 ultra marathon) I can tell you that there are many similarities between quitting smoking and running a marathon.
For starters, its interesting how both running marathons and smoking produce so many anecdotes. There is always someone who smoked like a chimney and lived to 90 years without coming anywhere close to either TB or cancer. Equally there is someone who ran marathons regularly but died of a heart attack while in office.
There is no app to help you run a marathon. When the starters gun goes off at the start of the marathon, its upto you – your legs, your physical strength and your mental strength to carry you over the 42 kilometres (and 195 metres and mind you these last metres are hardest). Similarly when you choose to quit smoking it’s upto you and your mental strength to keep it that way.
“Bullfight critics row on row, crowd the enormous plaza full
But only one is there who knows, and he is the one who fights the bull”
Running a marathon is nothing but a series of arguments between parts of the brain that want to stop and parts that want to keep going. Quitting smoking is nothing but a series of arguments between parts of the brain that crave just one last cigarette and parts that are bent on keeping it away.
The human body is not designed to run a marathon. Which is why it is often said that running a marathon is mind over matter, if the mind does not mind the body does not matter. In the case of quitting smoking it’s the mind that needs to mind so that the body matters.
There are times when running a marathon seems like a lonely activity, there are times you have conversations with yourself….. There are evenings in the bar when the urge to have just one cigarette, be part of the “gang” can be quite strong. It is when patience ends that endurance begins. As Theodore Roosevelt once said “with self discipline all things are possible” – you can run a marathon, you can quit smoking.
Ronald Rook once said “I don’t run to add days to my life, I run to add life to my days”. While quitting smoking increases your life it does not by itself improve your life. The quality of our lives will depend on the choices we make. I have certainly no regrets about the choice I made 20 years ago.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by what you did not do than what you did”. Mark Twain.