To My Baby Sister, On Maintaining Her 'Smobriety'

12/04/2013 12:49 pm ET | Updated Feb 03, 2014


My baby sister Robin (1979), age 10

The Urban Dictionary defines "smober" as, "The act of being nicotine free and no longer smoking."

Dear Robin,

I'm your big brother. I have always been your big brother and although I am 48 now, and you're 44, I am still your big brother. Furthermore, you know perfectly well that I am very wise. Pretty much all big brothers are. So, listen up.

I am glad you quit smoking last week. I know how hard it is to change habits. Although I can boast a few powerful addictions I have overcome, there are plenty of habits I still need to change in my life. This work is hard, I know. That's why I am writing this. I want you to succeed and I think this can help.

Typically I approach change slowly and patiently, waiting until I am ready to do the work. But, this smoking one is different. It is urgent. You can't let it start up again.

Cigarettes, when used properly (and I am sure you are using them properly), kill you. Not only do they hasten death, they make your decreased life span less enjoyable because they make you sick, they keep you from breathing well, they separate you from nonsmokers and they cost a lot of money. There are plenty more good reasons to be smober and no good reasons to smoke. The fact that almost 70 percent of smokers want to quit is a compelling statement about how un-fun it is as a lifestyle. But, you know all of that already.

I didn't get very good at conscious self-improvement until I started doing yoga. Here are some of the things I learned from my practice that have helped me to change what I have changed, and to move, with determination and acceptance, toward changing those I am still working on.

1. Shift your identity by replacing the thought pattern, "I am quitting" to "I don't smoke."Based on Patanjali's Yoga Sutra 2.10: "When they are dormant, obstacles to happiness can be resolved through movement in the opposite direction."

You really are in charge of this. An easy and powerful tool for change is to redefine your identity. You can get rid of habits that prevent happiness when you take advantage of the times that they are inactive. Do it by consciously moving yourself further from the harmful habit. In the context of being smober, make use of the times when you don't feel like smoking by actively observing the fact that you are not a smoker in that moment. I learned this when I heard the often repeated thought during yoga practice, "I suck at this." I replaced it, after much effort, with "I am practicing now." It worked wonders.

2. When you crave a cigarette, lean into the feeling and examine it closely. Based on Patanjali's Yoga Sutra 2.11: "When the obstacles to happiness are actively causing pain, we can resolve them by focusing attention on them".

Know the difference between feeling desire for smoking and the actual act itself. When you want one, go ahead and want the hell out of it. Let yourself feel it. But, don't smoke. Suppression of feelings is almost always followed by that same stifled feeling exploding out of nowhere in a way that is much more difficult to control. Do not suppress. Experience it without lighting up. See what it's about. It will go away if you look at it fearlessly and repeatedly.

3. Remind yourself that you are a champ. Based on The Bhagavad Gita 2.3: "It does not become you to yield to this weakness. Arise with a brave heart, and destroy the enemy." and 6.1: ""The will is the only friend of the Self, and the will is the only enemy of the Self."

See yourself as the victor. Think about this, little sister. You have already won every battle that you've ever fought. So far, nothing in your life has gotten the best of you. You are still here. Own it and use it. You are the only one who can smoke and you are the only one who can not smoke. Every person has a warrior in them, and you are no exception. All you have to do to win is put your fight into the hands of your strong inner self.

4. Build on your progress. Based on Patanjali's Yoga Sutra 1.14: "The benefits of the practice become firmly rooted when it is cultivated skillfully, continuously, with devotion, for a long time."

Although it is sometimes true that quitting gets easier each time you do it, it is always true that steadfastly remaining a nonsmoker is easier than starting over again and again. Reflect on the work you have already done. Remember how hard it was. Don't throw it away. You deserve the benefit of your work.

5. Think about the momentary ignorance that allows you to smoke. Based on Patanjali's Yoga Sutra 2.34: "Reflect on the truth that thoughts or actions that cause harm, whether done or approved of; whether incited by greed, anger or confusion; whether mild or intense; are based on ignorance and result in pain."

You're not suicidal. That's why you are smober. When you light up a cancer stick, you can only do so in a moment of blindness to the fact that it shortens your life. While there is one part of you that used to shun that truth so you could smoke, there's another that recognizes the habit for what it is: a nail in your coffin. Let that part of you be in charge now. When you catch yourself thinking that a smoke would be okay, reflect on the profound and far-reaching negative effects of smoking to your life, the lives of your kids and future grandkids, and your family. And while you're reflecting, maybe go a step further and see us all living without you after you die a preventable death. Not cool, Robin. None of your siblings smoke. We will not think it's cute if you die from it.

6. Don't smoke. Based on Patanjali's Yoga Sutra 2.33: "Respond to negative thoughts and patterns by thinking and doing the opposite."

Don't smoke. I know it sounds impotent in its simplicity and it's high "duh" factor. But, it works. When you want to smoke, see yourself make a U-turn with the part of your mind that decides what to do. For me, this is hard to remember to try, but once I give it a go, it almost always works.

And two more tips that I didn't really learn from yoga. Buy some gum. It keeps your mouth busy.

And finally, remember the reason I wrote this. I love you and I need you alive, healthy and happy.

Love your smart big brother,


Brown, James, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Translated by James Brown, Santa Monica:, 2013.