How to Quit Smoking Part 1: Use A Motivation Decision Chart & Succeed

crushed cigarette“How can I quit smoking, when all my previous decisions to stop smoking have always failed?” Or perhaps you’ve asked yourself, “Isn’t there something that can help me quit smoking?” Yes there is. This article gives an example of how to use a For and Against Decision Making Chart as a motivational mind tool, to help you quit smoking. Whenever we have a problem, we need to use problem solving techniques to solve it: and the balance of our motivations is our key to success.

What is Motivation?make decision to quit

Motivation comprises all the different and various thoughts, feeling, beliefs, emotions, experiences and hopes – our Reasons, that are involved whenever we decide to do something – or we decide against doing something. Whenever we make a resolution (a decision) to change something we do, and then fail to succeed with those good intentions, it’s usually because our motivation to change has slipped – and we fall prey to temptation, and relapse. This is particularly true with any sort of addiction, because of the extra strength of those ever-present temptations.

Any decision making process that involves a commitment to change something we currently do, is driven by the relative strengths of our For and Against motivations. Once we understand our motivations, we can use mind tools to help us to strengthen and reinforce our positive motivations to succeed.  If we can keep focused on all the reasons why we want to change what we do, we are more likely to succeed in resisting temptation – even when faced with that temptation.

The Advantage of Having a Real, Physical, Visual Mind Tool

Having our own physical document – our Decision Making Chart – we have a visual mind tool that can help us to keep focused and strong.  We can turn to it whenever we are faced with temptation (and we feel our motivation slipping), to remind us of all the reasons why we should stick with our original decision to change, and not break our resolve, and relapse.

A Decision Making Chart doesn’t have to be restricted to helping people quit smoking cigarettes – we can use it to help us make any difficult decision.

Perhaps our ‘difficult decision’ could be the decision to stop gambling, or stop drinking too much alcohol, or stop taking drugs – or the decision to pick up the telephone and asking for help.  ‘Should I or shouldn’t I?’ ‘Do I really want to stop…or not?

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Difficult decisions are always difficult in the same way – pros and cons, benefits and costs, For and Against factors – we are torn between conflicting motives and the fluctuating strengths of those motivations.  Otherwise they wouldn’t be a difficult decision – we would just do it, and carry on with life in whichever way we chose.

Difficult decisions almost always involve Change in something we currently do, and have 2 main and opposing options: to change, or not to change.

If we can stop, and honestly consider, write down, and then assess, all sides of our conflicting motivations, we can begin to get a clear picture of our dilemma.  That’s a good start.

For this Quit Smoking example, I’ll use an imaginary For and Against Chart for someone I’ll call Christy.

Introducing Christy

female smokingChristy smokes one packet of cigarettes a day.  She doesn’t earn a lot of money, and she has one child, Tyler, aged 6.  She is bringing up Tyler on her own and she is struggling to find the money to buy him all the things she thinks he needs.  Tyler has asthma.  One day she takes Tyler to the doctor, because Tyler’s asthma is getting worse.  Her doctor tells Christy that her smoking is making Tyler’s asthma worse.  Christy didn’t know that before, so she starts to wonder, again, about whether she should try to give up smoking.

New information is now being factored into Christy’s conflicting motivations about whether she continues to smoke, or decides to quit. New information is one of the things that can change how we think and feel about what we do, and therefore, it can affect what we do.

Christy’s doctor suggests they make a chart together, documenting

  • all the benefits for Christy if she gives up smoking
  • all the disadvantages of quitting
  • everything Christy regards as ‘benefits’ to her of not giving up
  • everything she sees as the disadvantages of not giving up

Yes, there are perceived ‘benefits’ on both sides of the equation, even for not giving up, and deciding to continue to smoke. These ‘benefits’ are, in fact, what has been stopping Christy from quitting smoking already – they are important hurdles that Christy needs to recognize and understand, if she is going to quit smoking successfully.

It’s important that what is written on the chart are Christy’s individual, personal reasons, not anyone else’s.  For Christy to succeed in giving up smoking, the decision to quit smoking has to be made by Christy herself, so her for-and-against reasons must belong to Christy as well.  All choices are valid choices, even if she makes the decision not to quit.  Smoking is Christy’s responsibility, and only Christy can make that choice.

The role of the health professional is to help Christy examine Christy’s own reasons, not to tell her what she should do. Christy already knows what she ‘should’ do – she needs to work out why she isn’t doing it.

There are 4 sides of the arguments involved in coming to any decision: see The Basic For and Against Decision Making Chart.

The chart below is therefore in 4 sections – 2 are associated with taking the healthy choice of quitting, and 2 associated with the unhealthy choice of continuing to smoke.

motivation to quit chart

My Readiness to Quit Score TODAY is: … (Score out of 10)

The text in red shows Christy’s ‘pro-change’ motivations (reasons) that she needs to focus on, if she is going to be successful with any attempt to quit smoking cigarettes. The text in black are the downsides – as Christy sees it – of quitting.  The strength of these downsides is what has prevented her from quitting in the past. She needs to genuinely value these downsides less than the advantages, if she is going to be able to quit successfully.

Christy Now Has A Clear Written Record of Her Conflicting Motivations

The big value to Christy, of making her own personalized For and Against Decision Making Chart is that now, she can clearly see all the things that are her personal conflicting motivations.

Christy Has to Assess & Quantify Her Conflicting Motivations

Her next task is to consider the relative values to her, of those conflicting motivations – everything that influences her decision to try to quit smoking…or not.  So, her doctor asks Christy to choose a number between 1 and 10 that rates how ready Christy feels about making a decision to quit smoking, TODAY.

Christy has only just learned that her smoking is making Tyler’s asthma worse, and she needs time to think that over before she can make any decision to quit or not.  So she thinks her Readiness to Quit Score today is about 4.  This means that she is not yet really ‘ready’ to change her behavior.  But that is relatively unimportant at this stage, because today she has learned some new information about how her smoking is harming her child’s health.

The Value of New Information

This new information will probably have some impact on the balance outcome of Christy’s decision. Once she’s had time to think about it some more, it could even tip the balance in favor of a decision to quit.

Christy Has Had To Stop – & Think About Her Motives

However, the most important thing that Christy has done today, is that by making this chart, she has been made to think really clearly about why she keeps smoking, and why she might want to stop smoking. She has been made to focus on her reasons for smoking.  Perhaps she hadn’t thought so seriously about it before, or had always put it off into some time in the future, telling herself something like, “I really must give up smoking……but not today”.

We all tell ourselves these excuses when we don’t want to stop doing something we enjoy doing, but know we shouldn’t be doing it. That’s normal.  But making a written For and Against chart forces us stop and think.  It also helps to bring all the issues more into focus, and counter-act the convenient distraction of having busy lives – which is always so useful when we want to find excuses for putting off the difficult decision to stop doing something we enjoy doing.

Now Christy Has Her Own Written Motivational Mind Tool

It’s also important that Christy has physically put her reasons down on paper.  She can take that Chart home and stick it up somewhere where she will see it everyday.  This will encourage her to keep thinking about whether she will quit or not.  It’s very easy for the daily rush of everyday life, to push the difficult decisions out of the way, so we can get on with enjoying life without having to deal with them. That’s normal, and one of the reasons why we don’t change.  We don’t like to change.  Especially if it means giving up something we enjoy – or even ‘need’.

A highly visible Decision Making Chart is a mind tool – a Motivational tool – which acts as a visual prompt to keep us thinking about our difficult decisions, when we’d much rather ignore them, and tell ourselves we’ll deal with them later.

End of Part 1 See How to Quit Smoking Part 2: Increasing Our Motivation to Change


Apodaca, T. R., & Longabaugh, R. (2009). Mechanisms of Change in Motivational Interviewing: a Review and Preliminary Evaluation of the Evidence. Addiction, 104(5), 705-715.

Magill, M., Apodaca, T. R., Barnett, N. P., & Monti, P. M. (2010). The Route to Change: Within-Session Predictors of Change Plan Completion in a Motivational Interview. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 38(3), 299-305.

Butler C, Rollnick S, Stott N. The practitioner, the patient and resistance to change: recent ideas on compliance. CMAJ 1996;154:1357-1362.

Miller WR, Rollnick S. Motivational interviewing. Preparing people to change addictive behaviors. New York : The Guilford Press, 1991.

Keithly L, Samples S, Strupp H. Patient motivation as a predictor of process and outcome in psychotherapy. Psychother Psychosom 1980;33: 87-97.

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How to Quit Smoking Part 1: Use A Motivation Decision Chart & Succeed — 6 Comments

  1. By fact, most of all the people disinclined to give more their drug behaviors if they remain in their particular environment or
    lay down.
    This means that most you have to get rid together with the drug at your body and
    the physical reliability on the compound.
    rehab recently posted…rehabMy Profile

    • Hi rehab, it’s true that most people with addiction need to remove themselves from their old environment and any friends associated with their addiction. And getting the drugs out of the body is the first step. But addiction is much more than just the effect of the drugs on the body. The harder part is staying in recovery.

      Quitting smoking is a bit different. Most people do not need to change their old smoker-friends, and can quit with the right support.


  2. Thank you Carol for sharing this great post! This is very informative, I learned a lot from this. Quitting smoking is very hard, but I’ll try these tips.

    • Hi Dana, it’s good that you are thinking about quitting. Do you have friends you can tell who will encourage you in the upcoming battle? Many people say that if they tell their friends what they are trying to do, their friends will try to keep them on the straight and narrow. It is not easy, but it can be done. Good luck.

      By the way, if you lapse the first time, don’t give up – many people take a couple of attempts before they finally quit.

  3. People smoke even after knowing the bad effects of smoking. I myself was a chain smoker for atleast 7 years before I decided that whatever happens I must quit smoking. Today it is already 6 years and I’ve not smoked a single cigarette. I used to drink lemon water with salt on a regular basis to remove nicotine from my system.

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