The best-laid plans

I am a plan junkie. I’ve had a plan as far back as I can remember. (Which, considering I have fragments of memory reaching as far back as my first birthday, is a ridiculously long time). For many of the intervening years, I’ve been unable to sleep if I didn’t have the next 5 or so years of my life mapped out. Pathetic, but true.

However, there is something to be said for not having a plan — for just jumping in. That’s how I finally managed to quit smoking, after a couple of decades and dozens of well-plotted attempts. I ran out of cigarettes one day and just didn’t buy any more. Didn’t talk about it much, either — obviously my family noticed right away, but I didn’t make any grand announcements or anything. (In fact, there are people who may not yet know I quit. I don’t get out much these days.)

Being who I am, doing anything without a plan is…well, freakin’ scary. I don’t go to the store without a plan — what time and day I’ll go, which route I’ll take, what I’m buying, what I’m putting off until later. In my current gestational state, I also plan which clothes to wear (comfy shoes, pants with back pockets for my phone that I can keep up with a minimum of fuss even after squatting down to get stuff off the bottom shelves, a shirt that covers my belly, possibly a light jacket if my list contains much from the refrigerated/frozen section). Ms. Spontaneity I am not.

But I am also a firm believer in recognizing when my efforts are failing and trying a new approach, and there are some things in life for which a plan just doesn’t work. Like quitting smoking. I’d tried the plan approach before. I wrote out a list of reasons to quit — all valid, meaningful reasons to me. I replaced my cigarettes with this or that nicotine replacement method. I had an arsenal of distraction techniques and a support system at the ready. I announced to the world that I was quitting. And suddenly, my life became all about smoking. Everyone asked me about it, every day. Every night, I dreamed about it. How could I miss it if it didn’t go away?

What worked was just jumping in. I had nicotine gum on hand already, from my last quit attempt. So when my partner announced one day, out of the blue, that he was quitting, I called his bluff. Smoked my last cigarette, didn’t buy more. He later tried to bum one off me, but of course I had none to give. We were stuck.

But I muddled through. It took me more than the allotted 12 weeks to kick the gum, but I did it within 6 months. I can’t say I never had another cigarette after that day; I did. It was awful. Tasted like dish soap, for some reason. So even though I still occasional miss smoking (mentally, not physically; the physical part is really absurdly easy to kick), I work around those moments as they come. I don’t call attention to them or make a big deal of them. I can’t even tell you how long it’s been since I quit, as I noted neither the day nor the year. A while. The point is, I don’t smoke now, and I never will again. I couldn’t ever say that before, but I can now.

So. Plans are not the end-all, be-all. Sometimes, plans are just crutches. Knowing that won’t stop me from clinging to them, but perhaps my experience with unplanned success will help me loosen up. Just a little.

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