The Terrible 3's

The Terrible 3's

Joined: December 18th, 2008, 11:57 pm

December 12th, 2000, 8:25 pm #1

The Terrible 3's

You will often hear the concept of the terrible three's in regards to quitting smoking. How things just go bad at three days, three weeks, three months, and three years. Except for the three day issue which has a real physiological basis, I do not put a lot of stock into the concept of the terrible threes, especially the 21-day or 3 year's mark. The three-day issue is a real phenomenon, although for some people it is a one-day or two-day issue and it may be eased up by the third day so that one is not even etched in stone. The three-month issue has a basis, but it is not physiologically based, but more so it is probably from seasonal variation.

As ex-smokers start pulling out their old wardrobes, start experiencing new weather conditions, start watching different sports seasons, start preparing for different holidays and events, these are all first time experiences without a cigarette. If a person quits in the heat of summer, there is no way they learn how to shovel snow, or scrape ice without a cigarette. Maybe driving in snow and ice always scared them. That scare would lead to increased smoking, intricately intertwining the two activities. The first time encountering the condition will be an automatic feeling of needing to smoke. On the

same token, if they quit in winter, they have no idea how to lay in the sun on a warm day. These are activities that also, by the nature of lasting twenty minutes or longer, would also become a smoking associated activity. While the winter-summer changes are dramatic contrasts, the three-month seasonal changes are still significant enough to elicit smoking thoughts. You overcome these triggers the same way you overcome the original triggers-just don't give into them. The first time it will be a stronger thought, but after successfully overcoming the specific event, it will become easier and easier each successive time. Eventually, not smoking will become the habit for the specific event.

You need to be prepared for these periodic fluctuations in number of smoking thoughts. Not because of the terrible threes, just because you need to be prepared everyday that there might be moments where there is a desire for a cigarette. It is a matter of always keeping your guard up, and remembering that not smoking is important everyday. Still comes down to the premise of waking up everyday and saying to yourself, "I will not smoke today," and going to bed each night proud of the accomplishment. Do this and you will make it through all the "terrible threes" (and they might not be in any way terrible) having been able to successfully Never Take Another Puff!

Joel
Last edited by Joel on August 29th, 2015, 1:31 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Joined: December 18th, 2008, 11:59 pm

January 19th, 2001, 9:04 pm #2

yes JOEL ... great thread !
I have noticed that ...
these triggers come when I least expect them ...
as triggers do ...
and once I am blind-sided -
the urge goes away -
and the next time I do that activity -
there is no urge !!!
(so there is hope!)
I am noticing that those little "needling-thoughts" of
"eh, gowan just once more"
are hardly there anymore!
But I still stay on my guard .. .. ..
hang in there everyone,
it does get better !!!
- robert -
5months/18days
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Joined: December 18th, 2008, 11:57 pm

January 23rd, 2001, 11:39 am #3

Related article from string The Miserable Threes :

In response to the "miserable three's" we hear so much about. The three-day thing is a real understandable phenomenon. It is how long we basically have nicotine left in our bodies after smoking cessation. As long as we have any amount the brain is demanding the full compliment. The lower it gets, the more your brain and hence body complains. Once the three-day mark is passed, pure nicotine is either excreted or metabolized into other bi-products. Those bi-products are what can be tested for in a drug tested for nicotine for up to two weeks, but they do not have the power to maintain an active state of withdrawal. Some people seem to metabolize more efficiently than others, seeming to only have physical withdrawal effects for one or two day periods, but once overcoming the third day, most people's intense physical symptoms will diminish.

In clinic experience, the three-week mark never seemed to be a big issue. I still maintained contact heavily over the first month though, constantly reinforcing quitting concepts, and maybe, people left on their own devices didn't internally keep up that kind of ammunition strengthening. Another factor may be friends and families. During the first week, maybe even the first two, everyone pays a lot of attention to the smoker who is quitting. They are worried that this time may not take. They ask constantly how the person quitting is doing, offer support and encouragement, tell them how great they are and how proud they are of them. All this attention is either greatly appreciated or drives the person quitting nuts. Either way, it in a sense keeps their attention focused on the quit.

But after a couple of weeks, the novelty wares off, to the ex-smoker and the family member themselves. At some point, people stop asking. Sometimes this is interpreted to the ex-smoker that people stopped caring. This is not the case. The family and friends just start to take for granted that the person is over it. They get complacent. Understand something though, the family and friends probably still cares, whether they show it our not. If the person relapses, they may have a fit, but if he or she stays off, that's just the way things are.

This lack of attention to cessation often leads to the ex-smoker to feeling complacent too. Complacency is dangerous. That is when the thought is triggered by something, the ammunition has stopped being reinforced and the ex-smoker has lost access to their reasons for why they stopped and why they don't want to go back. I don't think three-weeks is a magic guide or absolute, like the three-day mark, but a variable due at least in part to this kind of mind set.

The three-month is another interesting time. If I had to venture a guess, I would say the thoughts are due to seasonal variation of activities, weather, clothing, etc. When you quit in the dead of winter, depending on where you live, you learn how to shovel snow, scrape ice, bundle up, watch football and hockey, in a sense, you learn to do winter activities without a cigarette. You learn this all by repetition, doing it once, then another time, then another, all without taking a cigarette. But when springtime rolls around, conditions may change. Maybe you do spring-cleaning. Last time you did spring cleaning, you were a smoker. Nothing you did in winter may have just the same flavor. How did you take breaks during spring-cleaning? You stopped for a cigarette. How did you reward yourself when finished? You smoked a cigarette. This is a new trigger. Then you start changing your wardrobe. Last time you wore that jacket, you were a smoker. You may even find cigarettes in pockets you paid no attention to when you quit. Sporting events change. Now you are watching baseball instead of football. Maybe even going to games. Every time you went to games before, you smoked. Win you watch your team win for the first time, you are supposed to smoke in celebration. After a couple of wins, you break the association. That doesn't yet prepare you to watch them lose though, that you will learn quickly too. (At least if you are from Chicago, the Cubs you know. Sorry I digressed). And what about getting ready for tax time, this too smoking had always been part of.

Well, let three more months pass and we have summer time activities. The beach, the pool, outdoor activities, barbecues, picnics, all things that are basically new to an ex-smoker who quit during snow. And then fall and its color changes, it's clothing, its basic change of flavor and nuances. All these changes are potential triggers.

While this may sound discouraging, that there are all these future changes awaiting the ex-smoker, consider this. Everything the smoker encountered the first three days was new. Everything! Getting out of bed, brushing teeth, using the bathroom, again, everything. And this is on top of drug withdrawal. The ex-smoker got through them all, breaking the day to day rituals and associations. That is why he or she is now an ex-smoker. That is why after weeks, he or she is not thinking about cigarettes every waking moment, but rather a couple of time a day.

At these seasonal times, new experiences trigger thoughts, but it doesn't have the physical withdrawal complicating it. It's still a battle, but now the all out war previously experienced. You all had the strength to win that war. You can beat these reactions too. Bring back your original ammunition, remembering why you quit. You were fighting for your freedom, your health, and eventually your life. Bring your reasons for quitting to the forefront of consciousness and when these thoughts are triggered, you will quickly squelch them. Next time the same circumstance will seem a little weaker, and after a few times, not trigger at all. Eventually days, weeks, at some point, even months will pass without a real problem. You will experience moments of thoughts, but at the same time be benefiting from thousands of hours of health and even greater serenity. If you want to permanently avoid making another year of constant new battles, remember…Never Take Another Puff!

Joel
Last edited by Joel on February 6th, 2010, 5:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Joined: January 7th, 2009, 7:46 pm

January 23rd, 2001, 11:04 pm #4

Dear Joel,

Thank you for making sense of that for me. I quit smoking once before and started up again on the three-month mark. I was afraid of those reputed "3" marks for that reason. Now I understand. The three-day mark was not too bad. Nicoteen urges gone but a sense of loss a little greater than before. The three-month mark related to the seasons explains better my fall many years ago. I was living in Florida at the time and I started again at the onset of summer.[/size]

I will be more on my guard at the beginning of spring where I am sure the urges will be stronger because of that stupid link we make between certain day-to-day functions and smoking.

Again thanks,

Marie-Claude
Last edited by Claude on March 6th, 2009, 10:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Joined: January 7th, 2009, 7:46 pm

February 20th, 2001, 10:59 pm #5

Joel
Thanks for this. I printed this out. I'm already thinking ahead as to what it's going to be like this Spring and Summer. It was helpful to read this and I guess I still have to think - one day at a time.

This place is awesome and everybody here is awesome. THANKS FOR ALL THIS SUPPORT.

Inquirer, Elaine
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Joined: December 18th, 2008, 11:57 pm

March 22nd, 2001, 7:34 pm #6

For PattiD:

Don't be overly concerned about today being horrendous just because yesterday was. Yesterday had the full potential of being the peak of withdrawal. Many people peak on day 3, again others peak on day 2 or day 1. Some people never seem to experience any real strong withdrawals at all. But however it is going to happen or even if it is going to happen, the peak of the physiological withdrawal will be in that first 72 hours. After that, the reactions are more of a psychological basis. They are still real, but they are different. They can be squelched by conscious control, in essence by focusing your thoughts on why you quit and why you want to stay off. These thoughts don't eradicate thoughts the first few days, they just give you the resolve to overcome the urges. But now, reinforcement of your resolve will be an even more powerful tool, essentially being able to shorten the intensity and the duration of the thought.

So stay focused on the reasons you stopped and the reasons you want to stay free, and the outcome will always be that you are happy that you have the ability to never take another puff!

Joel
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Joined: December 18th, 2008, 11:57 pm

March 26th, 2001, 9:10 pm #7

For Yvonne. Not a specific piece of advice, just an overally view that the third week is not a magical time period. It is the week between week two and week four. You will get through it the same way as you got through week two and will get through future ones too. It will be by staying focused on the way to get through each day successfully smoke free is to never take another puff!

Joel
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Joined: December 19th, 2008, 12:14 am

April 13th, 2001, 8:32 pm #8

Thankyou very much.
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Joined: December 18th, 2008, 11:59 pm

April 13th, 2001, 11:26 pm #9

thank you thank you thank you! i have to say that this morning i was sOOOO embarrassed abt my urge to smoke!!!! now i feel much better knowing a bit more abt why i was wanting to and why it was so hard for me! i forget that i cant possible have already faced ALL of my triggers yet and that at times something may come up.. i forget that my guard should always be up, thank gawd for this reminder!

You need to be prepared for these periodic fluctuations in number of smoking thoughts. Not because of the terrible threes, just because you need to be prepared everyday that there might be moments where there is a desire for a cigarette. It is a matter of always keeping your guard up, and remembering that not smoking is important everyday.
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Joined: December 19th, 2008, 12:00 am

April 14th, 2001, 5:28 am #10

Well, sheech, where have I been. Musta' had my head in the inter-gallactic bit bucket!! I don't know how I missed this message! Sounds so-o-o familiar! You did a much better job, though. Thanks for thinking of me. I have my list updated, and a battle plan at hand. I was one of those quitters who got caught in one of those 3's!!! Three weeks, lost focus, was complacent---then pow!!! And, I do remember from posts here, now that I think about it, alot of bad stuff did happen at the 3 marks! For-warned is for-armed for-ever! Thanks again, Joel for all of the wonderful things you do for us and the tremendous amount of your time you so selflessly give to help us stay healthy, strong, and quit. One Day at a time-- Never taking another puff...Hugs, Mari
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Joined: January 7th, 2009, 7:20 pm

April 14th, 2001, 11:21 am #11

Never really thought of this before, but it could be at least part of why I've been so bummed lately, having a really tough time not picking up my hubby's cigarettes. Have some painful anniversaries coming up soon (death of loved ones) and I've never experienced it "smober." I know I'll be okay, just need to stay focused on the fact that I'm a former smoker and cigarettes hold not much but death for me. Hope this made some sense. ~CC~ 92 days nicotine-free.
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Joined: December 18th, 2008, 11:57 pm

June 7th, 2001, 10:12 pm #12

I saw where someone just wrote that her fourth day was the worst. Pyshcologically there is a lot of individual variation to when the concept of not smoking can strike a person. But on a physical level, the intensity of the withdrawals will normally ease up significantly by the third day, if not before that point. So no one in their fourth day or beyond should panic thinking that today is now going to be the worst. If you keep your motivation and ammunition high of why you don't want to be a full-fledged smoker, you will ride out the triggers with a sense of gratitude as opposed to a sense of dread or regret. Stay focused on the fact that you are fighting for your health, life, happiness and Freedom. To stay victorious in your fight always remember to never take another puff!

Joel
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Joined: December 18th, 2008, 11:57 pm

June 16th, 2001, 7:19 pm #13

For Bobby Bull. Not that your wuestion was about the "three" phenomena, but a lot of the material in this string addresses the trigger circumstances and the effect that they can have on our overall mood.
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Joined: December 18th, 2008, 11:57 pm

June 28th, 2001, 10:48 am #14

For Dida:

Also check the link two responses up on "the miserable three's"
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Joined: December 19th, 2008, 12:00 am

July 23rd, 2001, 11:10 pm #15

Thanks Joel,
After posting, I found this thread...and it does help make sense of the way I've been feeling this week...I will get through this to....Thanks...Kim
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Joined: December 18th, 2008, 11:57 pm

July 30th, 2001, 7:01 pm #16

For Kelli:

Even though your quit is at five months, not three, the concepts in here can still apply. After all, the three month issue is not physical needs but psychological triggers and they can in fact happen at any time. But the way to deal with these thoughts is the same at five months as it was on your first day. Focus on why you quit, why you don't want to be a full-fledged smoker again and why you don't want to go through quitting again, especially understanding that next time you may not pull off the quit.

As far as why is it happening now, you said that you were facing recent stresses that were just starting to ease up. That may be the experience triggering it. When first encountering the stress, you may have pulled up your ammunition and strengthened your resolve, you knew at the moment you needed it. You were probably working hard at keeping up your guard. Then as soon as things eased up, you may have dropped your guard, thought you were secure now and should not even think of smoking. That is when the thoughts get you, just when you think they won't. You get over a crisis, you think to yourself, "Wow, I got through that without smoking," you think it should be easy now and then all of a sudden the follow-up thought is, "Boy, do I deserve a cigarette for that!" It really does happen that way for many people.

Again, keep focused on what you have accomplished here. You've done great. But also recognize one puff can negate everything you have gone through in the last five months. You have a lot of time, effort, some early pain invested in this quit. I don't care how good or bad a cigarette may be, it is not going to be worth losing all you have accomplished. Continue to consider smoking in its entirety and your obvious choice will always remain to never take another puff!

Joel
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Joined: December 18th, 2008, 11:57 pm

August 28th, 2001, 1:10 am #17

For a friend who is off 6 months and wondering what may be happening. Some of the same issues of seasonal vatiations may come into play at 6 months as the three months discussed here.
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Joined: December 18th, 2008, 11:57 pm

August 31st, 2001, 8:23 pm #18

I brought this one up not because of the three's but because of the seasonal changes discussed here. Some changes are weather contigent, others are tied to our personal routines that sometimes start to vary because of time of year. This weekend is one of those times where the summer routines are shifted to fall activities. Triggers may come but they will go, just by surviving through them one at a time always staying focused that no matter what thoughts are triggered, and actively using nicotine addiction won't be triggered as long as you never take another puff!

Joel
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Joined: December 18th, 2008, 11:59 pm

September 20th, 2001, 11:39 am #19

I just had to comment that I soon will be reaching my 3 month mark and I remembered reading this thread at the beginning of my quit and kept it at the back of my mind to reread this one when I reached this stage. It is really bizarre to have to learn how to do things without that nasty old cig (because we're reaching a new season of the year) but am thankful to have learned what to do about it. If I never came here and became educated, I would assume that my junkie thoughts would have taken over by now. I must be honest, that lately I have been thinking alot about cigs, but maybe this is wierd, but I find that if I can be with a smoker while he smokes, that makes my urges go away?? Is this a little strange or what? Also, I've been eating ALOT of carrots again. I know that I will not light up but I've been THINKING "URGE" lately. I will always hear in my mind to never take another puff!! We are addicts and will be on probation for the rest of our life. Thanks again, FREEDOM!!!! Treese @ 2months, 3weeks, 4days and COUNTING!!!!!!!!!!!!
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Joined: December 18th, 2008, 11:57 pm

September 20th, 2001, 9:15 pm #20

Hello Treese:

Your experience of in a sense squelching your desire by watching smokers smoke is not strange at all. It is one of my most strongly recommended pieces of advice. When you are alone thinking about a cigarette, you are fantasizing. You are not even seeing the smoke or really smelling the smoke, you are recalling the sensation of fixes from the past. But when you see a person smoking, you get to witness the real look. The smoke, the smell the real way the smoker appears as he or she is sucking in his or her face desperately trying to elevate nicotine levels to ease up the withdrawal you know he or she is feeling. Then if on top of this you visualize the smoke that isn't coming out and the processes that are happening throughout the poor smokers body, it can reinforce youw own desire to stay smoke free. It will get to the point that you view these people with pity as opposed to viewing them with any form of envy. They are not in an enviable position in any way, shape of form. To stay happily on the side you are on now, an ex-smoker in control of your addiction--simply remember to never take another puff!

Joel

P.S. Go read the thread, "watching others smoke," I think you will appreciate it.
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Joined: December 18th, 2008, 11:59 pm

September 29th, 2001, 10:18 am #21

Thanks Joel. That string really puts things in perspective. Don't ask for one, just take them all back...thanks again for another lesson learned!! I will never take another puff. I AM feeling better everyday. I am sooo proud to make it this far. I've never done this before. this is the first time that I've quit long enough to actually feel some benefits. Treese
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Joined: December 18th, 2008, 11:57 pm

October 15th, 2001, 5:11 pm #22

I saw where a couple of our 9 months quitters were all of a sudden noticing a renewed frequency of smoking thoughts, and it is more than likely a result of new triggers being experienced by the seasonal variations discussed here. These times will pass and not happen much next year under the seasonal changes as long as you keep remembering this year to never take another puff!

Joel
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Joined: December 18th, 2008, 11:57 pm

January 15th, 2002, 11:13 pm #23

For Illbe40 as well as all of our New Year Quitters.



Don't worry about the third week issue. If you keep your resolve reinforced and your reasons for quitting strong, there is nothing particularly inherently risky about the third week. The fact is the third week poses no risk of relapse as long as you remember to get through day 15 to 21 staying focused on your on your commitment to never take another puff!



Joel
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Joined: December 18th, 2008, 11:57 pm

March 21st, 2002, 6:39 pm #24

Being that we are just entering a new season, I thought I would bring this one up again to explain the triggers that can be encountered and the temporary increase in smoking thoughts that may accompany seasonal variations of activities. Although I don't think there is any big risk here in the Midwest of America of springtime smoking thought--we are supposed to get snow today.

Rain or shine, hot or cold, day or night, life is possible and better as long as you know to never take another puff!

Joel
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Joined: December 18th, 2008, 11:57 pm

April 12th, 2002, 5:41 pm #25

With a few people turning bronze thought I had better bring this one up too. Also for my mid-western United States people who finally had a spring like day yesterday. The new outdoor activities and change of clothing can easily be triggering old smoking thought. No one should panic by these thoughts for trigger will never cause a relapse as long as you always remember that even though there will be thoughts--they will pass and your quit will stay secure as long as you always know to never take another puff!

Joel.
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