I really want to keep Shabbat but I'm finding it very difficult. I'm a smoker, so that's a big hurdle, and not answering the phone or turning on lights is also tough. Any tips?
Like with anything else in life, it is so important to proceed step by step. We cannot begin lifting heavy weights if we have never exercised with weights, we would just damage our muscles and hurt ourselves. The same is true on a spiritual level, we cannot begin doing it "all at once" because we risk falling back and becoming depressed when our unrealistic goals haven't been realized.
I would suggest a two-pronged approach:
Firstly, set aside a specific time during Shabbat when you will fully observe all the Shabbat rules. Perhaps an hour or two while the candles are burning brightly Friday night. During this time, make sure you don't turn on the lights, answer the phone, smoke, etc. It's just an hour or two, you should manage... During this time, make sure to enjoy and take in the beauty and holiness of the Shabbat—eat a special dinner with family and friends, recite the special blessings or prayers, sing the special Shabbat songs—go all out to really allow yourself to fully experience its beauty. In all likelihood you will be so busy enjoying the beauty of the Shabbat, you won't have the time to even notice that anything else is missing.
Secondly, from the get-go, choose specific things that you will not do the entire Shabbat. For example, set up electronic timers to automatically turn off and on the lights in your home—so that you won't need to turn off/on any lights. Choose a few of these things that you will observe the entire Shabbat.
Try to grow in either of these two areas from week to week—by either increasing the amount of time you keep Shabbat fully, or by increasing the list of things that you won't do on Shabbat.
But equally important is to make sure you include in your day the special parts of Shabbat, those holy moments and special prayers and reflection. Do you have a Chabad House near you? That's really one of the best ways to experience and enjoy a really beautiful Shabbat!
Chana Weisberg for Chabad.org