don’t limit yourself

Things got too busy for me to blog anymore, that’s what I told myself. But actually I think that mostly I ran out of juice. I built an ambition to write a lot of posts, to write regularly, but I found that much of what I was planning to post just didn’t matter that much. Plus I was busy. Really really busy. Maybe if I start posting on this blog some more I’ll bring you up to date with what I’ve been doing. There’s been some good things happening. Anyway, its midnight, two nights after Christmas, and I had a revelation that I wanted to get down, more as a matter of capturing it, than sharing it, though as a consequence of capturing the thought, sharing it is fine too.

I was thinking about my perceived lack of success in life. Thinking about how I’ve struggled financially more than I ever expected to, struggled in career, spent all my life interested in music, but never really got any good at an instrument. Not like the guys you’ll meet at a party who can just pick up a guitar and play … music. How I don’t even feel like I’m that smart anymore, struggle when talking to people … I used to define my own persona in terms of my intelligence, or my perceived intelligence … What happened to that young guy that was so full of potential? Life came and delivered its knocks, but I didn’t receive any more than average.

And I was sitting up there in the lounge room thinking about it … and it hit me – I limited myself. I’m not sure what happened that made me do it, but when the knocks came I let them sink in, do lasting damage. I let them convince me I was no good. And its rubbish. Its simply not true – but I’ve let it limit my horizons. One of the things I think you need to do in order to get a clear view of your horizons … is to clear away all that crap. I’m gonna try and apply some thought to this, over the next few days. It has been a good journey, over the past 18 months. I’m still off the smokes. Still cycling, despite setbacks with shoulder etc. The band is still rocking, I’m doing well at Uni, still tutoring etc. And my kids are going great. Yeah, its been a good path and it has seen some good outcomes. But despite all that I still feel like the limited person I felt like 2 years ago.

I think this could be the next part of the journey … maybe. Unlimiting. How do you do it? I guess it starts with a revelation … but what comes after that? How do you progress it? How do you undo the damage inflicted by a lifetime of self-limiting? Just stop believing it and start behaving instead, as though you’re not limited? Maybe there’s more to it than that … Hopefully I’ll do some thinking and let you know what I come up with.

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how to quit smoking

Today; July 5, 2012, is exactly one year since I smoked my last cigarette. It’s safe to say that this attempt to quit has succeeded and I will not be going back to my old habit, but like most smokers who manage to beat the habit, I had a number of unsuccessful attempts before this final, successful one. Over the past year I’ve reflected on why the most recent attempt worked and what made it different from those previous attempts. That’s what I want to talk about in this post. If you’re a smoker and want to quit, read on. I’m writing this post in the sincere hope it will help you to a successful quit, because if you are a smoker, quitting is one of the very best things you can do for yourself.

You may be expecting me to talk about the array of products and medications in the marketplace that promise to make quitting easier. I’ve tried some of these during earlier, unsuccessful quit attempts. On this last, successful attempt I didn’t use anything. My personal view is that these products are marketed to people who have not built up the level of resolve they really need for the quit to succeed. When I think about people I’ve known that used products and medications in their quit attempt, I’m generally thinking about people that were back to their habit within a few weeks. My own experience is that these things provide a crutch. Eventually the time comes when you need to throw that crutch away, and that can be almost as traumatic as quitting smoking in the first place.

However, there may be a product that will work for you and it may be worth your while talking to a doctor to see if they recommend something. All I can do here is document what worked for me, so let’s take a look at what did work:

preparing to quit:

Any successful quit is based on a number of factors. Primary among these is how strong your desire is to quit. For most people quitting is hard and it’s going to test your resolve. For this thing to work you need to really want it. You need to spend some time thinking about and listing the reasons you want to quit. Articulating these reasons will help build your resolve. It will also serve as a handy reference to remind you why this thing is important to you during those moments when your will-power is wavering. Save the list somewhere you can easily access. If you need to, spend a few days thinking about this list and building it. If you’re having trouble coming up with reasons to quit, do some research on the web; Google reasons to quit smoking and see what comes up (though if you need Google’s help to think of reasons to quit it may not be time for you yet). If you want to know why I quit smoking, you might like to read this post from one month ago.

When you quit, the first few days are mainly just a matter of getting through each day one at a time. If you can get through day one, day two will be a little easier; day three will be easier than day two, day four will be easier still. But though each day is easier than the one before, none of these early days will actually be easy. To optimise conditions and give yourself the best chance of getting through those difficult first days you need to do some preparation. The following things will make your resolve waver. Do some planning before your quit to make sure these things are either minimised or absent from your life during the start of your quit:

  1. Cigarettes (including any left over by you. Any that people you live with, or work with may have – etc) The one thing you don’t need to be reminded about in those first days – is cigarettes. If you see them you’ll be reminded that you can’t have them and this will make you even more miserable than you already are. Ones that are actually available to you will present a horrible temptation. Don’t torture yourself any more than you need to. If there are any smokes left in the packet when you quit, throw them away. If there are people in your life that smoke, ask them not to do it around you, and not to leave their cigarettes where you will see them, or where you can find them.
  2. Smoking paraphernalia including ash trays, lighters etc; anything that will remind you about smoking.
  3. Alcohol – the most dangerous time for a relapse is when you are intoxicated. Your resolve will practically evaporate. For the first few weeks try and avoid any situation where you may become intoxicated – even after a few months you may find yourself veering dangerously toward having a smoke when you’ve imbibed a few wines, and you need to plan for this eventuality (see below).
  4. Situations where you usually smoke – eg, do you usually smoke in the car? Do you usually smoke during morning tea with a group of people at work? Do you smoke when using your computer at night? Identify the situations where you usually smoke and think about ways to avoid them. As an example; if you usually smoke at your computer, try moving it to a part of the house where smoking is not accepted.
  5. Other smokers. You’re probably used to hanging out with other smokers. Most smokers belong to a tribe, especially these days when they are shunned by the non-smoking majority. Sadly, unless these folk either stop smoking around you, or take your lead and quit too, you’re going to need to find a new tribe. After a month or two you might be able to face hanging out in congregations of smokers, but for the time-being I advise you to avoid them.

If you plan to minimise your exposure to the above factors, you should also plan to replace them with something. Plan to have something to replace the cigarettes with, but try and make it something healthy. Water is good – yes I’m serious, you might be surprised. It’s not uncommon for people to get in a big supply of mints for those first few days, or take chopped-up carrots etc to work. Whatever works for you.

If you can’t avoid being in social situations where people will be drinking alcohol, plan to have something special, delicious, healthy and non-alcoholic for yourself. Here’s over 700 non-alcoholic drink recipes.

If you are able to avoid situations where you would normally smoke, plan to replace them with something else. For example; instead of driving to work, try the bus or the train (or better still, a bike); instead of going to morning tea with your old smoking friends, walk up the road and buy yourself a nice cup of coffee. If this is lonely, find someone to go with you; instead of that after-dinner cigarette on the porch, take a walk round the neighbourhood with your partner or children. The point is to avoid being idle. Empty, idle moments where you used to smoke need to be filled with something positive and enjoyable, and they are more likely to be filled with something positive and enjoyable if you do some planning around this prior to the quit. Did you notice how I underlined the word “Plan” several times above? That’s because you are much more likely to have something to fill the gaps left by smoking, if you think about, and plan for it prior to the actual quit.

a few other things that might help:

Tell family, friends and colleagues that you are going to quit. This will create a network of reinforcement. People that know you are quitting will often ask how your quit is going and provide great positive reinforcement. If you know anyone that has successfully kicked the habit, talk to them about what you plan to do. You might find they become very valuable members of your reinforcement network.

Find out and save for reference the list of health improvements that will happen to you during your first twelve months of quitting. Also, make calendar reminders of your major milestones (1 week, 2 weeks, 1 month, 2 months, 6 months, etc).

You might like to visit one of the online quit coaches, or a quit forum. Some people find the reinforcement from these very helpful. I didn’t actually use either this time around, but I have read some very inspiring stuff in some of the quit forums.

when you quit:

When things get too tense during those first days, try going out for a walk to work off the stress. Tell your boss about this if you need to. Most people around you will be supportive of your attempt to quit. Even though you may feel like hell on those first two or three days, I don’t recommend taking time off work and staying home. You need to be as occupied as you can be.

Day one is hard. If you find yourself obsessively thinking about smoking all day, that’s perfectly normal. You’re giving up an addiction and it isn’t easy. This day is the hardest one. Just try and get through it. When strong cravings come, don’t give in to them. Wait until they are over. It should only take a couple of minutes until the strong craving has diminished and you can get back to what you’re doing. It may help to go to bed (and sleep) earlier than usual on those first few days because time spent sleeping is time spent freeing yourself of your addiction, without going crazy with cravings.

Every day without a cigarette is your friend. If you can get one under your belt, congratulate yourself. You’re a champion! Now that you’ve done it once you can do it again. Once you’ve got two days under your belt you should be starting to realise just how strong you are and what you are capable of. Just work through those days, one at a time, and don’t smoke. Once you’ve got through a week without cigarettes there’s no stopping you.

When you’re walking, notice how much easier you are breathing. If your nostrils are blocked, buy some decongestant spray and use it, then go for a walk and breathe vigorously, inhaling big, oxygen-rich lung fulls of air. Notice how great it feels to be able to breathe well, and remember this is only going to get better.

Keep a tally of how much you are saving by not buying cigarettes. If you like you can create an Excel spreadsheet that will show you how much you’ve saved at a glance. If you place the date you quit smoking into cell: A1, then place the following formula into another cell, it will show you how much you have saved (make sure the cell is formatted to currency): =(NOW() – A1) * the daily amount you usually spend on cigarettes.

With what you save by not smoking, buy yourself a gift – you deserve it. You’ve been through a difficult trial and you came through! Congratulations! Now reward yourself. As well as some great CDs and books, I bought myself supplements to the new, healthier life-choices I’d taken up to replace smoking, like a portable MP3 player and some decent sneakers to help me get out and walk (and eventually run).

Don’t think it’s OK to have one cigarette. One cigarette leads to another cigarette. It’s inevitable. You might as well trust me on this because I’m right. I’ve seen it happen so many times to myself and other people, and you are no different. I don’t care if six months have gone by since your last smoke – You are now a non-smoker and it is never going to be OK for you to have another cigarette. NEVER!

Finally, I just want to briefly address about this thing some people talk about, called will-power. You may have failed a previous attempt to quit, or you may have wanted to quit for some time but never actually tried it, and you might have blamed your weak will-power for letting you down. Let’s just be honest with ourselves right now and agree that weak will-power is a cop-out. To avoid blaming yourself, you invented this thing called a weak will-power to blame your failure on. As though the failure wasn’t quite your fault, but rather, the fault of your weak will-power; as though the will-power is an actual thing. It isn’t.  People that successfully quit smoking are people that want to quit smoking. Plenty of people have successfully quit – millions in fact – and they don’t all have stronger will-power than you. If you want it enough, like them, you’ll do it.

Well, that pretty much sums-up what I did to quit smoking. None of it is rocket science and none of it is miraculous. It’s all simple and it’s common-sense really. I guess my main message to you is that there isn’t any completely easy method of quitting; not that I’ve heard of anyway. It’s an addiction, and addictions are hard to break, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be too hard for you. You just need to accept that you’ve got a few tough days ahead. But you can, and will get through them; and once you do, all the benefits of a fantastic new life will start to open up for you.

Good Luck!

crtitique of an angry old polemic

Looking back over a previous blog I abandoned in mid-2007, and cringing over the quality of most of the posts there – I came across the following angry polemic on advertising and consumer society and I’ve decided to re-post it here because, apart from its rather heavy-handed ideological zealotry, and in contrast to the other posts from that period, this one doesn’t suck all that badly. I still agree with much of what I said back in this particular post … and further; in the context of my present blog, I think the ideas in this post present a catalyst for assessing what is really important to you and aiming for that thing. Promoting that kind of re-evaluation is reason enough to publish this post here. So prepare to briefly cast off the comforting blanket of positivism you’ll usually find on this blog and enjoy this short journey into my dystopian sociological musings of five years ago:

Manufacturing Discontent

In the meaningless wilderness of modern existence, there are few evils at large in the world quite so evil as advertising. As the agent most chiefly responsible for diverting us from the otherwise fulfilled lives we could be leading, and enticing us instead with the promise that we could be happy if only we bought a better car than our neighbour, drank a cooler brand of soft drink than the losers, or had marginally whiter teeth than we currently do, advertising is the enemy of contentment and the most potent instrument of control ever devised.

But advertising hasn’t always been the mendacious, mind-control drug we know today. Advertising can trace its history to a simpler, more honest ancestor that served a far less evil purpose.

In the case of the semi-mythical American lemonade stand, if the sign announced lemonade for 25c, the customer could reasonably expect to get a cup of lemonade for 25c. The sign didn’t exist to convince us that we needed a cup of lemonade. The kid knew the lemonade would generate a desire-to-buy based on its own merits. That’s why he was selling lemonade as opposed to, say, leeches or doses of bubonic plague.

Advertising originally existed more-or-less to inform consumers about what a product did, and what it cost. Simple classifieds first emerged in seventeenth century newspapers as a fairly straightforward description of a product or service, and a price, and advertising remained in this fairly honest form for a few hundred years, but in the early 20th century something came along that changed the face of advertising forever. The two world wars happened at a time when technology was able to provide generals and politicians with a brand new weapon, which they didn’t hesitate to harness in the cause of their war-efforts.

Wartime propaganda took advertising for the first time, above and beyond the realm of the honest. Truth has (as the saying informs us) always been the first casualty of war, but never before had the means existed to twist and subvert the truth and broadcast it so effectively, and so frequently, to so many people.

Postwar advertisers did not ignore the lessons of the wartime propagandists. As keen students of the psychological games employed by the various propaganda departments of Hitler, Churchill, Stalin, Roosevelt and the rest; modern advertisers became scientists, utilising market research techniques to convert products into icons.

The advertising man of the Brave New World (at least from the 1950’s onward) had at his disposal two exciting new innovations that would provide never-before-seen opportunities for truth-twisting. One was the burgeoning consumer society; the flooding of the market-place with a never-ending catalogue of must-have items, which commenced in America and spread in short order to the rest of the capitalist world. The second great innovation was television, a technology that provided advertisers with unparalleled access to the conscious and subconscious minds of the consuming public. Technology gave the advertiser both an unending supply of new commodities to sell, and also the most powerful means yet devised to brainwash people into buying them.

It became the job of advertising to create need in the mind of the consumer. And the two-pronged approach to this was to:

  1. Constantly create new commodities that people could be convinced they needed, and;
  2. Build obsolescence into these products so it would never be too long before a replacement had to be purchased.

This whole system underscores the way of life for most people in modern societies. It provides us with our self image, a stereotype to conform to, the illusion of happiness, a reason for being, and most importantly, a reason to buckle down and continue contributing to the capitalist economic machine.

It might seem from the above analysis that I’m suggesting advertising has displaced true meaning from our lives and replaced it instead with a shallow facsimile of meaning, but imagine what our lives would be like if the system was suddenly shut down? Imagine if we all reached a point where we discovered that the commodities in our lives are adequate. That we don’t need a better kind of car, soft drink or toothbrush. Imagine if the advertisers didn’t have anyone to convince any more. If the products stopped changing every week and the adverts just disappeared. Imagine a whole generation of individuals opening their eyes for the first time, thinking for themselves and having to find something real to replace the vanished pseudo-meaning once provided by the products and the advertising.

Back when this post was written, the alternative I posited to the consumer-based lifestyle, was a kind of utopian dismantling of the system; a social revolution, which doesn’t seem very realistic to me now. These days I see a real alternative, based on the individual making a decision to distance themselves from the machine; no-longer allowing it to determine their life-direction, and aiming instead for a life more of their own devising. This is about personal revolution, rather than social revolution.

Despite my reassessment of the solution, when I read back over the above post, the main gist of it still seems pretty solid to me. Advertising does present us with life goals that are fundamentally meaningless and convinces us, en-masse, to dedicate vast amounts of our energy to the pursuit of these meaningless goals; the things we are told we need. I feel that in every life it’s worthwhile occasionally taking the time to weigh up what’s motivating us to travel in the direction we’re going – to really think about it, and try to determine if the life goals we’re currently pursuing represent what we really want. If they don’t, and we decided to stop pursuing these meaningless goals, imagine how much more energy would be freed up to dedicate to the pursuit of outcomes that actually are meaningful to us.

tips for new cyclists: have the gear you need

If you’ve read much of my stuff, you may know I’m an advocate of spending less; of thinking about what we can avoid buying. Part of the reason for taking up cycling for me was to avoid a lot of car-related costs. But if your bike is going to replace your car as a means of getting you to and from work, there is some stuff you’re going to have to get in order make the ride safe and comfortable and to keep your bike working. In this post I’ve categorised this stuff across three priority areas. Must Have stuff is the stuff you need – no questions asked – before you set out. Get As Soon As You Can is the stuff you may get away with not having when you start out, but you should probably think about getting hold of within the first week or two, and finally, Nice To Have stuff is – stuff you can probably do without if you really need to, but it would be better if you didn’t have to. The list assumes you already have your basic bike, and it’s in reasonable working order. Where I have any special advice concerning brands, I’ve added it. Where I mention prices they’re in Australian dollars. Experienced commuting cyclists may disagree with my category placements – and that’s fine. Please feel free to add to the post by replying.

The Must-Have Stuff

1. Shoes: It goes without saying that if your bike has pedals designed for cleats (strongly recommended), then you’re going to need shoes that fit them. My advice would be to only buy online if you’ve first been fitted in person and know your size. Don’t guess on size. Also, once you get the shoes, bear in mind the position of the cleats on them is adjustable. Have a ride and see if the cleats need to be adjusted. I like to have my cleats right under the ball of my feet, and to my surprise I had to adjust my two shoes differently to make this happen (I guess my feet are slightly different sizes).

2. Inner Tubes x 2: One day you’re going to need to replace an inner-tube. There’s no telling when this is going to happen, but it definitely is going to happen. For me I had the good fortune of riding my regular route for 3-months before the fateful day came. But that day could just as easily come tomorrow. When it comes, you could conceivably find yourself needing to replace two inner-tubes (you have two tyres right?). Inner-tubes come in different sizes. Your tubes need to be the right size to fit your wheels. A good way to ensure you’re getting the right size tubes (at least the first time you buy them) is to take your bike, or at least the wheel, into a bike shop.

3. Tyre Levers x 2 (or 3): These are cheap little tools necessary for changing inner tubes. You need at least two. The first pair I bought were plastic and broke the first time I used them … at night … in the rain. I recommend the Lezyne alloy ones which, at around $20 a pair, are more expensive than the nasty plastic ones, but – well you don’t want your tyre levers to break … at night … in the rain. Trust me on this.

4. A Pump: A little one you can carry with you on the bike. It won’t get your tyres up to optimal pressure, for that you will need a workshop pump (see below), but this one will get you out of trouble when you’re on the road and you need to replace a flat. When you buy your pump you’ll probably want to get one with a clip that attaches to your bike. Make sure the pump has a fitting that works on the kind of valves your inner-tubes have. There are two popular types of valve: the more traditional Schrader and the more recent, and narrower Presta.

5. Lights: Front and Back. If you’re going to ride at night, or in reduced light, you can’t do without lights. A red one for the back and a white one up front. These are sometimes also worn on the helmet. There are a wide range of back lights, usually at around the $20 mark. They run on one or two AA or AAA batteries, are usually supplied with a clip that attaches to your seat post, and are generally equipped with 3 settings (on, off and blinking). Most riders I see use the blinking setting. The point of the rear light is to get you seen – I guess most riders think, if it’s blinking, people are more likely to notice it.

The headlight is a vastly different animal to the back one. For starters, you need to know what function the headlight is going to serve. Headlights can be designed to either get you noticed or to actually illuminate the road in front of you. The varying factor is the brightness. This is measured in units known as Lumens, which in the world of headlight advertising, seems to be a pretty flexible unit – ie; it seems possible for two different 700 lumen units to vary widely in brightness when actually switched on. Your decision on the kind of headlight you get will be based on how dark it is when you ride and how well-lit the areas you ride through are. If you’re riding at night and any part of your route is not well-illuminated by street lights, you’ll need a bright headlight that lets you see what’s in front of you. If, on the other hand, your ride only takes you through well-lit areas, you might get away with a weaker light that just aims to get you seen. Prices vary enormously. A weak headlight that runs on disposable batteries can be bought from a department store for maybe as low as $40. My light (a Cygolight Triden) cost $300, is pretty bright (750 lumens), and has a separate rechargeable battery. If you need a headlight that will actually illuminate the road, you can end up spending some pretty serious money. Be warned!

6. A Helmet: This is a no-brainer. You can’t ride without one. You can pay a stupid amount of money for these – but to my mind, whether they cost $30 or $300, they’re basically the same thing; a piece of molded polystyrene with straps to hold it on.

7. A Bell: Negligible cost, but an absolute must-have. This is how you let pedestrians know you’re coming up behind during those times you’re sharing the footpath with them (ie; when it is a shared footpath/bikeway). Also very useful when approaching blind corners. I use mine everyday. On a price:usefulness ratio this would have to be the most useful bit of gear on my bike.

8. A Lock: Again there is a variety of these. I have two. One for work and one for home. This saves me from having to carry a lock with me every trip. Why do I lock my bike up at home? Well, it’s possible for someone to break into my garage, and if they do, I don’t want them to be able to just walk off with my expensive bike. At home I use a Kryptonite U-Lock and at work I have a Kryptonite combination cable lock. I’m happy with both. The U-Lock is thicker and thus harder to break with chain cutters. When you lock up your bike, remember your wheels are removable, so make sure you pass the lock through your wheels and around part of the frame.

9. A Saddle Bag:You need some method of carrying your spare tubes and tyre levers around with you. Saddle bags are a popular solution. These are little bags that strap under your seat and are just the right size to carry a few little needful things. For me, since my home town can get pretty rainy, I spent a bit more and bought a water resistant, extra-large saddle bag to keep my phone dry while riding in the rain.

The Get-As-Soon-As-You-Can Stuff

1. A Chain-Cleaner and Lubricant: If you have dirt and grit in your chain it will eat away at the metal in the links until eventually one of them breaks. A broken chain is something you want to try and avoid. Unless you’re lucky enough to have your chain break near enough to a bike repair shop that you are able to walk your bike to it – a broken chain usually means calling your partner or friend and having them come and pick you and the bike up; an ignominious end to a ride. You can extend the life of your chain by keeping it clean and lubricated. I’ll cover this in detail in a future post about weekly bike maintenance, but for the purposes of this list, you should get yourself a means of cleaning your chain, including a stiff brush, or even better one of those fantastic chain-cleaning machines, and some citrus-based cleaning fluid. You also need some chain lubricant. There are a few brands available. Don’t use WD40, car engine oil or household oil. Instead, get one of the specialised bike chain lubricants from a bike shop. The advice I was given is that one drop per link is all that is needed.

2. A Floor Pump: I’ve received varying advice about the best pressure at which to keep bike tyres inflated. Generally people that like to race seem to prefer a higher pressure to those that don’t. A figure I’ve seen recommended (for a road bike) is 120psi. It is also recommended that lighter riders may require less pressure, and I’ve come across different recommendations for mountain bikes so I suggest doing your own research on this. At any rate, your little carry-on bike pump won’t tell you the pressure of the air in your tyres, nor will it enable you to achieve 120psi. For both these tasks you will need a floor pump. These are bigger, heavier, sturdier and designed to live in your garage or workshop and be regularly used to maintain your tyre pressure. This is important because tyres at a low pressure are more likely to get a puncture. Again, my upcoming post on bike maintenance will go into this in more detail, but until then check your tyres every couple of days and keep them at the recommended pressure.

3. Gloves: My hands got chafed on my very first ride so I went to a bike shop near my work and bought a pair of gloves. As with all cycling clothing, you can spend a ridiculous amount on gloves. I bought the cheapest pair in the shop (Campagnolo; an Italian brand) for $30. Since then I’ve seen cheaper ones online, but I should mention that four-months-on, my Campagnolo gloves are still holding up great. Most riders I see wear gloves, but you do see some riders that seem to manage OK without them.

4. A Bike Rack, or Some Means of Storage: See my point above about locking up your bike at home. You’re going to need something to chain it to. You may have a fence or something that will work OK for a while, but at some point you probably want to organise a proper method of storing your bike. I bought a single-bike rack, drilled bolt holes in it and dyna-bolted it to the garage floor. It was surprisingly cheap (around $40), very solid and has worked out great. Wall racks are also good and there are some good ceiling storage solutions available too. I suggest getting online or going to your local bike shop and having a look at what’s available.

5. A Water Bottle and Bracket (cage): Necessary for longer rides, especially in summer.

The Nice-to-Have Stuff

1. Knicks: While most riders I see are wearing knicks (those very attractive lycra pants with padding), I also see plenty just wearing normal shorts. I had knicks before my first trip and have actually never ridden a work commute without them, so for me I’m tempted to make them a higher priority on this list, but there are plenty of people that seem to manage OK without them. The thing with knicks is that they can cost a lot of money. and if you’re wearing them 5 days-a-week you obviously need a few pair, so you’ll need to find somewhere that sells reasonable quality knicks for a good price. The best deal I’ve found is from Cell Bikes (in Australia). Their own brand sell for $40. I have a few of these and for the price they are excellent. All but one pair of mine are Bib knicks. These are the kind with shoulder straps to keep them up and no elastic in the waist. It’s hard for me to imagine anything more comfortable to wear while riding a bike.

2. Jerseys: Bike jerseys are nice, but again, pretty expensive for what they are. I have one I was given, but I can’t justify buying them. Instead I found some t-shirts at a department store, made of the same sort of moisture-wicking material as jerseys, for about $10 each, so I bought a few and have been wearing them on my commute ever since. If you buy t-shirts to wear on your rides, a close-fit is better than a loose-fit. You don’t want fabric flapping around, catching the wind when you’re riding.

3. A Multi-Tool: You won’t own a bike for long before you start wanting to adjust things. Most bike adjustments require an Allen-key (Hex-key). You can carry around a bunch of different-size Allen keys, or you just get one of these multi-tools which are a bit like a Swiss-Army-Knife for bikes. They have every size of Allen key you’re likely to need, plus maybe a couple of screwdrivers and sometimes some other stuff too, plus it all folds up into a handy handle-thingy.

4. Arm Warmers: Essential for winter. I can get away without leg-warmers where I live (if you live in a colder climate, be aware that leg warmers are available and might be an essential bit of gear for you), but my arm-warmers make a big difference on those cold winter mornings. Arm warmers provide the advantage of saving you from having to buy long-sleeved tops for winter, by making your short-sleeved summer stuff wearable during the cold months.

5. Glasses: Desirable for two reasons – A) To stop things like dirt, bugs and rain from going in your eyes, and B) To stop the glare from low afternoon sun temporarily blinding you. I don’t have a pair, and have often wished I did. This is the next item on my list.

6. A Bike Computer: This item almost didn’t make the list as it’s pretty difficult to argue that you need a computer on your bike, but the reality is that I have one (sort of) and I like it. My bike computer is actually my phone. I have an app for it called Cyclemeter that only cost me a couple of dollars and uses the phone’s built-in GPS to capture stats about my rides. From this I know exactly how far the ride is, how long it takes me – and hence my average speed. I know changes in elevation during the ride. I know my fastest speed for each ride and I have a history of every ride I’ve done, which tells me about how my time is improving, slowly but steadily as I get more experience. None of this is essential, but it does add more interest to the whole commute experience. If you don’t have a GPS-enabled smart phone don’t despair, stand-alone bike computers are available which are, in many ways, a better option than using your phone.

Finally, this post wouldn’t be complete without briefly discussing where to get this stuff. New bike shops are popping up like mushrooms in my town. If you have any bike shops near you, you should go take a look. Compare prices, talk to other cyclists and try and get a feel for which shop offers the best value. Most bike shops also offer a workshop service which you may end up using one day. Some of the shops in my town have a reputation for providing either good or bad workshop service. Again it’s worth talking to other riders to get their view on this. Of course the alternative to brick and mortar shops is online shops. There are a few players here and in order to minimise delivery charges (and waiting) you might want to favour one based in your own country. In Australia, Cell Bikes is well known, have everything you need and are price-competitive. I’ve made a number of purchases from them and have no complaints. In the UK, Wiggle is one of the biggest players. I don’t know who you would use in the US, but I’m sure a few minutes of Googling will turn up something. I’ve also bought bike accessories from Amazon and received a good deal. If you really want to save money on your bike gear I strongly recommend spending a bit of time shopping around online. Most online bike shops allow you to subscribe, which will add you to their email list. This has to be one of the best ways to get hold of cheap gear.

Well, at nearly three-thousand words, this has been a mammoth post. Thanks for sticking with it and I hope you found something useful in there somewhere. If you’re getting hold of some new bike gear, let me know how you go. I (and millions of other cyclists) am always interested to hear about good new gear and cheap suppliers.

why to quit smoking

July 5, 2012 will mark 12 months since my last cigarette and to mark the occasion I’m preparing a post about how to quit – setting out what worked for me. But in the lead up to this momentous occasion, on this 11-month anniversary of my last smoke, I wanted to post my thoughts about why I quit – and yes, I know you already have all the reasons. Your whole life legions of smug, non-smoking puritans have been on at you to quit – why can’t they just shut the hell-up for 5 minutes and give you some Goddamn peace right? Yeah – I remember, I was there. Sharing footpaths with those good folk that go to such great lengths to make their disgust clear, crinkling their nose and forcing out a cough as they pass you. Requiring from you a guilt that you don’t even notice anymore, you’ve been nursing it for so long.

You know all the reasons you should quit. You know the health arguments back to front. You know 50% of smokers die from smoking-related causes, but still you smoke. Somehow, so far, all the good reasons for quitting haven’t been good enough to convince you to actually do it. Yet. Well here’s my own mix of reasons that caused me to quit. I’m putting them out here, partly because it’s my blog and I can write whatever the hell I want to, but mainly because someone may just read this and relate enough to what I’m saying, to pull together the resolve to quit and change their life for the better. If that happens, then these eleven hundred words will have been more than worthwhile.

The Money Factor

For me, having never been well-off, like most of us, so much comes down to the money factor. If you’ve read my earlier post on de-consuming you’ll know how much I used to spend on cigarettes. Here it is again:

25 cigarettes per day at $17 for a pack of 30
= $14 per day
= $98 per week
= $5,096 per year.

…and I smoked for 30 years. That’s $152,880 (at today’s dollar value). Is that crazy? If someone told you they were spending over five-thousand bucks-a-year on their drug habit you’d think of them as someone with a problem, right? I would. That’s a lot of great holidays my family missed out on. That’s a higher standard of dental care my family missed out on. That’s a damn-big chunk of the reason my wife and I struggled financially even though we both always had jobs. I got sick of it. Sick of being an economic victim of smoking.

The Isolation Factor

Then there’s the isolation, not only from society in general, but from your kids, family and friends. What do you say when your kids come close while you’re sneaking an intrepid smoke on your back deck or front porch? “Don’t come near me darling, you don’t want to breathe this in.” What kind of way is this to live? To have to turn your kids away when they want to be near you. Wasn’t your relationship with your kids supposed to be one of the most important things in your life? How did your drug addiction come to assume priority over that? How many times lately do you find yourself excusing yourself from the table your friends are seated at to sneak off to some dark corner so you can puff-away for five minutes? How much of your day are you wasting hanging out by yourself – away from anyone that might object – to take your drugs?

The Addiction Itself

When you’re an addict, if you are truly honest with yourself, the most important relationship in your life is the one you have with your addiction. Examine it. It seems like a good relationship. It’s comfortable. The addiction is a good, kind, giving partner. The addiction is the answer – whatever the problem. One cigarette and it’s solved. Satisfy the addiction and he makes it all better: But remove the disguise and the truth about this, most intimate partner of yours is revealed – its a terrible relationship. A relationship that makes you small and powerless. That proves to you every day that you have no will-power. That sucks out your self-esteem. The addiction is a slave-driver. A whip-cracker. It controls all the power in the relationship. You control none. You are a weakling. Every day you wake up and submit all your power to your addiction. I came to see it this way in the end. The disguise was off and I saw my addiction for the cruel bastard he is. In the end I decided I was a stronger person than the poor victim in this scenario. All I had to do was prove it to myself.

The Cold, Hard Facts of Tobacco Marketing

I started smoking at 15 because I thought it would help me be considered tough by my peers. The tough boys at my school smoked. There was a lane on the way home where they hung-out and smoked. All you had to do to be accepted as one of them was smoke.

Smoking seemed to have a lot of street-credibility. The coolest male youth icons smoked, from Marlon Brando and James Dean through to people like David Bowie, Lou Reed, the list goes on and on. The popular association of tobacco products with cult youth icons was an incredibly convenient marketing tool for tobacco companies. So I would save up the lunch money my Mum gave me, for a whole week, in order to give it to British American Tobacco in exchange for a pack of Benson and Hedges from the BP service station on my way to school.

Q: What is the best age to get new customers addicted to the drugs you sell?

A: As young as possible.

The reality of course is that the good folk behind the tobacco products we buy, and their kids, don’t smoke because they are rich and highly educated, and rich and highly educated people don’t smoke – they know better. Studies consistently reveal a direct relationship between socio-economic status and smoking. The smoking industry, in fact, purposely targets and exploits the lower socio-economic strata of society, precisely that part of society that can least afford it, because it is easier to get people from that strata addicted to drugs. So the wide-angle, objective view of this situation is that rich non-smokers are laughing at you – all the way to the bank, while you pay them for the privilege of slowly killing yourself. And the reason they’re laughing so hard is that you’re so addicted to their product, they reckon you couldn’t kick it even if you wanted to.

By the time I finally came to the decision to really quit, I was well aware of all the above. It had been a long, long time since smoking had made me feel tough. By contrast, smoking made me feel weak. Weak, vulnerable and exploited. And I didn’t like feeling that way.

Do you?

being authentic

Before you get into this let me first issue a brief warning: The following post contains advice I have no qualification to give. I haven’t done any course on being an authentic person nor have I attended any lecture on the subject or read a book about it. The only thing that qualifies me to write about this is that I have thought about it. That’s all, and in my view it’s a pretty meager justification on which to be presenting advice to strangers – so please bear this in mind when you read this post. I am presenting a theory – nothing more:

I don’t know if it’s a generalism, but it seems to be a typically Australian characteristic to be on one’s guard against people that are not authentic. We have terms like “Fair Dinkum” to denote, not only that a person is being truthful, but also whether or not they are being authentic.

What do I mean by being authentic? The kind of authentic I’m talking about has to do with being oneself; being genuine; presenting to the world a persona that is not overly contrived. It’s a slightly tough concept to pin down, but Australians are masters at it – We constantly subject each other – and non-Australians – to the authenticity test, without even being aware we are doing so. It’s a strange, obscure and maybe unfair test that people need to pass in order to be fully accepted – and probably a lot of the time people aren’t even aware they’re taking it. But the test is occurring, and passing will often determine the level of acceptance and welcome people will offer you. Am I saying Australia is a country free of inauthentic people? Certainly not. I meet them all the time. How do I know they’re inauthentic? Because I subject them to the test – subconsciously, without even thinking about it. And when I come across them (inauthentic people) there is part of myself – a quality of friendship – a particular level of social investment, that I hold back and reserve … at least until the person in question becomes more authentic. That can happen. People can become more authentic with you over time. Sometimes an initial level of inauthenticity just comes down to shyness and people can transcend it once they get to know you better, but sometimes it’s just part of the way a person operates. I’ve heard Americans refer to it as: “being a phoney”. However it’s referred to, it’s a central, primal, key part of the culture I grew up in and when I started considering making changes to my life – and when those changes started having to do with changing myself – warning lights started blinking above a red neon message that said “beware of becoming inauthentic”.

In an earlier post on consciously becoming more positive I wrote:

it is important to me, in discussing these changes, that I frame them properly in terms of my authenticity as a person. Put simply, nothing is ever going to make me want to stop being who I am. I am not in the business of becoming a less-authentic person, but I believe that making positive attitudinal change does not change who you are – it just changes how you approach life.

The metaphor that presented itself to me is that your life is like the car you’re driving. You’re at the controls and you get to decide where you’re going today and what kind of driver you’re going to be. Just because you start driving in a new direction, or with heightened care and skill, doesn’t necessarily mean the person at the controls has changed.

So it is, I think, possible to positively change the way you interact with the world without necessarily becoming less authentic – But having said that, I don’t think people who are engaged in positive life change should be complacent about their authenticity. I think when you’re pursuing the aim of living your life in a better way, it is possible to loosen your grip on the person you really are. Change can be sudden and rapid – you might find yourself pleased with your progress. But in your enthusiasm you may not notice that among the changes you have somehow left yourself behind.

The difference between changing in a positive way that retains authenticity, and changing to become less authentic, can be a fine line – but being aware of it can give you another opportunity for life-improvement/enhancement. Once you start thinking about authenticity as a factor in your life, you may be able to start consciously moving toward more authenticity in your relationships and dealings with others. You may come to feel that the persona you’ve been presenting up to now is not fully representative of who you really are – at the core. Being inauthentic is a form of lying to yourself, and I believe people sleep better at night (are more comfortable and generally at ease with themselves) when they don’t have to live with this particular lie.

So the question then becomes – how can we tell if we are becoming more or less authentic? How is it possible to identify which direction we are actually heading on that path. Here’s my view: The authentic person lies at everyone’s core. That authentic person can get surrounded by, and wrapped up in layers of inauthenticity. These layers are added throughout our lives by expectations we attach importance to. Expectations about the kind of person we think we need to be in order to succeed. Expectations people in authority may have had of us as we were growing up. Expectations we perceive our peers may have of us. Expectations we perceive the opposite (or same) sex may have of us. Expectations we think the people that control our job have about us. And most pervasively; societal expectations that are drummed into us from the day we’re born, by the television, magazines, newspapers, … the collected media machine that bombards, brainwashes and generally conditions us every day to become the compliant drones we are supposed to be. Our inauthenticity is made up of the layers we have wrapped around ourselves in response to all the expectations we perceive the world has of us. The journey to greater authenticity, and hence, to greater ease with oneself, lies in beginning to identify and strip away these layers.

How do we do this? I think the first and biggest step is to become aware of all this – to be aware of our potential to become wrapped in layers of inauthenticity. The next step has to be to somehow stop letting those expectations matter to us so much. Chances are most of them don’t really matter anyway. Chances are that trying to meet them hasn’t actually gotten you anywhere you really wanted to be in life. Or if meeting those expectations did get you where you wanted to be, maybe once you got there you found it wasn’t as great a place as you always expected it to be. Instead of trying to meet those expectations by being who you think you’re supposed to be, give being yourself a try. You might be surprised by how well it works.

When you strip away those expectations that don’t really matter, what are you left with? Only the expectations of the people that do really matter – yourself – your family – your close friends … that’s probably enough expectations for anyone to really have to care about and try to meet. So whose expectations are you performing to right now? Whose expectations are wrapping you up in layers of inauthenticity that you have to live with, and that you could do without?

tips for new cyclists: organise around your commute

This post is about some of the practical issues you have to deal with when you decide to stop using your old methods of getting to and from your workplace (car, bus, train etc) and replace them with bicycle. I’m not going to present reasons why you should come to this decision – maybe there’s an idea for a future post right there. But I guess if you’re reading this you’ve probably already made that decision, so my goal here is just to discuss some of the issues that came up for me when I made that decision, and what I did to solve them. As with any of these posts, if you have experience or bright ideas of your own that you want to add, please go ahead. It’ll make for a better post.

I guess a lot of the stuff you have to resolve is based around the issue of clothing. Most people that ride to work don’t do it in the kind of clothes they need to wear for their job. How much of an issue this is for you will depend on the kind of stuff you need to wear for your work. If you’re lucky enough to be able to work in shorts and t-shirt this isn’t going to be as big an issue as if you need to don the full business monkey-suit every day. I should point out – before I go any further, that in 4 months of cycling to work, I have seen a guy riding wearing his full office uniform of slacks, black leather shoes, business shirt and tie … once. That guy proved it’s possible, but the thousand riders I’ve seen making the trip every day wearing cycling gear indicate that it’s probably not a great idea. When I started riding to work I carried my full work outfit every day in panniers. This included heavy leather shoes and full office uniform. The one advantage I have is that polo shirts are acceptable at my work, so I didn’t have to worry about crinkling up my business shirt.

More on the clothing issue later. I also had to do something about transforming myself from the disgusting sweaty pig I am at the end of my commute, into something my colleagues would be prepared to share an office with. Fortunately my building contains a shower. But with all the crap I was already carrying in, I didn’t want to have to carry shampoo and conditioner as well, so I would have a proper shower at home before setting off, with the one at work being just a quick sweat remover. This still required me to carry in soap and a towel. Along with all my clothes, it was really a lot to have to carry in the panniers every day. Fortunately an answer was in sight.

I approached our property department, congratulated them on the lovely bike rack they had installed in the car park, and asked as nicely as possible if they would consider installing lockers. The leverage I thought I might have on this was that people are constantly complaining about the inadequate car parking at work. Not only is there bugger-all parking in the car park (unless you’re a manager), but the situation is pretty much the same on all the streets within a two kilometer radius of the building. So encouraging cycling is a way of reducing the number of workers with parking gripes. I don’t know if our property department actually saw it that way, but for whatever reason, they acquiesced to my request and ordered lockers.

plastic basketNow that we have lockers the situation is pretty optimal. All I need do at home is shave and clean my teeth. Soap, shampoo, conditioner, towel and other necessities are all kept at work, along with shoes and pants. I get in, have a proper shower and leisurely saunter to my desk, fresh, fragrant and ready for the day. To make things even more convenient I went to a dollar store and bought a little plastic basket that fits nicely inside the locker and contains all my stuff; an easy way of transporting it between locker and shower.

On Tuesdays Ally needs to be picked up from basketball practice after school. It’s the one day I actually need to drive in, so it’s on that day that I bring in replacement towels, pants and new shampoo etc. if required. What if I didn’t have to drive in on that day? Could I never drive in and still make it work? Sure. That stuff I’m replacing on Tuesdays is stuff I used to carry in every day anyway. And it doesn’t happen on school holidays either – on holidays I do ride in every day and just bring that extra stuff home on my back when I need to. It’s not a hassle.

The other four days all I need to bring is socks, undies and a shirt; a small load that fits easily in a little backpack. There are two schools of thought regarding panniers v backpack. I’ve read forums about this. Most riders I see commuting wear a backpack. As I mentioned I started out with panniers, but now prefer the backpack. Yes, it’s warmer on my back, but I like being able to just dismount, lock-up and head off to the shower and not have to unpack panniers. I like that for weekend rides, when I don’t have anything extra to carry, I don’t have that extra load of panniers on the bike. But I acknowledge the arguments in favour of panniers.

Bottom line, it’s about arranging things so that you have what you need, but carry the least each way. As I said, having a shower and lockers at work makes it pretty optimal. But what if we didn’t have lockers? Well, for my first two months of cycling in we didn’t have them, and though it certainly wasn’t as convenient as it is now, it still worked. Here’s some things I did to make it work:

  1. Use panniers: Yes – I’ve just finished telling you I don’t like to use panniers, but before we had lockers at work, I was just carrying in too much stuff to comfortably fit it all in a backpack – panniers were a necessity. Now I need to explain – if you don’t know Brisbane, we can get some pretty heavy rainstorms in summer, and I quickly discovered my panniers weren’t waterproof – getting to work and having nothing but rain-drenched clothes to change into isn’t such a terrific idea. I needed something waterproof that would go inside the panniers to protect the clothes. I went to a bag shop and found the perfect solution. These zippered garment bags are from a company called Korjo. They are sold as a pair, fit perfectly in my panniers, were robust enough to survive two months of everyday use, and cost me under $10.
  2. Keep my pants presentable through daily transport by rolling rather than folding them: This is just a packing technique that a lot of people that travel frequently use to keep their gear relatively wrinkle free. If you don’t know how to roll clothes for packing, do some Googling – it works!
  3. Pack a kid’s towel. You’re not washing your hair, so don’t wet it in the shower. Without wet hair to worry about, a tiny little kid’s towel is adequate to dry you off and will take up half the space of a full-sized towel.
  4. Use a small container of deodorant: You might be accustomed – like I was – to using one of those big aerosol deodorant cans. Well, the time to change to one of the smaller varieties has finally arrived in your life.

Oh – and a practical issue I haven’t yet addressed: Whether or not you have lockers you still need somewhere to hang up your gross riding gear and towel during the day to let it dry-off. Most office workers can’t have that kind of stuff hanging all round their desk – what are you going to do? Well, you’re going to have to think this one through and come up with some kind of solution appropriate to your own workplace. I just drape my stuff all over my bike. Eight hours is plenty of time for it to dry out. I read about one person that hangs it all up near the fans in the server room – it’s well ventilated and no-one goes in there; a pretty perfect solution. If you have somewhere other than your bike where you’re going to hang your gear to air, you may want to think about taking in some clothes hangers.

What about if you don’t have a shower in your work building? First off – are you sure you don’t have a shower anywhere in your building? Maybe there’s one on a different floor than the one you work on. You could go for an explore and make sure this option truly doesn’t exist before you rule it out. Can you depend instead on just sponging yourself down at a sink? Is that going to do the job? For myself I don’t think so, but again, I have read a forum where someone said this is precisely what they do. Maybe this can work for you. If not, is there a fitness club near your building that has showers? If there is, maybe you can talk your company into coming to an arrangement with the club on behalf of yourself and the other valuable employees that cycle in, that would enable you to use their showers.

The logistics around transferring the commute to bicycle were a challenge for me, but not an unpleasant one. There’s pretty much a solution to every problem you’re going to come across, you just may need to do some thinking and exploring to find it – but I guess that’s all part of the fun of trying something new.