Monday, November 12, 2012

Boom Ba-Da Boom Tish

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Dissolution of a Decade of Destruction - Part 1

One year ago today, I quit smoking.

This was the end of a habit that lasted for 10 years, and since I've relapsed in the past, weeks or months after previous attempts, I haven't dared announce this until one year after I have stopped.

Today, I celebrate with some relief and much joy, having not smoked any cigarettes since this day last year.

I am filled with pride over this achievement for I remember how much I craved breathing those tendrils of white puffy clouds. It was a feat to overcome that monumental addiction, and my life has only changed for the better since.

The journey has been long. It has been full of contemplation, search for knowledge, discovery of the self and application of the will. I am putting down some of the thoughts I've had, and I hope that I have grown in wisdom for having undertaken this journey.

Starting out

I was 17, turning 18. I didn't have any friends that smoked so I didn't have any peer pressure to join in. One of my brothers smoked but he never encouraged me and never smoked around me. I went and bought my first ever pack of cigarettes because I felt depressed, moody and a little suicidal.

It was a $1.70 pack of Salem which had 6 or 8 sticks in a small box.

I felt that I was going to slowly slit my wrists and that it was what I deserved because I was worthless and ought not to live. Then I took my first drag and magic happened. I stopped feeling unhappy. I started to feel cool... not cool in a fashionable sense, but cool in a way that was... collected. calm. flat-lined. Things felt... manageable.

Little did I know then, that this was the psychotropic effects of Nicotine at work. And by not knowing, I perceived it through my own ignorance and began to rationalize that it was good. I felt that my problems weren't so distressing after a smoke, and it was a balancing force that helped me gain mastery over the hurdles of everyday life I constantly faced.

It was a drug I threw myself headlong into and savored. I moved on to Marlboro lights, Sampoerna, Marlboro reds, rollies, you name it. I hit it off straight away with other smokers, it was a wonderful social lubricant and enjoyed every drag down to the bud.

Understanding Nicotine

Somewhere in the third year of Polytechnic, I was probably about 21, I was caught for smoking on campus in one of the stair wells in the School of Design in Temasek Poly. Apart from a $50 fine, I had to attend an hour long "Smoking Cessation Clinic" or I'd be suspended from classes.

I dragged myself to the counselor's office when the day came, expecting the same death threats I've seen from anti-smoking campaigns with much dread and surliness. What happened was something that lit a spark in my mind because if there was something I couldn't resist more than smoking cigarettes, it was learning something new.

I don't remember her name, or even her face, but I'll never forget her words. The counselor was a practicing doctor (a GP) who took one day a week off from her normal job of helping the sick to do volunteer work by counseling students sent to this "smoking cessation clinic".

"I'm not going to repeat the same health warnings you have doubtlessly heard many times over by now. Instead, I'd like to talk a little about what Nicotine is and how it works.

Nicotine is a smart drug. It is capable of acting as both a stimulant and a relaxant, whichever your brain needs at the present moment. The result to the user is that when you smoke when you are tired, you perk up, appear to be able to concentrate better and feel energized. When you are stressed out, filled with anxiety or highly strung, a puff from a cigarette seems to calm you down and you feel relaxed.

This is how your psychological dependence is developed. Cigarettes always seem to help. It becomes whatever you need it to be and soon, you can't do without it on a psychological level."

You can verify these statements with a much more scientific sounding explanation here. What this meant to me shook my world quite a bit.

For the first time, I noticed what was happening to me on a chemical level when I smoked. I became conscious of the physiological effects that was as noticeable as a stimulating coffee buzz or relaxing alcoholic tipsiness. It was clear that I had made up all these reasons that smoking helped when in fact, smoking just acted on my brain like how a knee jerk would happen when tapped in the right point on a nerve.

I realized I was a victim to this, and it was enslaving me by tricking me to think I was its master. I thought I could quit if I wanted to but when I tried, the craving was so great and all it needed was a puff to make all that difficulty go away. I tried to quit for the first time but invariably, I failed.

Attempts to quit

Every smoker wants to quit. Not today, not tomorrow, but someday. Maybe it's when you are going to get married... or pregnant... or when you are raising kids... just someday in the vague indeterminate future. Not now, because right now, all you really want to have at the very moment, is to light up a cigarette and have a smoke.

I have tried quitting for my then girlfriend. She told me that I had to do it for myself and not for her. Her wisdom was lost on me, I thought she was a much better reason to quit than for myself, I didn't think myself to be worth that much effort really.

She was right. When I was with her, I didn't feel the urge to smoke at all. But when I was by myself, the urge was uncontrollable. I couldn't resist smoking when I didn't have anyone to prove it to, and the symptoms of withdrawal got unbearable.

I tried quitting for my family. Similarly, they couldn't be around all the time and when they were not, there was always the comforting company of fellow smokers who celebrated in the same addiction. Misery loved company.

As my sense of self worth improved the more I left teen-hood and the more I matured, I began to see that my then girlfriend was right. I had to quit for myself as only I would be with me at all times. While I started to agree with this rationally, I made excuses like setting yet another vague milestone in the indeterminate future to quit. I had been single for a while now, I'd quit when I got into a serious relationship with someone.

Seeing through the lie and the Ultimatum

The year 2010 was winding down to an end. On the eve of the new year of 2011, I was among the revelry at Peats Ridge, a music festival where I'd be counting down to the new year.

As the music reached its zenith and revelers counted down to the new year, a ray of light pierced through that excuse and tore a hole which ripped all the way down through the entire length of the argument. The stars aligned, my mind expanded and everything was illuminated.

Firstly, it became crystal clear that waiting to quit the next time I got into a serious relationship was coated in a thick layer of kidding myself. My last relationship was in 2008. I don't hit on girls at all, I don't know how to "pick up" and I don't really know what "dating" is. There are no signs any change was coming to my relationship status on Facebook anytime soon.

Promising to quit smoking when I got into a relationship was hedging on a bet that, for the forseeable future, was not going to happen. It was really gaming the system to keep on letting me smoke.

Secondly, I was reminded that, for some time now, I was fueled by a revelation that to love myself was a way to love the ones who loved you. It was a long journey in itself where I finally equated my self worth to be in a reciprocal relationship with love from others. While I had found it hard to regard myself highly for many years, to the ones who loved you, all they wanted to see in you was you doing the best for yourself. Self motivation could be turned into self-less motivation, if to make things better for one's self (which does not philosophically exist) was in fact a way to show your love to those who cared.

Thirdly, serious health risks would begin to appear from the tenth year onwards for a smoker. Already, I've had scaling done on my teeth to remove cigarette stains. I had shortness of breath during strenuous activities. My gums were blackish, my breath stale, my hair musty, my nails dark colored, my living spaces lined with ash, I had early symptions of emphysema and chronic coughing. From what I read, it would not be long before I'd see early onset of gout, diabetes, circulatory problems, and more.

The time had come. I became resolute. I resolved on the eve of the new year of 2011 that I'd quit smoking before I turned 28 in June.

I had to do this for myself. Doing this for myself would be for the benefit of those who loved me, and for those who might come to love me. I would set upon the task of researching what I could to pave the way to climb out of this addiction and be free from cigarettes moving forward.

In part 2, I will talk about the theories and tools that helped me quit.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

For a while now, I have felt that the more I know, the more I know that I don't know it all. Confidence in my personal mastery is not growing as quickly as the uncertainty of it, even if I am slowly getting better at things over time.

This is because as I am achieving some level of incremental success in what I am doing, I perceive what further deficiencies I have and where there is more room for improvement. This makes for someone less sure of themselves rather than more confident.

Conversely, I learned that it was pointless to get upset when other people do not realize what is wrong when they are just being themselves. To punish the ignorant for their ignorance would be unfair. It'd be unwise to expect something uncharacteristic of the person. One would be bound for disappointment to hope for attention to detail from the disinterested, initiative from the unmotivated, empathy from the uncaring, mercy from the unforgiving, kind words from the tactless... the list goes on.

One can't throw up ones hands in the air in exasperation and say, "why can't he/she be more thoughtful?" without the answer dawning on you moments later. It's because the person isn't thoughtful.

While watching the ever enlightening TV program "QI" hosted by Stephen Fry, I finally came across a clear explanation why.

At the 21m 12s mark, which you can skip to by clicking here, Stephen asks the question, "How do you know if you are incompetent?".

Stephen goes on to explain, "You don't. There is a thing called the Dunning-Kruger effect. Which is if you are incompetent, you don't know it because the thing that makes you incompetent means you don't realize what the competent thing is..."

"...the fact is, we don't know what we don't know..."

Stephen shows these hilarious mugshots of two burglars, photographed with the rudimentary disguise made from permanent marker:
Since they thought their "disguise" might work, it could explain how the pair was led to the crime and subsequent arrest in the first place.

A clearer explanation of the Dunning-Kruger effect taken from wikipedia:

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled people make poor decisions and reach erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to recognize their mistakes. The unskilled therefore suffer from illusory superiority, rating their ability as above average, much higher than it actually is, while the highly skilled underrate their own abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority.

Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding. As Kruger and Dunning conclude, "the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others". The effect is about paradoxical defects in cognitive ability, both in oneself and as one compares oneself to others.

So it seems that I've managed to intuitively understand half the theory: I do not get frustrated when someone presents themselves to be quite a challenge and moan about who they are. I recognize that their weaknesses can also be their strengths and try to find alternatives to achieve our goals together. I no longer (or try my best not to) just condemn someone as stupid or being difficult and get upset. I try to identify what qualities they have that are causing this or if they actually have different interests in the situation. Then I try to find a way to encourage our cooperation and mutual benefit. It takes creating a situation or adopting a method where we can capitalize on each others strengths and not let our weaknesses undermine the objectives.

I don't always do this well and it doesn't always work but hey it beats putting a fist through a wall.

What I have been failing at, it seems, is to sufficiently recognize that what may seem easy to me, may not be equally easy to others. I don't think I'm very great at all, so it's also rather uncomfortable to receive compliments or praise. When asked by my sales team if a certain creative execution would be feasible, I am more uncertain than certain because I can see so many possibilities of things going wrong. I recognize so many critical variables involved which we may or may not be able to control. The best I can do is give a conditional approval but highlight all the potential pitfalls and work to prevent them or be prepared for them.

This approach usually reduces the chances of being caught unaware of a problem. The result is often success but I experience such discomfort and uncertainty along the way, not being able to feel confident for most of the time.

In the end, when I get congratulated for a job well done, I'm really just relieved that the worst did not happen. I hardly feel any basking glory of achievement (these days). If a project doesn't worry me at all, I move on to devote more time into the projects that do worry me (quite naturally). Somehow I know that I'd only get better at my game by dealing with new and diverse problems, so the attention always lingers on the worrisome.

I hope I don't sound like I am blowing my own horn and inferring that I am "highly competent", but I worry too much and like I said at the start: the more I know, the more I know that I don't know it all. I guess what I'm trying to internalize myself with from all this rambling is: Don't worry so much and be more confident. You'll be fine, Sid. You will.

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Thirty is the New Twenty

One of my favourite buds, Mr Pan Yiming, turned thirty last Friday.

I made a portrait of him, paying homage to Sheppard Fairey's Obama - Hope poster.

50x70cm print.

I also got it printed in vinyl on two T-shirts for him. Thanks to Eren, Thandi, Koji, Szewuen, Nick, Jamie and Johan for pitching in for the costs incurred! Look how happy Yiming is...

Nick's wife Colleen is such an amazing artist herself... except her artistry is edible! Look at her L337 baking skills: Surfer cake for our surfer friend:

Crazy awesome. <3 <3

Love you bro, happy thirtieth twentieth birthday!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Rabbit Ranch 2008

I got a gift from my client for Christmas!

"Sidney - thanks for all your help and support over the last few campaigns. Have a great break ~the team at TBWA & Tequila"

I feel real happy to have this token of appreciation. I bust my ass for just about every single media and creative agency we work with, but few take the time to say thank you. I'm glad Amy and her team were kind enough to send this nice NZ Pinot Noir over!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Technical trouble shooting

Publishing a post to re activate the archives.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Casio DataBank 150

Oh Hello! Running short on time?