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A little over 18 months ago, after I quit my job and was getting started on this active journey of self-improvement, I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. I wanted to get some exposure to philosophy and had no expectations going in, other than to maybe have my worldview be slightly rocked. It was different than any other book I’d ever read, particularly as I was a Business major in undergrad and never experienced a traditional liberal arts education.
The Concept of Gumption Traps
One idea that stuck with me, and which I still draw upon to this day, is what Pirsig terms, “gumption traps.” These are pitfalls when you’re working on a challenging project. You don’t know if you’ll succeed, but in a way, you have to believe you’ll succeed. That way, you’ll sustain the motivation needed to keep trying until you accomplish your goal.
Avoiding Gumption Traps in Practice
The author shares his list of gumption traps and writes at length about them and how he manages through each one. For example, he ensures that he’s not hungry when tackling something difficult because that will erode his patience before he’s even started. He also talks about taking a break if he starts to get frustrated, because the time away gives him the space he needs to come up with a new approach, or simply muster more gumption.
This has helped me a lot and to great success, like when I was trying to hang curtain rods with parts that didn't seem to fit together, no matter how I tried. I think that this can be particularly effective if you sleep on it, and marshal your subconscious to work on the problem for you. I wrote about this in a previous post, which you can read here.
It’s similar to when you identify an emotion you're experiencing. By the sheer act of recognition, you’ve taken the power out of that emotion and you're back in control. Realizing you’re in a gumption trap allows you to take a step back, breathe, and figure out the best next step to address the issue effectively.