The Examined Life: Gumption

I’m taking a moment to mull over some of the concepts I use to think about life and the universe. And because I’m the kind of guy I am, I figure I might as well do it in public, though I realize this is the intellectual equivalent of showing off a half-chewed mouthful of food.

Gumption is a term I picked up from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, though I don’t use it exactly the way Pirsig does.

Gumption is a mysterious psychoemotional quantity which is the prerequisite to accomplishment. It’s the fuel of facing challenges. Doing anything difficult demands gumption; succeeding at something difficult restores it. (I find that this is one reason that projects in limbo drive me up the wall; the gumption spent to do the work is gone, but the payoff of completion is not forthcoming.)

It regenerates over time. A good night’s sleep helps; getting away from the daily grind is better. Pirsig suggests that gumption returns “when one is quiet long enough to see and hear and feel the real universe, not just one’s stale opinions about it”, which sounds about right to me.

Conversely, there are many ways for gumption to bleed away; Pirsig calls them “gumption traps”. Setbacks and frustration are gumption killers. Unexamined assumptions and value rigidity can also be stealthy gumption sinks, making you feel mired without knowing why.

In everyday life, the feeling of being unable to face the task at hand is a symptom of inadequate gumption. Tedium and boredom are warning signs of low gumption. Depression (at least the cognitive variety) is a collapse of the mechanisms by which gumption regenerates.

Gumption is, I think, the conviction that good things can, should, and will happen. Discouragement, disillusionment, and disenchantment are its enemies.

Originally published on LiveJournal