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Forrest Gumption

A gumption trap is an event or mindset that can cause a person to lose enthusiasm and become discouraged from starting or continuing a project. – Wikipedia

Some people credit Robert Pirsig with coining the term “gumption trap“. In his inimitable book, “Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance“, he wrote a brilliant section classifying, listing, and explaining a gaggle of gumption traps. Two in particular stood out to BD00: anxiety and boredom.


You’re so sure you’ll do everything wrong you’re afraid to do anything at all. Often this, rather than “laziness,” is the real reason you find it hard to get started. This gumption trap of anxiety, which results from overmotivation, can lead to all kinds of errors of excessive fussiness. You fix things that don’t need fixing, and chase after imaginary ailments. You jump to wild conclusions and build all kinds of errors into the machine software because of your own nervousness. These errors, when made, tend to confirm your original underestimation of yourself. This leads to more errors, which lead to more underestimation, in a self-stoking cycle. The best way to break this cycle, I think, is to work out your anxieties on paper. Read every book and magazine you can on the subject. Your anxiety makes this easy and the more you read the more you calm down. You should remember that it’s peace of mind you’re after and not just a fixed machine high quality software. When beginning a repair job you can list everything you’re going to do on little slips of paper which you then organize into proper sequence. You discover that you organize and then reorganize the sequence again and again as more and more ideas come to you. The time spent this way usually more than pays for itself in time saved on the machine project and prevents you from doing fidgety things that create problems later on.


Boredom is the opposite of anxiety and commonly goes with ego problems. Boredom means you’re off the Quality track, you’re not seeing things freshly, you’ve lost your “beginner’s mind” and your motorcycle project is in great danger. Boredom means your gumption supply is low and must be replenished before anything else is done.

BD00 gets ensnared in the anxiety-gumption-trap whenever he finds himself marooned inside his head ruminating over a concern. On the other hand, BD00 rarely gets caught up in the boredom-gumption-trap. Not because he’s conquered his big, fat, ego, but because his curiosity and longing for understanding never wanes. He can’t even remember the last time he was bored. And to BD00, that’s a good thing.

How about you, dear reader? Which of these diametrically opposed gumption traps are you most susceptible to?


  1. aawwa
    March 16, 2013 at 3:07 am

    I enjoyed that post. I definitely come in on the Anxious side of the equation. It raises a good point “The best way to break this cycle, I think, is to work out your anxieties on paper. Read every book and magazine you can on the subject. Your anxiety makes this easy and the more you read the more you calm down.”

    I am part way through doing a Graduate Certificate in Professional Writing and I withdrew due to fear of failure! I recently decided to go back to it next semester (June – July) and in the meantime to read up all the information I can on the subject! It is interesting reading as it is all about writing and communication and I am under no time pressure to do assignments etc just now. 🙂

    • March 16, 2013 at 6:27 am

      That good point you refer to is what zinged me and triggered this post. I’m a voracious reader and Mr. Pirsig may have educated me as to why I read so much. But then again, I can’t figure out if it’s from anxiousness or an intense desire to learn/discover new realms outside of my direct, daily experience. It’s prolly a mixture of both.

      I’m glad you mustered up the courage to go back to writing school. From what I know about you Lorraine, it seems like you’re very passionate about writing.

  1. April 8, 2013 at 10:08 pm
  2. May 2, 2013 at 11:03 am

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