Gumptionade Blog

Necessity Is Not Gumption

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Gumption is courage, resourcefulness and common sense in harness together. Despite what people tell you – usually while they try to sell you – becoming better than you are now is not easy or convenient. It takes courage and time to change ingrained habits.

It is said that Caesar burned his boats on the beaches of Kent during the invasion of Britain. He was creating a necessity on order to call forth courage. Caesar’s legions did indeed conquer Necessity is not gumptionBritain, at least enough of it to build new boats. People with common sense don’t burn their boats. They realize they may have landed in the wrong place, that getting killed by the Britons for lack of Plan B won’t help the empire.

There is another problem with relying on necessity to produce courage: the danger is often not as vivid as burning boats. Sometimes the smoke and the fire—the ill- health, divorce, bankruptcy, driving bans, and other disasters—are so far down the road that we are fooled by the illusion that there will always be time to avoid them.

Your obese friend knows she must lose weight. Chronic procrastinators know they sabotage themselves. Smokers know they must put down their cigarettes. But the disasters they face are in the future.

These people do set off on the march to safety, perhaps around New Year’s Day, but necessity generates insufficient force to keep them moving forward. They experience Day Four. They retreat. Necessity is not gumption.


How will you conquer your challenges? Gumptionade – The Booster for Your Self Improvement Plan will help you find your way.


Enthusiasm Is Not Gumption

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“I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that.”

– Pearl S. Buck

Every January 1st we become infatuated with the idea of a new and improved version of ourselves: the thin version, the organized version, the fit version, the better parent version, the debt-free version. As with any crush, our enthusiasm is effortless and exciting, a temporary loss of balance.

Instead of flowers and chocolate, we treat our new love to frozen diet meals, gym memberships, brightly colored storage containers, bee pollen, packs of nicotine gum, yoga mats, how-to books and videos.Enthusiasm is not gumption

This enthusiastic buying and trying soon plays itself out. We lack the courage, resourcefulness, and common sense required for lasting change.

Enthusiasm is not gumption. Enthusiasm is like good luck: great when you have it, but outside of your control. You can make yourself act enthusiastic, but you can’t make yourself be enthusiastic. You either are or you aren’t. Indeed, a sure sign of gumption is doing the thing that needs to be done when you have no enthusiasm for it.

The problem with enthusiasm is that it is dependent on context. In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig writes of things that halt progress for amateurs repairing motorcycles: the scraped knuckle, the bad light, the heat, the cold, the uncomfortable crouching, the leftover engine parts. If you are an amateur trying to repair yourself, these might be a bad day at work, loneliness, boredom, hunger, insomnia, and family holidays.

Physical discomfort reduces enthusiasm. Emotional discomfort reduces enthusiasm. Mistakes reduce enthusiasm. None of these things reduce gumption, which is not dependent on context.

Gumption has courage. Courage helps you bear the suffering required to move forward without the tail winds of enthusiasm. For New Year’s resolutions, gumption has to kick in as enthusiasm wanes in mid- January.

If you set out to repair a motorcycle or to become more than you are now, it’s great to have enthusiasm—not to mention adequate light, proper tools, and helpful friends. But when none of these are available, gumption will get you past the temptation to quit.

Enthusiasm can even indicate a lack of gumption. We often drink, eat, shout our opinions, and generally act the fool with great enthusiasm, and completely without courage or common sense.

Can you differentiate between enthusiasm and gumption? Gumptionade – The Booster for Your Self Improvement Plan will show you how.

i …Pirsig writes of the things that halt progress for amateurs repairing their own motorcycles…
Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (New York: William Morrow &
Company, 1974), 305–26.

The Real Meaning of Passion: Day Four

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You decide to get to a better place, a place where you will be more than you are now. You have a new plan and new stuff. There’s a new you waiting just down the road. You’re so passionate. Finally, you’re on the right path.

Day One of the journey is fun. A warm sun beams down out of a blue sky, flowers perfume the air, the birds sing, and there’s a spring in your step. It’s all smiles to the people you meet on the road to self-improvement. This will be shooting fish in a barrel.

On Day Two, the fish in the barrel begin to shoot back. There’s a chill in the air. The flowers are drooping and it looks like rain. You walk on, though, still pretty chipper: You’re gonna do this!

On Day Three, the songbirds have given way to crows, your feet are sore, and you have a headache. You keep moving, though not as far as yesterday.

The Real Meaning of Passion : Day FourOn Day Four you wake up in a dark and swampy place. Your diet book is in tatters, your new running shoes are filthy, your backpack smells like garbage, and you are nauseated and depressed. The path is now watery mud festooned with litter, poison ivy, and abandoned tires. The crows have given way to flying monkeys and your fellow travelers look like zombies.

You approach a wobbly rope bridge slung above a deep canyon. This is the border between where you are and where you want to go—between dependence and freedom. You can’t recall your Day One enthusiasm. Looking back, you spot a friendly face. Your bad habit is waving to you from a limo. It has hot coffee, blankets, dry clothes, and a light. There’s a cooler in the trunk.

You realize how unpleasant your life is without your bad habit. It takes your mind off your troubles. You two share pleasing rituals: the fire ceremony of lighting a cigarette, the sacred offering of the platinum card, sexual euphoria, fragrant incense from the barbecue pit, the whirling trance of chasing the big deal, ice cubes ringing in your drink like the bells of a mountain shrine.

On Day Four you experience the real meaning of passion: suffering. How much suffering depends on how much discomfort your bad habit helps you avoid. Day Four lasts a month.

You set out on Day One to be free of your bad habit, to become better. But you need what you need right now. You retreat to our bad habit, our status quo, what doesn’t require any effort. Becoming better is hard, and we are soft.

Can we be afraid of the right things? Can we ever move on from what is comfortable? Many people never get past Day Four. Many people never cross the border. Many people never grow up.

Unexplored places on the early maps of the world were noted with dragons and the words “There be monsters.” Gumption is for going there.




How do you soldier through to Day Five? Gumptionade – The Booster for Your Self Improvement Plan will help you figure it out.

Gumption is Creative

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Houston, we’ve had a problem.”
– Jim Lovell, astronaut

How will you stay alive in a crippled spacecraft after you’ve used up the lithium hydroxide air filters that fit the round canister in the Apollo 13 lunar lander—now your lifeboat? You will asphyxiate if you can’t remove carbon dioxide from your atmosphere, but your remaining air filters fit only the command module’s square canister.Gumption is Creative

You proceed to make creative use of the means at hand. You invent “an adapter for the square command module canister from cardboard, a plastic bag, a sock, and a hose from one of the crew’s pressure suits.” Creative use of the means at hand.

How can the German owner of a Polish factory save his Jewish employees from concentration camps? Schindlerjuden is how. Oskar Schindler made astonishing use of his means at hand during World War II—an industrial smelter, metal oxides, bribes, falsified records, scotch, black market dealings, and above all salesmanship—to create a “war effort essential” enamelware production facility. Employees of such a factory could be hidden in plain sight.

What do you do when you are building the University of Virginia and need to know where to put paved pathways? Thomas Jefferson instructed the builders to wait a couple of years and then pave the trails people made in the grass as they walked from where they were to where they wanted to go. He used the means at hand—the student body—to make a map.

Sam John Hopkins of Centerville, Texas, wanted a guitar, but was too poor to buy one. He solved his problem by using the means at hand: a cigar box, scrap wood, wire, and glue. That is how Lightnin’ Hopkins got a guitar. Creative use of the means at hand is resourcefulness. Along with courage and common sense, resourcefulness is gumption.

What can you do with your means at hand? Gumptionade – The Booster for Your Self Improvement Plan will help you figure it out.



i. “…a plastic bag, a sock, and a hose from one of the crew’s pressure suits.” 
Gene Kranz, Failure Is Not an Option (New York: Berkley Books, 2000), 328.

Gumption is Resourceful – Part II

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“I had an interview with the Board of Guardians of St James’s parish, on the
evening of September 7. In consequence of what I said, the handle of the Broad
Street water pump was removed on the following day.”

                                                                                      — John Snow

Physician John Snow invented epidemiology during the terrifying London cholera outbreak of 1854. He went door to door in Soho, the most affected area, counting the number of people in each house who had been sickened. He then drew a map of the neighborhood, showing the number and location of confirmed cholera cases.

Gumptionade Cholera Map

There were no public water lines. Households obtained their drinking water from pumps scattered around the city. Water from Soho’s Broad Street pump was considered superior.

This was before germ theory, but not before germs. Snow’s map gave him vision. He saw the correlation between cholera cases and households using the Broad Street pump. He saw microbes without the benefit of a microscope. He saw cholera moving invisibly through water.

This contradicted leading scientists, who believed that cholera and other urban epidemics were caused by “miasmas,” bad air found in densely populated areas. After Snow convinced the parish Board of Guardians to remove the handle on the Broad Street pump, he discovered that its water had been poisoned by sewage from a nearby household cesspit.Gumption is Resourceful

John Snow saw the footprint of cholera and translated it into statistical fact, the means at hand to end the outbreak. Vision. Resourcefulness. Gumption.

Public health medicine in London in the 1850s was practiced under conditions of uncertainty and unpredictability—in what is now called a low-validity environment. An example in our own time is online dating.

It’s wise to develop simple formulas for decision making in low-validity environments. In London’s cholera epidemic, it was the households’ source of drinking water and cases of cholera. In online dating, it’s age, education, and income. It’s resourceful to draw a map.

Dr. Snow drew a paper map of cholera’s footprint. Steve Jobs carried a map in his head of a mass consumer market that did not yet exist. Billy Beane of the Oakland A’s took sabermetrics and mapped undervalued baseball players.

All three used the means at hand to see what others could not. The baseball establishment, Xerox, and the leading scientists of Victorian England had narrower vision. They did not recognize the new facts. They were not resourceful. They lacked gumption.

You operate in a low validity environment much of the time. Improve your own vision. Look for facts about yourself. Map the things that you do.

What big opportunity is right in front of your eyes? Gumptionade – The Booster for Your Self Improvement Plan can help you see it.