Thursday, May 31, 2012

Gumption Traps

I first read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" over 20 years ago. Loved it then. Still love it now. A lot of things were lost on me the first time and I'm guessing many are still lost on me even today. The lessons about "gumption traps" could be very relevant to strength training practices and there's a lot to be gleaned from them. The following paragraphs are an introduction to external gumption traps (the things that erode self-efficacy) but Robert Pirsig goes on about the topic for another 15 pages - if you like it, you'll have to check out the book!
A few book-club questions to think about as/after you read:
*Does this passage apply to your training? Is so, how? If not, why not?
*What do you think of the author's thoughts on the "specialist"?
*Do you see parallels between the author's use of a notebook and a gym-rat's training log?
*Have you ever experienced "gumption desperation"?


Gumption is the psychic gasoline that keeps the whole thing going. If you haven't got it there's no way the motorcycle can possibly be fixed. But if you have got it and know how to keep it there's absolutely no way in the whole world that motorcycle can keep from getting fixed. It's bound to happen. Therefore the thing that must be monitored at all times and preserved before anything else is the gumption.
This paramount importance of gumption solves a problem of format of this Chautauqua. The problem has been how to get off the generalities. If the Chautauqua gets into the actual details of fixing one individual machine the chances are overwhelming that it won't be your make and model and the information that fixes one model can sometimes wreck another. For detailed information of an objective sort, a separate shop manual for the specific make and model of machine must be used. In addition, a general shop manual such as Audel's Automotive Guide fills in the gaps.
But there's another kind of detail that no shop manual goes into but that is common to all machines and can be given here. This is the detail of the Quality relationship, the gumption relationship, between the machine and the mechanic, which is just as intricate as the machine itself. Throughout  the process of fixing the machine things always come up, low-quality things, from a dusted knuckle to an accidentally ruined "irreplaceable" assembly. These drain off gumption, destroy enthusiasm and leave you so discouraged you want to forget the whole business. I call these things "gumption traps."
There are hundreds of different kinds of gumption traps, maybe thousands, maybe millions...

In traditional maintenance gumption is considered something you're born with or have acquired as a result of good upbringing. It's a fixed commodity. From the lack of information about how one acquires this gumption one might assume that a person without any gumption is a hopeless case.
In nondualistic maintenance gumption isn't a fixed commodity. It's variable, a reservoir of good spirits that can be added to or subtracted from. Since it's a result of the perception of Quality, a gumption trap, consequently, can be defined as anything that causes one to lose sight of Quality, and thus lose one's enthusiasm from what one is doing. As one might guess from a definition as broad as this, the field is enormous and only a beginning sketch can be attempted here.
As far as I can see there are only two main types of gumption traps. The first type is those in which you're thrown off the Quality track by conditions that arise from external circumstances, and I call these "set-backs." The second type is traps in which you're thrown off the Quality track by conditions that are primarily within yourself. These I don't have any generic name for - "hang-ups," I suppose. I'll take up the externally caused setbacks first.
The first time you do any major job it seems as though the out-of-sequence-reassembly setback is your biggest worry. This occurs usually at a time when you think you're almost done. After days of work you finally have it all together except for: What's this? A connecting-rod bearing liner?! How could you have left that out? Oh Jesus, everything's got to come apart again! You can almost hear the gumption escaping. Psssssssssssssss.
There's nothing you can do but go back and take it apart again... after a rest period of up to a month that allows you to get used to the idea.
There are two techniques I use to prevent the out-of-sequence-reassembly setback. I use them mainly when I'm getting into a complex assembly I don't know anything about.
It should be inserted here parenthetically that there's a school of mechanical thought which says I shouldn't be getting into a complex assembly I don't know anything about. I should have training or leave the job to a specialist. That's a self-serving school of mechanical eliteness I'd like to see wiped out. That was a "specialist" who broke the fins on this machine. I've edited manuals written to train specialists for IBM, and what they know when they're done isn't that great. You're at a disadvantage the first time around and it may cost you a little more because of parts you accidentally damage, and it will undoubtedly take a lot more time, but the next time around you're way ahead of the specialist. You, with gumption, have learned the assembly the hard way and you've a whole set of good feelings about it that he's unlikely to have.
Anyway, the first technique for preventing the out-of-sequence-reassembly gumption trap is a notebook in which I write down the order of disassembly and note anything unusual that might give trouble in reassembly later on. This notebook gets plenty grease-smeared and ugly. But a number of times one or two words in it that didn't seem important when written down have prevented damage and saved hours of work. The notes should pay special attention to left-hand and right-hand and up-and-down orientations of parts, and color coding and positions of wires. If incidental parts look worn or damaged or loose this is the time to note it so that you can make all your parts purchases at the same time.
The second technique for preventing the out-of-sequence-reassembly gumption trap is newspapers opened out on the floor of the garage on which all the parts are laid left-to-right and top-to-bottom in the order in which you read a page. that when you put it back together in reverse   order, the little screws and washers and pins that can be easily overlooked are brought to your attention as you need them.
Even with all these precautions, however, out-of-sequence reassemblies sometimes occur and when they do you've got to watch the gumption. Watch out for gumption desperation, in which you hurry up wildly in an effort to restore gumption by making up for lost time. That just creates more mistakes. When you first see that you have to go back and take it apart all over again it's definitely time for that long break.
It's important to distinguish from these the reassemblies that were out of sequence because you lacked certain information. Frequently the whole reassembly process becomes a cut-and-dry technique in which you have to take it apart to make a change and then put it together again to see if the change works. If it doesn't work, that isn't a real setback because the information gained is a real progress.
But if you've made just a plain old dumb mistake in reassembly, some gumption can still be salvaged by the knowledge that the second disassembly and reassembly is likely to go much faster than the first one. You've unconsciously memorized all sorts of things you won't have to relearn.

9 comments:

J said...

It's funny you posted this; I'm reading it right now. I actually think I just passed the gumption part as well.

Boris said...

What do you think of it?

Jeff said...

To fill in some background information on my understanding of the material, I completed an philosophy minor in college. I understand many of the references to Hume, Kant, etc., and I'm well aware of distinction between reason and emotion/feeling whatever.

I have really enjoyed the book so far. I enjoy the details from the trip, as well as his struggle with the split between reason and the romantic world. Since I do the reading in bed or in a nice relaxed area, I'm not taking notes and making a concentrated effort to fully understand his views on Quality and how it solves the divide. I understand most points, but I couldn't write a nice paper on it.

I could really relate to the part about gumption. I'm working on a computer science major/mathematics minor right now, and I certainly relate to falling into the gumption trap. I can use it to help me solve problems, but pushing it too much leaves me running in circles.

My exercise routine is like this right now. I can't get settled on a weight lifting routine or a cardio routine. It's hard to walk away from exercise for a while, but I might have to that to get things settled out.

Boris said...

Thanks Jeff. You've got some great areas of study! I certainly couldn't write a paper either!

I've been lucky in that the habit of keeping a training log was instilled in me very early, but over the years, I've spent A LOT of time wandering w. my own gym time. I look back on that (and those pages in the logs) and think some of it was falling into a "gumption trap" and some of that was time very well spent. It helps sometimes to look back on all of it to hash out where and how I've made 'progress' (however that is measured) and what it is I REALLY want to do now.

Jeff said...

Keeping a training log is a great idea! I certainly remember how I felt during periods of training a certain way, but just as easily as I remember, I get details mixed up as well. If I could remember exact problems/successes I was having during my time period of doing a certain exercise, I'd be able to hash things out.

I also have a question about squatting and clothes ( I think you know where I'm going with this). When I squat regularly, I can't get a pair of shorts/pants to fit me to save my life. I can fit into a 32 waste, but the legs need to be the size of someone who is waste 36/38. Do you have the same problem?

Boris said...

Absolutely. Relaxed fit or loose fit are the only way to go with jeans (for me). Getting jeans that don't look like crap on me straight off the rack is tough. If I was serious, I'd probably pay for some tailor work. Dress slacks (again relaxed or loose fit) look better generally.

Mark Reifkind said...

One of my all time favorite books.

Boris said...

It's a great one!

Jason said...

Thanks for posting this, I have been trying to find this passage in the book for ages, but didn't want to have to re-read the whole thing! I have the 25st Anniversary Edition, and it turns out that the section that you quote starts on page 302, for anyone else like me that wants to read the whole passage again!