Mind Your Gumption

Sometimes it seems all too easy to lose gumption and get into a bad mood and too hard to get out of it. Below, I’ll share a system that helps me avoid and recover from bad moods.

What is Gumption?

The word gumption came back into style thanks to author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig.

“A person filled with gumption doesn’t sit around dissipating and stewing about things. He’s at the front of the train of his own awareness, watching to see what’s up the track and meeting it when it comes. That’s gumption.” — Robert Pirsig

When you have gumption, you are ready and willing to take on the challenges and opportunities that you face. It makes alot of difference between doing a good job, or not.

Signs of low gumption

Low gumption takes many shapes. It cab be a bad mood, tiredness, inability to focus, etc. We all have our tells that our gumption is drained.

When I’m bored or nervous, I crave snack food. If I’m frustrated, I complain alot. Often times, I won’t realize that I have low gumption until I catch my hand in the cookie jar.

Keeping track of your gumption helps to avoid the vicous cycle of a bad mood. What starts as a little thing, turns into a bad day. So the sooner you realize that your gumption is slipping, you can do something about it.

Whether you’re working on motorcycke maintenance or anything else, Robert’s advice is simple.

  1. Stop before you make a mess of your work.
  2. Give yourself what you need to feel better. It may be time or energy.

Now I’ll share some tips I follow for myself.

Get out of your head

I try to remember to not take every thought that passes through my head too literally. Many times a regret or guilt trip may just be a bad mood speaking up. When I engage with the negative thoughts, I drive myself into a worse mood.

In Eleanor Longden’s Ted Talk, she shares her story of when she became schizophrenic and over time learned to use the voices in her head. Despite their forceful commands, she learned to take them as cues of how she’s feeling and act on those cues instead. You can find the link to her talk below.


Now, low gumption doesn’t mean that you’re in a bad mood, but you are more susceptible. So if you mind your gumption and do something to recharge when it’s low, you can save yourself from an oncoming bad mood.

Listening to music helps me to block negative thoughts. Easy activities like washing dishes or walking the dog lets me focus on something else that also gives me a small accomplishment. I can then build on that small win with another easy success to get enough momentum to get out of a bad mood.

Drink a potion

Sometimes I like to imagine that I’m a character in a video game and that when my gumption is low, I need to take a potion to recharge. So I’ve asked myself, “What are my potions?” And I’ve got a simple list of potions that help me recharge, including…

  • Taking a nap
  • Dancing or singing to a favorite playlist
  • Laughing with a friend
  • Getting something small done for a pet project
  • Listen to a podcast or audiobook
  • Meditating

You can try making your own list of recharge potions so you know exactly what you can do if you catch your gumption slipping.

Allow for spontaneity

The other day I was driving with my partner when she started talking about wanting to move to China. By now, I know that for her “I want to move to China” really means “I’m feeling bad”. On the drive we saw a Greek festival that was happening, and so we took it up as a random adventure. It saved the day. In the end, she didn’t even remember why she was upset.

When I notice that I’m starting to feel bad, I remember that it might just be low gumption and that I can do something quick to restore it. I’ve found being on the lookout for a spontaneous adventure is one of the best tricks. The surprise of it all so fully captures my attention that I may quickly and totally forget why I was upset to begin with!

Face it

Many times I get down for silly reasons, like getting bored at work. If the reason is indeed silly, then the previously mentioned techniques could work very well. But if there’s something wrong that is important to me, then the bad mood may keep coming back.

No amount of potions can truly fix a chronic problem. In fact, continuously using recharge potions to feel better instead of facing a true problem will render them useless due to diminishing returns. In fact, one may start abusing them and mistakenly start believing that they need that potion to feel better. That’s called learned helplessness, and it may end up being a harder problem to solve than whatever the original issue was.

Boss Battle

In my video game life, facing important issues are what I imagine to be boss battles. You usually can’t get past a level without beating the boss of that level, just like you can’t get over a chronic bad mood without facing the real issue behind it all. I’ve got a list of steps for boss battles, too. It includes…

  1. Journaling / Talking to a close friend
  2. Making a strategy on how to face the boss
  3. Putting the strategy into practice
  4. Reflecting on that practice to either change the strategy and try again, or celebrate a success.

Try making your own list so you know just what to do when it’s time to get serious!

Before you go…

If you think you got something out of this post, check out more related posts at Best Damn Me.