Mental Shift

A big part of the process of overcoming so many of the obstacles between where I am now and where I want to be involves looking at the problem from enough different views that the solution becomes obvious. Robert Pirsig described this as rational problem solving, the application of which looks like:

  1. Something isn’t working.
  2. There must be a reason.
  3. I must not have seen the reason yet.

The hard part is learning to do this with detachment; letting go of preconceived notions. A mental shift in other words. This technique can be especially useful when you become “stuck” on a difficult problem. Pirsig suggests stepping back and having a cup of coffee. A co-worker recommends trying to explain the problem as observed to a rubber duck. I’ve always tried explaining problems to my dog. The common theme is detaching yourself from the frustration of the situation and re-examining the observable facts.

As a convenient example, take the desire to start a long-term bicycle tour. There are so many facets to making this happen it can easily seem overwhelming. Applying the above process looks a lot like:

  1. Solving “how to start a long-term bicycle tour” is too complicated.
  2. Other people have done this, so there must be a way.
  3. I must not have seen a way yet.

The “Eureka” moment comes when you decide to Divide and Conquer: split the problem up and work instead on solving the individual parts.

“How to start a long-term bicycle tour” could be split up like this:

  1. What equipment do I need?
  2. How much money do I need?
  3. Where do I want to go?
  4. How do I get there?

“What equipment do I need?” is well documented. “How much money do I need?” is rather less obvious, although I made an effort at estimating it. Then the question becomes “How do I come up with that much money?” Two immediately obvious options are: earn (and save) it now or earn it later when you need it. This is where things get sticky again, and is what I’m currently working on myself. I’ll address these in future posts.

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7 Responses to Mental Shift

  1. Kevin says:

    Why think of it as a problem? It’s not. It may be challenging but it’s really just another option in your life. A few take it, most don’t. You’ve already overcome most of the hard challenges — ditching the car, simplifying your life, saving the money.

    If it’s not a problem, what’s keeping you from choosing that path?

    • Sean says:

      That’s a good question Kevin. In my mind it’s no longer a question of “if” I choose the path of long-term bicycle touring, it’s only a question of “when.” I’ve been collecting the equipment needed for the last several years, and I feel that part of the problem is pretty well solved. What’s left is liberating myself from the remaining stuff (the “easy” part, in that I know what to do; just have to do it) and deciding how much money is “enough” before taking the leap (the hard part). I’m told “leap and the net will appear.” It still looks like a really big leap from here.

      In effect, the blog is my “problem-solving-rubber-ducky,” where I’m trying to help myself organize my thoughts by writing them out. Thanks for helping me think about it from another angle.

  2. Sean says:

    And, in the very definition of serendipity, one of the blogs I regularly read just posted about having enough.

  3. Shaun says:

    You’ll get there Scanlon. Don’t rush into it if you don’t feel like you’re quite ready. You’ll know when it’s time to go. Personally I think you’re ready in every way except perhaps mental preparedness. You’ll know when it’s time.

  4. Tim Travis says:

    Making money to travel on and then taking off without a return ticket need not be so complicated. I have been throwing around the idea of writing a book about this for years. Decades ago travelers would work on Alaskan fishing boats to make fast money but times have changed. A couple current jobs come to mind – Truck drivers need just 4 weeks of training and make US$30,000 a year starting. The beauty for a traveler is that you live on the truck and do not pay rent anywhere and can save most of that. One year of driving a truck can be several years cycling in Asia. Another good option is to teach English abroad in countries like Korea or Japan. I hear you can save US$1,000/month in Korea. My story of how I have been on the road traveling and bicycle touring almost 10 years now is at this link http://www.downtheroad.org/Publishing/1TheRoadnoEnd/Free_Chapter/1Background.htm

  5. Jim says:

    Worst case: Even if you run out of money, you can get by for a long time on the kindness of strangers, friends, family, dumpster-diving, and odd jobs. It’s more of a mental thing. For example, every so often I hear in the news about the death of some person who lived like a pauper, leaving a million dollars stuffed in a sock drawer, surprising everybody who knew the person in life. For those kind of people, no financial cushion is enough. That may be you, my friend. Other people feel pretty secure with $18 in the bank, a fridge full of groceries, and the good health to be able to get more money tomorrow. That’s more like me.

    It’s possible that the money issue is a red herring. An easily analyzable, quantifiable surrogate angst for the hazier uncertainties that are part of embarking on any sort of life-changing adventure. You have enough money to last easily a few months, which will be plenty of time on the road to put to rest the fears you haven’t fully confronted yet.

    • Sean says:

      Jim, you make some interesting points. While I’m a long way from a million in the sock drawer, I’m still only a fifth of the way to what I thought I “needed.” “Easily analyzable, quantifiable surrogate angst” indeed.

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