books, Personal Growth

Five Things I Learnt From ‘The Road Less Travelled’


Why am I doing this?

As part of my move to content more focused around personal growth, still with students in mind. I wanted to start a series of insightful things that I learnt from ‘self-help’ books. I have a loooong list of books on my to read list, and a good proportion of them are just sat on my shelf waiting to be read.
I used to love to read, and I used to read a lot, but then I grew up and I found less and less time to read. But as I grew up I also found that one of the best (and cheapest) ways to invest in my personal growth, was to read books. There’s a whole bunch of successful individuals out there who attribute their success and wealth to reading. Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and one of my personal idols, Rachel Pederson all make reading big portions of their day. And whilst my goal is not to build wealth (although that would be nice), it still demonstrates the power and lessons that can come from reading books.

‘I have no time to read’

So I made reading a more intentional part of my day. I make sure I read at least 30 minutes before I sleep. And whilst this doesn’t sound like a lot, this is the bare minimum that I like to read. Normally if I’m deep in a book that I’m enjoying, I will keep reading beyond the thirty minutes, and even pick it up at other points of the day.

Pretty much everybody I know would be able to sacrifice just 30 minutes of their day to reading, because in most cases the ‘I have no time to read’ excuse is exactly that, an excuse. Nothing bad is going to happen to you if you watch one less episode of a series and use that time to read a book, but something amazing might happen instead.

How I get through the books

First of all, I only buy books that I am excited to read. I have read many recommendations for books to read to develop different aspects of your life, but I only add certain ones to my ‘to read’ list. What’s the point in spending money and time on a book I’m not excited to read. At the end of the day I’m still technically reading for pleasure, I’m not reading a book I was given in an assignment, so it should be one I think I’m going to enjoy.

So when I go to choose my next book to read, I literally just go to my bookshelf (at the moment I have around 14 books there from my to read list) and I literally pick up the first book I’m drawn to. I then take some little page sticky notes, and mark out in the book how much I need to read each day to get through the book in the time I want to.

This really depends on a few things: the length of the book; how easy it is to read; and how busy I’m going to be over the upcoming week/fortnight. 

Let’s take ‘The Road Less Travelled’ as an example. It’s just over 300 pages long, it’s not the easiest book to read (as in there are concepts in there that I wanted to actually think about, not just skim read), but I knew I wasn’t going to be very busy that week, so I wanted to finish it in about a week. So I divided 300 by 7 which is about 42, then but the page markers roughly every 40 pages. I try to put them on pages with headings so that I’m not stopping reading right in the middle of concept.

I don’t always stick to this pace, some days I’ll read two days worth and other days I read only 25 pages, but it allows me to roughly see where I should be up to.

The Book

The full title: The Road Less Travelled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth, better summarises what this book is about. The title of the book refers to our tendency as humans to ‘avoid pain’, in whatever form. A lot of people choose not to confront their problems because it’s a ‘painful process’, but in this book we learn that this actually works against us in the long term, limiting our mental growth. This book encourages us to take ‘the road less travelled’ and confront this pain, in order to grow, both mentally and spiritually.

The Author

Morgan Scott Peck was an American Psychiatrist, born in New York City to Quaker parents. He received a BA from Harvard as well as an MD degree from Case Western Reserve University. He served time in the US Army, as well as holding the position of Chief of psychology at the Army Medical Center in Okinawa, Japan. He died at home in 2005, after suffering from Parkinson’s diseases as well as pancreatic and liver duct cancer.

Five things I learnt:

We need to get better at delaying gratification

This is one of the first concepts described in the book, and was one of my biggest takeaways. As I mentioned earlier, the human tendency is to avoid pain, to not confront our problems, and instead take temporary comfort. 

An example of this is that you realise that you’re going to have to have a difficult conversation with a close friend, and you know it’s going to cause distress to both you and your friend, so you put it off. By doing that, you are choosing to keep yourself in this temporary space of comfort, but you still know that at some point you will have to have this difficult conversation.

What Peck means by delayed gratification is ‘a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with’. That is to have the difficult conversation first ‘i.e. go through the pain’ and then after the conversation, you can relax, and the relaxation and comfort is so much better in this instance, because you don’t have the overhanging thought that you have something uncomfortable coming up.

We delay gratification in lots of different ways, for example, when eating a meal, I tend to eat my least favourite parts first, and save my favourite food (normally some sort of potato) till the end. So we definitely know how to do it, we just only choose to do it in certain circumstances. 

But have you ever put off doing a task because you are scared of the discomfort (not necessarily physical discomfort) and then after you do it you think ‘why on earth did I put this off, it was literally so easy’. Most of the time we really build these things up in our heads, and the fear of the discomfort becomes worse than the actual discomfort. 

Therefore, I am really going to try to implement the practice of tackling my problems more promptly, instead of putting them off in the effort of gaining a little longer in my temporary comfort space.

We need to change our maps

This one was wayyyyyy to close to home for me, as I was reading this section, I felt personally attacked, and when I explain it, you might do too. 

Throughout our childhoods, as we grow up, we learn more and more about the world that we live in, and our ‘view of reality is like a map with which to negotiate the terrain of life’. The more we learn and experience, the bigger and more detailed our maps become. 

By the time we enter into adulthood, we tend to stop adding to our maps, and by the time we are in our 40s/50s, we are so certain that our map is complete and that we don’t need to add to or change it. And here is the problem: in order to stay accurate, we constantly have to revise our maps (i.e. our reality) and we have to be able to incorporate new information into them. 

But a lot of us don’t want to change our maps, we want to hold on to our world views, we’re sure that we’re right and we don’t want to go through the painful process of reviewing and changing our maps. We see this in older people who refuse to adapt to modern technology, or are stuck in an ‘old-fashioned’ way of thinking. 

In order to cling to our outdated maps, we tend to disbelieve or work to discredit sources of new information, as we see them as a threat. But it’s important to try and look at new information as objectively as possible, and when appropriate, start the process of incorporating this new information into your map.

White lies are not ‘good’ lies

As a kid, my parents would get away with telling me (and my siblings) certain lies by calling them white lies, and I was taught that a white lie is basically a lie that you tell because it is in the best interest of the person you’re withholding the truth from.

Peck defines a white lie as ‘a statement we make that is not in itself false but that leaves out a significant part of the truth’ and although you might instead call that ‘lying by omission’, this is something that we’ve all probably done before as well. (in this section when I’m talking about white lies, I am referring to Peck’s definition.)

We tend to think that this definition of a white lie is not as bad as directly telling someone false information, but actually that’s not the case, because as much damage can come from them. We might tell ourselves that we are withholding the truth for the benefit of the other person, but often that’s just an excuse that we tell ourselves, and actually it’s for our own benefit.

In order to decide when it’s more acceptable to withhold the truth from another person, Peck outlined a number of rules, of which I’ll mention a few. Firstly, the decision must not be made in order to benefit you, and this could be as simple as you wanting to avoid the difficult conversation of telling someone the truth. Secondly, you should only withhold the truth from someone if it is genuinely going to benefit them to not know, and thirdly, you can only make this decision (whether it is beneficial or harmful) if you truly love the person.

And often we under-estimate other people’s abilities to deal with information, normally they cope much better than we expect.

Dependency is not love

If you’ve ever said, or heard someone say, ‘I can’t live without my boyfriend/girlfriend/fiancée/wife/husband/partner etc…’ that’s dependency, not love. Loving someone is only possible when ‘the two of you are capable of living without each other, but choose to live with each other anyway’.

This is not to be confused with dependency needs – we all want to be cared for by someone else – but these feelings are not normally central to our lives. 

It is important to fully develop your ability to live independently, before you choose to love someone, it is unhealthy to fully depend on your partner for everything. 

Life is difficult

Nobody is going to sit here and say that life is easy. Life is difficult, we’re presented with difficulties and problems everyday, but some peoples’ problems are bigger than other peoples’.

Mindset does impact your ability to solve these problems to some extent, because if you simply say ‘I can’t’ and don’t try at all, then of course these problems aren’t going to get solved. But mindset isn’t everything.

However, this is a lot easier said than done, and I come from a place of privilege in that my problems might have more simple or achievable solutions than the problems of other people. A lot of peoples’ problems are simply out of their control and I don’t think that sitting here and saying ‘you can fix anything if you put your mind to it’ is a helpful thing to say, when that’s not always possible. In this instance I’m talking about the smaller, more menial problems that a large proportion of our lives’ revolve around. In those cases, it’s down to us as individuals to create a mindset of problem-solving instead of problem-creating.

Final Thoughts

This book taught me a lot about the different disciplines in life as well as different types of love, and what love actually is. The last two sections of the book focus on religion and grace, and I personally found these sections more complex than the first two sections. 

I would recommend this book to those who want to learn more about themselves, and want to grow spiritually and mentally.

Want to become a more productive student? Want to work on your personal development? Want to learn about how to get into medical school?

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