The Road Less Travelled Summary (M. Scott Peck)

the road less travelled m. scott peck

There are four main sections of this book and The Road Less Travelled summary.

  • Discipline 
  • Love 
  • Religion 
  • Grace 

The Road Less Travelled Summary

Discipline 

Many people live with under the false assumption the life should be easy, which can only lead to disappointment.

Much like the Buddha’s assertion that life is suffering, Peck says there are two immutable facts:

  • Life is difficult. Only when we accept that can develop the tools to cope and move beyond it
  • We will have problems.

How do we often respond? By running away from pain and attempting to ignore our problems.
 
While we procrastinate or ignore our issues, the problems we avoid won’t fix themselves. 

The first step in solving our problems is to admit that they exist, which takes work. 

Ultimately, we have two choices:

  • Avoid problems, causing delayed psychological disorders
  • Confront problems, which cause more short term pain but result in personal growth

Tools to improve discipline

1. Delay gratification

Many of us are controlled by our impulses and chase short term pleasure, much to our detriment.

We decide to “play no and pay later”.

In contrast, delayed gratification means suffering now for a better future.

This is applicable to all areas of life, such as addressing your hardest, most uncomfortable work task at the start of the day.

Accepting short term pain ultimately leads to growth as we become the type of person able to tackle problems as they arise.

“Delaying gratification is the process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life”

2. Accept responsibility for our problems to improve our lives

Avoidance has severe long term consequences.

As a psychiatrist, Peck encountered many patients unable to accept their role in their problems or conversely blamed themselves for everything.

It’s a delicate balancing act between accepting too much responsibility and too little.

Both can result in psychological issues.

3. Dedicate ourselves to the truth

Choosing truth over comfort means that you accept the reality of your life.

We tell lies to avoid pain in the present while underestimating the future problems they’ll cause.

It takes effort and self-discipline to be honest, constantly examining what you believe to be true through self-reflection and modifying your worldview.

There are two types of lies:

  • Lying to yourself and choosing comfort over growth
  • Lying to others

Sometimes telling the truth to others doesn’t always benefit others so some things to bear in mind:

  • Withholding the truth is the same as lying
  • Don’t lie for personal gain
  • Ask yourself whether telling someone else the truth will help them grow (hard to know and will require practice).

4. Achieve balance

Relinquishing extreme behaviours which unbalance your life is essential.

It’s a process of finding the middle way, similar to the concept of the Buddhist middle way.

Ask yourself questions such as:

  • When is it best to delay gratification vs enjoy the present moment?
  • When is it best to take personal responsibility vs realising you’re not to blame?
  • When is it best to tell someone else the truth to help them grow vs remain silent and supportive?

This aren’t static but rather dynamic scales that change with time and the situation but anyways try to adopt a balanced approach. 

Love

Love is foundational for disciple and growth.

It enables us to evolve as individuals, reaching a higher state of being.

Before loving another, we first have to love ourselves.

But what is love? We need a definition.

True love is the “will to extend oneself for your own or another’s spiritual growth.”

True love is the path to true joy as it results in the spiritual growth of you and your partner. 

Often we perceive love as a feeling rather than an action, which is a mistake. 

The feeling of love is called ‘cathecting’, which means investing emotional energy is something or someone. For example, a gardener can cathect their garden.

Cathecting, in relationships, can be construed as the passion we experience when we meet a member of the opposite sex for the first time.

This feeling of falling in love and the short-lived passion that results mustn’t be confused for true love, which can exist in the absence of such fleeting emotions.

Tips to nurture true love

1. True love isn’t dependency

When you take too much and don’t give the other enough in return the relationship becomes parasitic.

It’s easy to rely on another person for your own happiness and value the relationship you have with the person more than the person themself. 

Example – don’t expect your child to be just like you. Peck saw a father who thought his son had a problem because he wanted to read and not follow the father’s passion for basketball. When Peck told the father his son was healthy, he terminated treatment to find another therapist. 

True love is separateness.

Genuine love is where one person sees their partner as a separate individual.

We must value another’s dreams, values and goals in order to allow them to grow.

Spiritual growth is the ultimate expression of true love. 

2. Commitment 

As passion wanes you’ll start to notice aspects of your partner that annoy you. 

Consequently, you may not be as motivated to continue investing in the other person.

Arguments may occur, but your commitment to the other person is bigger, transcending any temporary turbulence in the relationship. 

Therefore, it’s essential to be committed to each other and the relationship.

3. Attention

The act of listening for no other reason than being there, extending yourself and helping that person.

There are two types of listening:

  • For empathy, whereby you simply act as a sounding board to let the other blow off steam.
  • For solutions where you actively provide input to help the other person fix a problem.

Different types of listening are needed for different situations. 

4. Courage

The act of loving someone else makes you vulnerable.

It puts you at risk of suffering if you lose that other person.

The more love you create in life, the more risk you assume.

5. Balance

You must find the middle way between helping the one you love and letting them make mistakes in their own spiritual growth journey. 

To love is to expend effort.

Because it takes effort, love can strengthen the discipline in your life and vice versa.

Religion 

According to Peck, the definition of religion is too narrow and should be broadened.

Rather than the ritualistic belief in God, it should be expanded to include all ideas that comprise one’s worldview. 

By this definition, everyone has a religion that can expand as we gain new perspective.

Secondly, religion can either aid or obstruct our spiritual growth, depending on our belief system and individual interpretation of its principles.

This can often be influenced by our family and upbringing.

Fortunately, we can all achieve spiritual growth.

Peck contends that religion and science are often considered antithetical, but that they should be used in tandem and one can strengthen the other.

We should all act like scientists, constantly questioning and testing our worldview to inform our opinions.

Grace

Ordinary, everyday occurrences contain grace within them.

Grace, according to Peck, is a universal force that assists spiritual growth, protecting one’s physical and mental health, and includes miracles. 

He provides examples to support his assertion:

1. Some patients endure terrible trauma and emerge unscathed while others experience severe neuroses. The difference is this external universal force. 

2. Severe accidents, like car crashes. Some people emerge from these accidents without even a scratch. Grace is the force behind their protection. 

3. Evolution – Peck uses the example of the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the universe moves from an ordered to a disordered state. The exception to this is evolution, which according to Peck, is a miracle and must be guided by Grace. In other words, God wants to provide within us the means to grow.

Miracles can help identify grace at work.

Grace can also be discovered in our dreams and cases of synchronicity and serendipity we’d otherwise attribute to luck.

Grace lies outside our traditional senses.

For example, our unconscious and dream states can help reveal grace in the therapeutic process.

In this way, dreams are a method through which grace operates, promoting our spiritual growth.

Peck also outlines psychic phenomena such as synchronicity, which according to him, is grace in action.

There’s no other explanation for why people share the same dreams or thoughts simultaneously, he asserts.

These events are largely serendipitous for both parties, a gift of grace.

Becoming God

Humanity’s original sin is laziness, which obstructs spiritual growth.

To avoid sin, we must transcend laziness, challenge our beliefs and perform uncomfortable self-reflection in order to inform our worldview.

Many of us aren’t willing to extend such effort and default to laziness.

This is often due to the fear of change and preference for comfort.

By overcoming laziness, we can achieve spiritual growth, the ultimate purpose of which is to become God.

“God wants us to become himself or herself or itself. We are growing toward Godhood. God is the goal of evolution”

The Road Less Travelled Review

Strengths

Peck is a psychiatrist and The Road Less Travelled contains many examples of encounters with his patients, providing relatable scenarios.

He’s therefore tested his ideas on spiritual growth from a psychological perspective (at least in the first part of the book).

He’s honest that it takes hard work and significant individual effort to initiate change, placing emphasis on what we can do rather than ceding control to outside factors. 

Finally, the book has a unique approach to discipline, love, religion and grace, it’s major themes.
 
This can be a strength or a weakness depending on your preferences as a reader. 

Weaknesses

Personally I didn’t like the religious aspect of the book or that the author talked about miracles and original sin, venturing from his clinical experience to personal opinion and unsubstantiated claims.
 
The first two sections start strong and contain practical, applicable advice that anyone can use. 

The final two sections personally weren’t as helpful and may only appeal to a select readership. 

Bloomsoup review – 6.4

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