Book Review: The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck

The Road Less Traveled is a personal and professional account of how discipline can help you live a fuller life while gaining a deeper understanding of love, religion, and grace. 

In life, certain paths are less traveled because they are more challenging, but, in this case, the road to enlightenment is also far more rewarding. 

This book allows you to discover how you can grow and become a more balanced person.

However, you may be wondering if you should read the book. This book review will tell you what important lessons you can learn from this book so you can decide if it is worth your time.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

Lesson 1: A better life begins with self-discipline and delayed gratification

Life stinks, no matter how you slice it. If you accept this fact, you’ll be better off.

Don’t despair, however. Life is full of problems, and once you realize that, you’ll be on your way to finding a solution.

People tend to believe that life is fair, pleasant, or otherwise rosy. This outlook will only leave them disappointed. In contrast, recognizing that life is inherently difficult will motivate you to gather the tools you need to succeed.

Having a healthy perspective is only half the battle; the other half is learning to practice self-discipline; and the first tool is to become familiar with delayed gratification.

There is no point in waiting for something good when you can have it right now. Our lives tend to be lived according to the same philosophy, with many of us preferring dessert to dinner.

People who practice this kind of lifestyle are not necessarily dumb. It could be termed “play now, pay later.” Such people are intelligent, but nevertheless, manage to get bad grades because they’d rather skip class and have fun than waste time studying. They’re often ruled by their impulses.

Let’s say you are prone to procrastination. Is there anyone among us who hasn’t taken care of the easy stuff first and then struggled with the boring and difficult stuff later on in the day?

Having a patient with this exact issue, the author suggested she start practicing delayed gratification by reversing her work habits.

The difficult stuff had to be dealt with first. Therefore, instead of facing one easy hour followed by six miserable hours of dragging her feet, she could have one miserable hour followed by six enjoyable hours.

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Lesson 2: Being disciplined means accepting responsibility, being honest, and maintaining a healthy balance

You can bring discipline to your life by using delayed gratification.

You must also accept responsibility for your own life if you are to have true self-discipline.

Are you familiar with the phrase “this isn’t my problem”? I think it’s a common reaction to the things we’d rather not deal with. But avoidance won’t help.

The author, M Scott Peck, developed the bad habit of avoiding responsibility during his psychiatric training. He was upset at one point that he had to work longer than his colleagues. When Peck asked the director about this, he was told: “It’s not my problem. It’s your time.”

Peck was furious with the director for evading responsibility when it was in fact Peck himself who was evading the issue. He was not being forced to do more work; it was up to him to find a solution.

You can improve your self-discipline by dedicating yourself to the truth, which means that you face your life honestly and openly.

This is a difficult challenge since it requires you to be self-reflective and constantly reevaluate your worldview.

You’re absolutely right – psychotherapy provides a great way to uncover personal truths. Reflecting honestly on your life and being open to self-analysis is essential to personal growth.

In addition to discipline, balancing is also important.

By giving up unhealthy habits and extreme behaviors, you will restore balance to your life. Often, you may do these things because they are exciting, but they tend not to turn out well in the end.

According to the author, it was similar to riding his bike at full speed down a hill. This rush made him reluctant to give up his ecstatic feelings, which led him to crash into a forest. The things that give you a rush can be painful to abandon, but losing your balance can be even more painful.

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Lesson 3: Love is tightly related to spiritual growth and self-discipline

There has been much written and said about the nature of love, but simply put, love is having a desire to nurture your own spiritual growth as well as others’.

By looking at love in this way, you can see it as an integral part of your spiritual evolution, since spiritual growth is about reaching a greater state of being.

Understanding that you need to love yourself before you can love others is also crucial. Essentially, it’s the same as a parent teaching a child how to act in a disciplined way. The parent must demonstrate discipline themselves.

Making an effort to love someone is the definition of love. It requires more than just a desire to love. Most people desire, or want, to love, but few are actually able to love. People who have chosen spiritual growth have chosen to love, and therefore they act lovingly.

When it comes to desire and will, the difference is between saying, “I would like to cook a delicious meal for you” – and then maybe doing it, or maybe not doing it — and saying, “I will cook you a delicious meal,” and actually doing it.

It takes both will and effort for love to create discipline in your life.

Love acts as a storage tank of energy when it is in your heart. Love enables you to grow and increase your capacity for love, so it can be self-nurturing as well.

Discipline is necessary to maintain any loving relationship.

The author once counseled a couple who believed that their constant quarrels were just normal aspects of their passionate love for one another, despite the fact that the fighting clearly hurt them. As soon as they heard that the goal of the counseling was to improve their self-discipline and balance their emotions in order to stop this, they quit.

The two were doomed to continue hurting each other if their discipline wasn’t strengthened.

Lesson 4: Love is not a feeling, but a choice requiring attention and risk

It is more common than not that we think of love as a feeling rather than an action, which can lead to problems.

Love has to do with cathecting, which involves investing emotional energy into something or someone.

If you have a valuable piece of jewelry, you might consider cathecting it. Two people who meet in a bar and hit it off might experience such intense cathecting that the rest of the world seems to vanish.

A feeling of love is often fleeting and tied to a specific moment, whereas true love lasts for a lifetime.

The feeling we always associate with love can exist even without it since true love transcends cathecting.

Disagreements can happen in a marriage, and tempers can flare, but the couple continues to work together to accomplish their goals. It’s more important that these two people committed themselves to their own volition, not on the basis of fleeting emotions.

To flourish, love requires more than a commitment – it requires attention and the understanding that it can be lost.

When you love someone, you support their growth and pay attention to them. This requires you to put everything else aside and truly listen to what your loved one is saying and feeling. This gives you a better understanding of the person you love and allows you to grow.

Nevertheless, you cannot love someone without risking losing them.

It is always possible that the relationship will fall apart, leaving you heartbroken and alone. However, love comes with a price. Life itself is a risk – and the more love you add to it, the riskier it becomes.

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Lesson 5: Religion is fundamentally a worldview that grows and expands as we gain new perspectives

What comes to mind when you think about religion? Some of us believe it’s a strict set of rules and ritualistic practices, and being part of a group that believes in and worships God.

However, this is too narrow a definition.

It is important to see religion as a belief system that is determined by our culture.

Everybody has a religion, and it does not necessarily involve God or gods. Think of “religion” as just another way of expressing “worldview,” which is informed by your upbringing and culture.

Stewart, who considered himself an atheist, found that this perspective on religion helped him overcome his severe depression. However, once the author helped him explore his worldview, Stewart began to understand how his own religion affected his mental health.

When Stewart began looking at how his family culture affected him, he realized that it portrayed the world as an evil place, full of vengeful forces ready to punish him if he stepped out of line. Being raised by physically and spiritually abusive parents led to this.

The example illustrates that our worldview is influenced by the actions and behaviors of our families rather than the beliefs they convey directly.

Fortunately, all of us are capable of spiritual growth if we let new experiences shape our outlook.

Consider yourself a scientist who is constantly questioning and exploring the world around him/her. Use this information to inform your opinions. This will enable you to rebel against your parents’ religion. When you can take in all that life has to offer, you don’t have to adhere to their narrow worldview.

You should not let past experiences obscure your view of the spiritual realm. 

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Lesson 6: Ordinary events can highlight the extraordinary phenomenon of grace

You probably know the hymn that begins, “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound…” Because of this popular tune, the word “grace” is most closely associated with “amazing.”

But what exactly is grace? Is it really all that remarkable?

Grace is actually quite common. It is the force that protects physical and mental health, even in the most trying of circumstances.

In an interesting turn of events, a good psychiatrist will be able to determine precisely why you have a neurosis. Nevertheless, it remains a mystery why some neuroses aren’t worse, or why so many people who have suffered horrific traumas are still able to lead fulfilling lives.

An incredibly successful businessman, one of the author’s patients, had only a mild form of neurosis. Yet, during his childhood, he suffered from both psychological and physical trauma, including stints in cold and unloving foster homes and a period in jail.

He can be explained and treated for his neurosis, but it is impossible to explain how he coped with his upbringing and went on to become such a remarkable adult.

The author argues that this can only be explained by positing an external force that protects people and their mental health, thereby enabling them to withstand adverse conditions.

Grace may be more than just an amazing resilience, but is rather a force beyond our consciousness that nurtures our growth as human beings. In this regard, grace can be seen as an evolutionary force by a god who wants to make sure we don’t remain stagnant, but instead strive to grow.

Although you might think that this idea is naive, the author believes that there is no better explanation for our survival instinct.

Consider some other “miracles” that better demonstrate grace at work if you still doubt it.

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Lesson 7: We can also find grace in dreams, synchronicity, and serendipity

It is human nature to categorize phenomena. Sandals and canoes are both different, and to better understand them, we place them in their respective categories: shoes and boats.

Grace is a phenomenon that lies outside the range of our traditional senses, much like the wonders of dreams and unconscious states.

As a result of his work with patients, the author has found that our unconscious can provide insight into the therapeutic process by providing insightful dreams.

According to analysis, certain dreams signal potential pitfalls in one’s life. As dreams seem to promote our spiritual growth, the author believes that dreaming is a good example of grace working in our lives.

Some people have been known to have remarkably similar dreams or to transmit images psychically. Psychic phenomena like these are examples of synchronicity, another manifestation of grace at work.

Like grace, synchronicity is the frequent occurrence of highly unlikely events that cannot be explained. Synergies have been documented, but there is no logical explanation for how two people can share the same dreams or be able to send images.

However, when events like these occur, they’re usually beneficial to the individuals involved, making it an act of serendipity, according to Webster’s Dictionary, which defines it as “the act of coming across things useful or pleasing without intentionally seeking them out.”.

When he wrote a book, the author experienced this first-hand.

While away from home, he worked in a friend’s library and felt a bit stuck with writer’s block. Though his friend’s wife was normally cold and unkind to him, on this occasion she came into the room without prompting and handed him a book. 

The book she gave him to read was How People Change by Allen Wheelis, and it was just what he needed to get unstuck and continue working.

No matter what situation we are in, we can all be touched by grace.

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Lesson 8: Laziness is humanity’s original sin, which prevents us from achieving spiritual growth

We learn about original sin in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

As a result of the serpent’s seduction, Eve eats the fruit of the tree of knowledge, an act that God forbids. This sin is primarily characterized by the fact that Adam and Eve didn’t discuss why the fruit was forbidden, and therefore did not understand what law they were breaking.

Another way to think of original sin is that it is a byproduct of laziness: not devoting time and energy to a thorough internal discussion. We need to be diligent about asking ourselves why we do what we do in order to avoid making sinful decisions and make good ones.

It isn’t easy to hold an internal discussion like this. Integrating our inner serpent and our inner God is no easy task, and examining them means exposing ourselves to a deeply-rooted struggle. Therefore, it’s completely natural that we would want to avoid this conflict.

But laziness is also the biggest obstacle to spiritual growth along with being our original sin.

Laziness like this has nothing to do with your family or your job responsibilities. It is possible to work 60 hours a week, take care of your kids and home chores, and still be lazy when it comes to your spiritual development.

A lack of energy for growth may be due to a fear of change or a desire not to lose the comfort they have now.

There are a lot of people who don’t want to go through the effort of changing their comfortable worldview because they find new perspectives threatening. New perspectives are easier to ignore than to embrace, so spiritual growth can stagnate through both fear and laziness.

However, this doesn’t have to be the case. If you acknowledge your resistance, you can begin the process of overcoming the prejudices and obstacles that stand in the way of your spiritual growth.

About The Author

The Harvard-educated psychiatrist M. Scott Peck had a private practice and years of experience in mental health clinics before becoming a best-selling author. 

Millions of people have benefited from his writing because it combines psychiatric experience with religious beliefs. He published People of the Lie in 1983, a study of human evil. 

In 2005, he died at the age of 69.

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