Scott Peck on Solving Problems and Growing

The Road Less Traveled

“It is in the whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has meaning. Problems are the cutting edge that distinguishes between success and failure. Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and our wisdom. It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually. It is through the pain of confronting and resolving problems that we learn.” (M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled)

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Save the Frosting For Last

Chocolate-Mousse-Cake-13When you eat a piece of cake, do you eat the cake first or the frosting?

One of the most helpful problem-solving strategies I’ve ever learned comes from M. Scott Peck in his now classic book The Road Less Traveled.  It is the discipline of delayed gratification.  Peck writes that delayed gratification “is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with…It is the only decent way to live.”

Procrastination is the art of putting off any necessary but unpleasant task.  And every day we encounter those kinds of things.  Returning phone calls.  A potentially painful conversation.  Balancing the checkbook.  Running on the treadmill.  It comes easy to most of us.

When I was a child, we never got dessert before dinner.  “If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding.”  Life is like that.  So is Pink Floyd (if you’re older than forty-five, you don’t need an explanation).

So, what to do?

The secret is this: Do it now.  Instead of making plans and preparing to get up earlier to have time to write or pray or work out, just get up.  It’s that simple.  Do it now.  It’s a whole lot more fun when you get the unpleasantness out of the way.  Then you no longer have the unfinished task hovering over you like the Sword of Damocles, spoiling your fun.  As kids, we did our homework first so we could go out and play the rest of the day.

“It’s the only decent way to live.”

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Take Charge Of Your Life (It’s Yours, After All)

Take Charge of Your LifeTrue confession: I don’t like taking responsibility for where I am at in life.  It’s much easier to be a victim rather than a survivor.  And I’m pretty good at it—and at self-deception as well.

I kvetch about working too many hours or having too many things on the schedule.  But I said “yes” for a myriad of good and lousy reasons. And then I’m tired and irritable.  I grouse about looking like a chubby little hobbit but I ate the M&M’s and Tootsie Rolls staring at me from the bowl, saying, “Take me, I’m yours.”

It doesn’t work for me, frankly.  This incident from Scott Peck’s life, recounted in The Road Less Traveled is mighty convicting.  But he nails this whole matter of taking responsibility for one’s life:

_________________________

Almost all of us from time to time seek to avoid-in ways that can be quite subtle-the pain of assuming responsibility for our problems. For the cure of my own subtle character disorder at the age of thirty I am indebted to Mac Badgely. At the time Mac was the director of the outpatient psychiatric clinic where I was completing my psychiatry residency training. In this clinic my fellow residents and I were assigned new patients on rotation. Perhaps because I was more dedicated to my patients and my own education than most of my fellow residents, I found myself working much longer hours than they. They ordinarily saw patients only once a week. I often saw my patients two or three times a week. As a result I would watch my fellow residents leaving the clinic at four-thirty each afternoon for their homes, while I was scheduled with appointments up to eight or nine o’clock at night, and my heart was filled with resentment. As I became more and more resentful and more and more exhausted I realized that something had to be done. So I went to Dr. Badgely and explained the situation to him. I wondered whether I might be exempted from the rotation of accepting new patients for a few weeks so that I might have time to catch up. Did he think that was feasible? Or could he think of some other solution to the problem? Mac listened to me very intently and receptively, not interrupting once. When I was finished, after a moment’s silence, he said to me very sympathetically, “Well, I can see that you do have a problem.”

I beamed, feeling understood. “Thank you,” I said. “What do you think should be done about it?”

To this Mac replied, “I told you, Scott, you do have a problem.”

This was hardly the response I expected. “Yes,” I said, slightly annoyed, “I know I have a problem. That’s why I came to see you. What do you think I ought to do about it?”

Mac responded: “Scott, apparently you haven’t listened to what I said. I have heard you, and I am agreeing why you. You do have a problem.”…[cursing] I said, “I know I have a problem. I knew that when I came in here. The question is, what am I going to do about it?”

“Scott,” Mac replied, “I want you to listen. Listen closely and I will say it again. I agree with you. You do have a problem. Specifically, you have a problem with time. Your time. Not my time. It’s not my problem. It’s your problem with your time. You, Scott Peck, have a problem with your time. That’s all I’m going to say about it.”

I turned and strode out of Mac’s office, furious. And I stayed furious. I hated Mac Badgely. For three months I hated him. I felt that he had a severe character disorder. How else could he be so callous? Here I had gone to him humbly asking for just a little bit of help, a little bit of advice, and the bastard wasn’t even willing to assume enough responsibility even to try to help me, even to do his job as director of the clinic. If he wasn’t supposed to help manage such problems as director of the clinic, what the hell was he supposed to do?

But after three months I somehow came to see that Mac was right, that it was I, not he, who had the character disorder. My time was my responsibility. It was up to me and me alone to decide how I wanted to use and order my time. If I wanted to invest my time more heavily than my fellow residents in my work, then that was my choice, and the consequences of that choice were my responsibility. It might be painful for me to watch my fellow residents leave their offices two or three hours before me, and it might be painful to listen to my wife’s complaints that I was not devoting myself sufficiently to the family, but these pains were the consequences of a choice that I had made. If I did not want to suffer them, then I was free to choose not to work so hard and to structure my time differently. My working hard was not a burden cast upon me by hardhearted fate or a hardhearted clinic director; it was the way I had chosen to live my life and order my priorities. As it happened, I chose not to change my life style. But with my change in attitude, my resentment of my fellow residents vanished. 

______________________________

This is tough medicine.  But we are responsible for our choices.  You didn’t have to take that job.  Go out with that person.  Vote for Obama or Bush.  Drink too many margaritas.  Eat the M&M’s.

Life is so much easier when we live free.  But freedom comes at the price of taking complete responsibility for all that is in our power.

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Love: The Less Traveled Road

“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.”

–M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

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Own Your Life…All Of It

True confession: I like to weasel out of responsibility for my life and choices.  And I’m pretty good at it—and at self-deception as well.

I kvetch about working too many hours or having too many things on the schedule.  But I said “yes” for a myriad of good and lousy reasons. And then I’m tired and irritable.  I grouse about looking like a chubby little hobbit but I ate the M&M’s and Tootsie Rolls staring at me from the bowl, saying, “Take me, I’m yours.”

It doesn’t work for me, frankly.  This incident from Scott Peck’s life, recounted in The Road Less Traveled is mighty convicting.  But he nails this whole matter of taking responsibility for one’s life:

_________________________

Almost all of us from time to time seek to avoid-in ways that can be quite subtle-the pain of assuming responsibility for our problems. For the cure of my own subtle character disorder at the age of thirty I am indebted to Mac Badgely. At the time Mac was the director of the outpatient psychiatric clinic where I was completing my psychiatry residency training. In this clinic my fellow residents and I were assigned new patients on rotation. Perhaps because I was more dedicated to my patients and my own education than most of my fellow residents, I found myself working much longer hours than they. They ordinarily saw patients only once a week. I often saw my patients two or three times a week. As a result I would watch my fellow residents leaving the clinic at four-thirty each afternoon for their homes, while I was scheduled with appointments up to eight or nine o’clock at night, and my heart was filled with resentment. As I became more and more resentful and more and more exhausted I realized that something had to be done. So I went to Dr. Badgely and explained the situation to him. I wondered whether I might be exempted from the rotation of accepting new patients for a few weeks so that I might have time to catch up. Did he think that was feasible? Or could he think of some other solution to the problem? Mac listened to me very intently and receptively, not interrupting once. When I was finished, after a moment’s silence, he said to me very sympathetically, “Well, I can see that you do have a problem.”

I beamed, feeling understood. “Thank you,” I said. “What do you think should be done about it?”

To this Mac replied, “I told you, Scott, you do have a problem.”

This was hardly the response I expected. “Yes,” I said, slightly annoyed, “I know I have a problem. That’s why I came to see you. What do you think I ought to do about it?”

Mac responded: “Scott, apparently you haven’t listened to what I said. I have heard you, and I am agreeing why you. You do have a problem.”…[cursing] I said, “I know I have a problem. I knew that when I came in here. The question is, what am I going to do about it?”

“Scott,” Mac replied, “I want you to listen. Listen closely and I will say it again. I agree with you. You do have a problem. Specifically, you have a problem with time. Your time. Not my time. It’s not my problem. It’s your problem with your time. You, Scott Peck, have a problem with your time. That’s all I’m going to say about it.”

I turned and strode out of Mac’s office, furious. And I stayed furious. I hated Mac Badgely. For three months I hated him. I felt that he had a severe character disorder. How else could he be so callous? Here I had gone to him humbly asking for just a little bit of help, a little bit of advice, and the bastard wasn’t even willing to assume enough responsibility even to try to help me, even to do his job as director of the clinic. If he wasn’t supposed to help manage such problems as director of the clinic, what the hell was he supposed to do?

But after three months I somehow came to see that Mac was right, that it was I, not he, who had the character disorder. My time was my responsibility. It was up to me and me alone to decide how I wanted to use and order my time. If I wanted to invest my time more heavily than my fellow residents in my work, then that was my choice, and the consequences of that choice were my responsibility. It might be painful for me to watch my fellow residents leave their offices two or three hours before me, and it might be painful to listen to my wife’s complaints that I was not devoting myself sufficiently to the family, but these pains were the consequences of a choice that I had made. If I did not want to suffer them, then I was free to choose not to work so hard and to structure my time differently. My working hard was not a burden cast upon me by hardhearted fate or a hardhearted clinic director; it was the way I had chosen to live my life and order my priorities. As it happened, I chose not to change my life style. But with my change in attitude, my resentment of my fellow residents vanished. 

______________________________

This is tough medicine.  But we are responsible for our choices.  You didn’t have to take that job.  Go out with that person.  Vote for Obama or Bush.  Drink too many margaritas.  Eat the M&M’s.

Life is so much easier when we live free.  But freedom comes at the price of taking complete responsibility for all that is in our power.

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Perspective and Its Healing Properties

“Life is difficult.”

Really?

Thus begins M. Scott Peck’s excellent book, The Road Less Traveled.  Peck then makes the strong point that a good deal of our unhappiness is rooted in an unrealistic expectation—namely, that life should be Heaven on Earth.  Utopia.  Grey Havens.  Shangri-la.  We tend to expect life to be problem-free and then are upended when life poses challenges.  Lots of them.

A wrong perspective about life in a fallen world is a setup for disillusionment and unhappiness.  Unrealistically, we expect life to be trouble-free.  But it need not be that way.

One of the things I love about flying is sitting 30,000 feet above the ground, looking out the window and realizing just how small we all are and how big the world is.  It puts things in perspective.  In the valley you don’t see the lay of the land the way you do from the mountain top.

I’m learning that a proper perspective about anything has a healing quality about it.  As a Christian, I believe we live in a world that was marred when man first chose to disobey his Creator.  A fallen world.  God essentially told Adam that, as a result of his disobedience, “life is going to be difficult from now on.”  You can read about that in Genesis 3.  But even in the difficulty, God promised meaning and His presence.

Perspective: Working in a sometimes tedious job may try your patience and sanity, but not having a job is far worse.  Just ask the millions of Americans out of work.

Perspective: Winter snow and cold may be inconvenient here in northern New York, but it does help insulate the ground and homes as well as replenish the water table.  That’s more important than you know.  Just ask people in states and countries ravaged by drought.

Perspective: Teenage drama may drive you at times to distraction but you at least have teenagers to drive you there.  Just ask the parents of an 18-year-old princess who died in a tragic car accident just miles from here a few months ago.  Her family and friends—my two daughters among them—grieve a beautiful, promising life cut short almost before it began.

In a few weeks, I will again get that sense of perspective as I will be on a plane headed west to see my youngest daughter.  I look forward to seeing once again how small we are.  It has a way of putting to bed things that won’t matter four months–or four years–from now.

The next time you’re tempted to despair and frustration, remember that life is difficult.  But it’s these difficulties that teach us to solve problems and have something really valuable to give to a world in pain.

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It’s Your Life: Own It

True confession: I like to weasel out of responsibility for my life and choices.  And I’m pretty good at it—and at self-deception as well.

I kvetch about working too many hours or having too many things on the schedule.  But I said “yes” for a myriad of good and lousy reasons. And then I’m tired and irritable.  I grouse about looking like a chubby little hobbit but I ate the M&M’s and Tootsie Rolls staring at me from the bowl, saying, “Take me, I’m yours.”

It doesn’t work for me, frankly.  This incident from Scott Peck’s life, recounted in The Road Less Traveled is mighty convicting.  But he nails this whole matter of taking responsibility for one’s life:

_________________________

Almost all of us from time to time seek to avoid-in ways that can be quite subtle-the pain of assuming responsibility for our problems. For the cure of my own subtle character disorder at the age of thirty I am indebted to Mac Badgely. At the time Mac was the director of the outpatient psychiatric clinic where I was completing my psychiatry residency training. In this clinic my fellow residents and I were assigned new patients on rotation. Perhaps because I was more dedicated to my patients and my own education than most of my fellow residents, I found myself working much longer hours than they. They ordinarily saw patients only once a week. I often saw my patients two or three times a week. As a result I would watch my fellow residents leaving the clinic at four-thirty each afternoon for their homes, while I was scheduled with appointments up to eight or nine o’clock at night, and my heart was filled with resentment. As I became more and more resentful and more and more exhausted I realized that something had to be done. So I went to Dr. Badgely and explained the situation to him. I wondered whether I might be exempted from the rotation of accepting new patients for a few weeks so that I might have time to catch up. Did he think that was feasible? Or could he think of some other solution to the problem? Mac listened to me very intently and receptively, not interrupting once. When I was finished, after a moment’s silence, he said to me very sympathetically, “Well, I can see that you do have a problem.”

I beamed, feeling understood. “Thank you,” I said. “What do you think should be done about it?”

To this Mac replied, “I told you, Scott, you do have a problem.”

This was hardly the response I expected. “Yes,” I said, slightly annoyed, “I know I have a problem. That’s why I came to see you. What do you think I ought to do about it?”

Mac responded: “Scott, apparently you haven’t listened to what I said. I have heard you, and I am agreeing why you. You do have a problem.”…[cursing] I said, “I know I have a problem. I knew that when I came in here. The question is, what am I going to do about it?”

“Scott,” Mac replied, “I want you to listen. Listen closely and I will say it again. I agree with you. You do have a problem. Specifically, you have a problem with time. Your time. Not my time. It’s not my problem. It’s your problem with your time. You, Scott Peck, have a problem with your time. That’s all I’m going to say about it.”

I turned and strode out of Mac’s office, furious. And I stayed furious. I hated Mac Badgely. For three months I hated him. I felt that he had a severe character disorder. How else could he be so callous? Here I had gone to him humbly asking for just a little bit of help, a little bit of advice, and the bastard wasn’t even willing to assume enough responsibility even to try to help me, even to do his job as director of the clinic. If he wasn’t supposed to help manage such problems as director of the clinic, what the hell was he supposed to do?

But after three months I somehow came to see that Mac was right, that it was I, not he, who had the character disorder. My time was my responsibility. It was up to me and me alone to decide how I wanted to use and order my time. If I wanted to invest my time more heavily than my fellow residents in my work, then that was my choice, and the consequences of that choice were my responsibility. It might be painful for me to watch my fellow residents leave their offices two or three hours before me, and it might be painful to listen to my wife’s complaints that I was not devoting myself sufficiently to the family, but these pains were the consequences of a choice that I had made. If I did not want to suffer them, then I was free to choose not to work so hard and to structure my time differently. My working hard was not a burden cast upon me by hardhearted fate or a hardhearted clinic director; it was the way I had chosen to live my life and order my priorities. As it happened, I chose not to change my life style. But with my change in attitude, my resentment of my fellow residents vanished.    

______________________________

This is tough medicine.  But we are responsible for our choices.  You didn’t have to take that job.  Go out with that person.  Vote for Obama or Bush.  Drink too many mixed drinks.  Eat the M&M’s.

Life is so much easier when we live free.  But freedom comes at the price of taking complete responsibility for all that is in our power.