As Phase 1 of my Mind Over Medicine book tour winds down, I’m starting to think in the direction of my next book, The Fear Cure: Cultivating Courage As Medicine For The Body, Mind & Soul, which Hay House will be publishing. I spent most of this past winter writing Part One of the book – about all the scientific data which proves that fear makes us sick. Now it’s time to stop procrastinating about writing the harder parts – Part Two, about how courage heals us, and even more challenging, Part Three, The Prescription for how we can become more courageous in our lives (gulp.)

As part of my research about how we can embrace courage in order to live more optimally healthy, happy lives, I’m reading M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled, a self-help classic that broke a record by staying on the New York Times bestseller’s list for ten whole years. Having only read Part One so far, I already get why the book was such a runaway bestseller. This post will be the first of a series of blog posts about The Road Less Traveled, so stay tuned.

As uncomfortable as it makes me to admit it, reading this book takes courage because I’m already discovering some things that myself and my ego (I call her Victoria Rochester) doesn’t particularly like seeing. Part One is all about how life is hard and filled with problems and how discipline is required in order for us to be effective problem-solvers. To be disciplined, we have to employ 4 behaviors.

The 4 behaviors are:

  1. Delaying gratification
  2. Accepting appropriate levels of responsibility for our circumstances
  3. Telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth
  4. Balancing (knowing when to employ these behaviors and when to fudge a little)

Delaying Gratification

I started reading about delaying gratification, and Victoria gloated, “I’ve so got that one.” After twelve years of delaying pretty much anything pleasurable in life in order to endure my medical education, I have no lack of proven ability to delay gratification. In fact, I delayed gratification to a fault. At every milestone along the journey – my college graduation, passing Part 1 of my medical boards, med school graduation, passing Part 2 and 3 of my boards, finishing residency, and finally passing my specialty boards, my mother wanted to throw me parties, but stubborn me, I wouldn’t let her. Why? Because the pain of my medical education wasn’t over until it was over, and I was afraid that if I indulged in gratification in the moment, I might lose the drive necessary in order to survive the whole painful ordeal. Sadly, by the time I finished my specialty boards, Mom no longer offered to throw me a party. The day went unmarked.

So I’ve proven my ability to delay gratification – but reading this book made me realize that ever since I finished my medical education, I’ve been making up for lost time. In fact, I’ve been so rebellious about not delaying gratification for one more day of my life that I’ve slacked off in the discipline department. In some areas of my life, I’m still very disciplined about delaying gratification – like in my professional life, when I’m working against a deadline, or when I reward myself with a hike out in nature, but only after I’ve gotten all my tedious tasks done for the day. But in some ways, especially in my personal life, I’ve swung 180 degrees in the opposite direction. I want what I want – and I want it NOW. Extremes are never the solution.

Rx for myself: Coming back to center would help my emotional and spiritual growth.

Accepting Responsibility For Your Circumstances

Dr. Peck divides people who seek therapy into two categories – those he calls “neurotics” and those he defines as suffering from a “character disorder.” While the terminology reflects outdated psychotherapeutic lingo, his descriptions of what these categories represent hit home.

“Neurotics” = Those who unduly accept responsibility for everything bad that happens to them (ie. “It’s all my fault because I’m a bad person.”)

“Character Disorders” = Those who never accept responsibility when bad things happen and, instead, blame everybody else (ie. “It’s that damn system/ my idiot boss/ my abusive husband/ the patriarchy.”)

He says every single human being has at least some aspect of one of these diagnoses, while others are more extreme in their disordered behavior. I started thinking through the people I love – and examining myself – and I realized that these two patterns feed off each other.

My husband Matt has “neurotic” characteristics. He blames himself if anything bad happens, even when, much of the time, from my perspective, he hasn’t done a single thing wrong.  It goes along with what Martin Seligman defines as the pessimistic explanatory style. Pessimists explain negative events as personal, pervasive, and permanent. In other words, “It’s all my fault, it affects not just the adverse event, but everything, and it’s going to last forever.”

I, on the other hand, have more of a “character disorder,” which fits in with the optimistic explanatory style. When negative events happen in my life, I explain them to myself as not personal, specific to the adverse event, and temporary. In other words, “It’s not my fault – it’s someone else’s, it doesn’t affect everything, just this one thing, and it’ll go away.”

While an optimistic explanatory style is good for your health (optimists have a 77% lower rate of heart disease than pessimists), Dr. Peck says neurotics are easy to get along with and respond better to psychotherapy because they’ll always blame themselves rather than shirking responsibility off on someone else.

And of course, neurotics and character disordered people fit together like lock and key. When I first met my husband, he jokingly told me his 2 step process of conflict resolution – #1 Assign blame. #2 Move on. He offered to always accept blame, and most of the time, in our relationship, he does, even when it’s not his fault.

Rx for myself: This needs to change – for both of us – and for how I engage in relationship with many more people. (Ouch.)

Telling The Truth

The third key is to always tell the truth, not just by avoiding falsehoods, but by never withholding the truth about what you believe, how you feel, what you do, and the authentic essence of who you really are and what is true for you. I was guilty guilty guilty of breaking this rule until my Perfect Storm hit in 2006. It’s not so much that I lied outright (though I was definitely guilty of that as well). It’s more that I hid who I really was in order to appear socially acceptable. I wore masks to cover up the truth of who I was because I was afraid I was essentially unlovable underneath all the pretty, socially acceptable masks, and I thought everyone would reject me if only they knew the truth.

I still do this to some degree. Even as vulnerable as I am with you – my readers – I still withhold some things I think you might not like. I’m afraid that if you found out the whole ugly truth, you might not want to keep reading what I write – or you might lose respect for me and then maybe nobody would learn from some of my hard-earned life lessons.

So I tell a version of the truth that’s sometimes sugar-coated. Or I hide from you things I don’t want you to know. And I do this with everyone to some degree. There’s only one person who knows every deep, dark, dirty secret of my entire life and that’s Matt. Bless his heart for sticking around in spite of my truth.

Rx for myself: Brené Brown is right. The only way to attain true intimacy is to willingly expose our imperfections, to be vulnerable and transparent about our growth edges, to forgive ourselves for our flaws, and to be unapologetic about who we are – warts and all.

Balancing

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and that’s where balancing comes in. While avoiding procrastination and delaying gratification so we can get the hard stuff out of the way first, there are times to indulge in instant gratification. While it’s important to avoid shirking blame, stop making ourselves the victim, and accept responsibility for our behaviors and circumstances, it’s also important not to blame ourselves for every unfortunate outcome. While it’s important to make ourselves vulnerable in front of our children, it may be inappropriate to expose certain truths if their young minds aren’t mature enough to handle the whole truth.

According to Dr. Peck, even discipline needs discipline – and the discipline of learning to discipline yourself is to know when to break these rules and when to follow them.

Rx for myself: Discipline need not be an all or nothing phenomenon.  I don’t have to choose between following all the rules and throwing all caution to the wind. As with everything, moderation is key.

Are You Disciplined?

Where do you fit in when it comes to these 4 characteristics of living a disciplined life?

Tell us your stories in the comments.

With love and just the right amount of discipline,

P.S. I’d love to see you at one of these book tour events for the last leg of my book tour.

July 21, 2013 – 12:30 – 4:30 pm PT – The Daily Love Presents: Mind Over Medicine L.A. Launch Event with Lissa, TDL founder Mastin Kipp, Dr. Patricia Fitzgerld (Chinese medicine expert and editor of The Huffington Post Wellness section), addiction/recovery specialist Elisa Hallerman and founder of Recovery 2.0 – Tommy Rosen. Golden Bridge Yoga Hollywood –   1357 North Highland Avenue, Los Angeles, CA.

July 21, 2013 – 7:00 – 9:00 pm PT – S Factor L.A. – Sheila Kelley S Factor Los Angeles, 5225 Wilshire Blvd., Suite B, Los Angeles, CA.

P.P.S. Don’t miss early bird registration for Hay House’s I Can Do It! Pasadena where I’ll be speaking with Nick Ortner, Dr. Brian Weiss, Doreen Virtue and countless other spiritual powerhouses. Click here for more details.

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14 Comments

  1. Embodhi

    I’ve tried imposing “discipline” on myself, and have always ended up in a pattern of reluctance, resentment, procrastination and mental self-flagellation. What I’ve noticed is that when I’m ready for the practice, all the barriers dissolve. The desire to do X thing (recently it’s been an hour’s pre-breakfast yoga practice) simply outweighs the desire to do anything else. That’s when true discipline occurs.

    So I’m noodling around as I write.

    There’s the internally emerging True Discipline, in which a deep unconscious shift has occurred and the desire to Do outweighs the desire to Do Not. This True Discipline is healthy, empowering, and creates the space for yet more True Discipline to emerge around other areas of life as the deep emotional rewards are reaped.

    There’s the externally imposed False Discipline, in which Oughts and Shoulds have been uncritically swallowed and the unconscious and conscious minds are at war. This leads to unhappiness, resistance and closing down and the frustration and deep discomfort with forcing yourself to do something that is not True for you.

    Initially, I was thinking, “But what about stuff we don’t want to do, but we have to do in order to survive the current social systems we live in? BAH, HUMBUG!” Then I realised that experiencing True Discipline in one area creates the conditions for True Discipline to emerge elsewhere – by nurturing that sense of ease, by allowing that one area of True Discipline to colour the rest of the day, the stuff that’s necessary right now gets done with less resistance.

    Does that make sense?

    Reply
  2. Meg Sylvia

    Such great points. All so true. Accepting responsibility for our own well-being is such a difficult thing to do sometimes, especially without attempting to place blame. But really, the only person we have control over truly is our own selves. I find that when I approach conflict with compassion rather than judgement, the easier it will is to find out way out of it!

    Reply
    • Pauline Berry

      I read “Elegant Choices, Healing Choices” by Marsha Sinetar after “The Road Less Travelled” and that was even better.

      Reply
  3. T.L. Parks

    I will be ordering The Road Less Traveled today…seems like the perfect time for it. I look forward to following your blog posts about the book, along with you.

    Reply
  4. asplenia

    Embodhi that’s a great comment (also, Lissa, this is my favorite post of yours, and I really like that you included your own take AND rx for each one). I have heard self-discipline is like a muscle. Mine is uncoordinated and needs exercise.

    Reply
  5. Intuitive Leadership Coach

    While working with my coach I realized that discipline doesn’t work for me.
    Yikes! (And relief…)

    Now I have to learn to navigate the fine line between creating a life of pleasure (my core desire, can’t go without it) and delaying instant gratification to invest in my future (to create true freedom).

    Right now it’s still a challenge but I’m committed to playing with this until I find what really works for me. Quite the adventure!

    Reply
  6. Samantha Swords

    Thanks Lissa, well said. There is a place for filtering, and slowly revealing aspects of yourself- it’s part of relationship building, no matter if it’s between two people or two hundred. You control how much you dare to share, we choose to stick around 😉

    I think that possessing good balance is vital to everything, and relies on a combination of judgment and instinct.

    Balance by its nature is constantly changing, and a person needs to be centred, flexible, relaxed and well for their balance to be optimised. Of course, the human body is bloody amazing and will adapt to living with all kinds of wild imbalances- it just resets its centre line and gets on with it. A lot like dancing- some folks do it better than others. 🙂

    Thanks for being vulnerable.
    Love,
    ~Samantha

    Reply
  7. Susan Gallacher-Turner

    All good information for creating a good life. I see myself and my path winding around and through all 4 characteristics of discipline. I see that in my past I’ve been where you’ve been, what I call ‘over discipline’. I did too much of the shoulds and not enough of the wants. Then, I over compensated a little

    Reply
  8. Wendy Parfrey

    Scott.M.Peck was an alcoholic, cannibus smoker and a chain smoker. He got on top of these issues. He also had many adulterous affairs with his patients and this stopped only when he became impotent. This information changed my views of this man. I never looked up to him again. Not becuase he did these things and that they are so unforgivable, but because he wrote this book whilst engaging in these extra marital affairs. This to me, made him hypocrytical.

    Anyway, that is done and dusted now. My views on delayed gratification have recently changed. Like you Lissa, I have spent the bulk of my life delaying gratification. Over recent years, I seemed to swing across to the other side, having to have what I wanted, within reason, now!

    And, now more recently, I have discovered underlying issues that actually cause this deviation from my ‘natural centre’ with gratification and the delaying or gratifying of it.

    Childhood issues/conditioning, once uncovered (brought into conciousness) and resolved (healed) , have resulted in me being able to ‘naturally’ stay centered with gratification.

    My beliefs now, are that ‘no effort is required’ to keep delayed gratification in check, when you resolve the issues causing it to be out of balance.

    I am hoping this might be of interest to you, as you write this chapter of your next book??

    Wendy

    Reply
    • T.L. Parks

      Hi Wendy, I haven’t read any of this authors work yet, but am looking forward to it. I don’t know if his indiscretions made him hypocritical or just human. I stopped having idols a long time ago, stopped putting people on a pedestal, cause the reality is that we all fall short.

      I think it’s possible to be inspired to share a worthy message, even while in the midst of the full spectrum of our human vulnerabilities, brilliance, flaws and weaknesses. Ever listen to an alcoholic babble incoherently one moment and then the next moment, an honest truth slips out? Sort of why people say drunks tell the truth, lol.

      I learned to accept the messenger and the message, bundled beautifully in it’s sometimes frayed human package. It allows me to be more gentle with myself too. The sinner and the saint in all of us…but sharing our light and our dark side is what we do,

      Reply
  9. Suzan Rae

    Do not stop with ‘The Road Less Traveled’, his greater books came after. Reading all of his books also tells the story of the author and how he finds his way while dealing with his own demons. He is a genius regarding human behavior and how to meet challenges for the imperfect. His writing offers insight, hope, recovery, and tools for much needed change.

    Reply
  10. shayjordan

    I love this! I am definitely learning to balance and actually balance it all. The delayed gratification wasn’t necessarily me – but I do have the I want it and I want it now attitude LOL.

    For discipline in business, I joined a 30 day blogging challenge and it has helped me be discipline and finish my high end signature program. And in my personal life, I have even been so disciplined to make sure no clothes are on the floor when I go to bed (instead of the pile that used to be there a month ago LOL).

    Great read! I am definitely going to share!

    Reply
  11. Valerie O

    I’ve always looked at “discipline” as someone trying to force me to do things that may not be in my own best interest at the time.

    That being said, I recently separated from my husband. I moved 600 miles away. I made a promise to him and myself that we would stay friends – and 3 years after our separation, we are excellent friends! Was it “easy”? Not all the time. But I felt that it was important to keep him in my life.

    Maybe that is some form of discipline. I don’t know.

    If my kitchen is messy, and I am too tired to deal with it, I leave it for another time. It gets done.

    If I have a pile of clothing to sort through to decide whether to keep it or donate it, it may sit there for a long while. Eventually, the task gets done.

    I have my own timeline. I used to have a timeline imposed upon me. Not anymore.

    I don’t know if I “qualify” as “disciplined”. That’s my query to myself.

    I know for sure that I appreciate you, and what you offer of yourself. I got “The Road Less Traveled” today, as soon as I read your email. I’ve already devoured the first chapter. =)

    Maybe “discipline” could be the set of behavioral “rules” that we, each, decide to follow for ourselves?

    I’m still undecided on this.

    Thanks for sharing with me! <3

    Reply

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