The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott PeckEarlier this week, I mentioned Do the Work!, Steven Pressfield’s small book about overcoming procrastination and getting things done. Today, I want to share something I read recently in The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck.

My parents loved The Road Less Traveled when I was a boy, but I’ve never read it myself. Kim has a copy of it on her bookshelf, so I’ve been making my way through it slowly when I have downtime at her house. It’s interesting.

Peck’s book begins in a buddhic fashion, postulating that “life is difficult”. (The first of Buddha’s four noble truths is that “life is suffering”.) Peck argues that suffering is necessary, but that we can achieve mental and spiritual health by using four tools to cope with the challenges we face. Namely:

  • Delaying gratification
  • Accepting responsibility
  • Dedication to truth
  • Balancing

I don’t know what he means by all of these yet because I’m not very far in the book. I have, however, begun to read the section on delaying gratification, and I find it fascinating.

Note: Peck’s four tools for dealing with difficulties remind me a little of Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, which I shared last week.

I particularly liked this passage in which Peck explains that procrastination is, essentially, a manifestation of low self-esteem. If you don’t like yourself, you don’t value your time, and so you waste it or you put things off. (As always, emphasis is mine.)

When we love something it is of value to us, and when something is of value to us we spend time with it, time enjoying it and time taking care of it. Observe a teenager in love with his car and not the time he will spend admiring it, polishing it, repairing it, tuning it. Or an older person with a beloved rose garden, and the time spent pruning and mulching and fertilizing and studying it. So it is when we love children; we spend time admiring them and caring for them. We give them our time.

The time and the quality of the time that their parents devote to them indicate to the children the degree to which they are valued by their parents.

The feeling of being valuable — “I am a valuable person” — is essential to mental health and is a cornerstone of self-discipline. It is a direct product of parental love. Such a conviction must be gained in childhood; it is extremely difficult to acquire it in adulthood. Conversely, when children have learned through the love of their parents to feel valuable, it is almost impossible for the vicissitudes of adulthood to destroy their spirit.

This feeling of being valuable is a cornerstone of self-discipline because when one considers oneself valuable one will take care of oneself in all ways that are necessary. Self-discipline is self-caring. For instance — since we are discussing the process of delaying gratification, of scheduling and ordering our time — let us examine the matter of time. If we feel ourselves valuable, then we will feel our time to be valuable, and if we feel our time to be valuable, then we will want to use it well.

The financial analyst who procrastinated [mentioned earlier in the book] did not value her time. If she had, she would not have allowed herself to spend most of her day so unhappily and unproductively. It was not without consequence for her that throughout her childhood she was “farmed out” during all school vacations to live with paid foster parents although her parents could have taken care of her perfectly well had they wanted to. They did not value her. They did not want to care for her. So she grew up feeling herself to be of little value, not worth caring for; therefor she did not care for herself. She did not feel she was worth disciplining herself. Despite the fact that she was an intelligent and competent woman she required the most elementary instruction in self-discipline because she lacked a realistic assessment of her own worth and the value of her own time. Once she was able to perceive her time as being valuable, it naturally followed that she wanted to organize it and protect it and make maximum use of it.

I used to be a terrible procrastinator. I also used to waste my time on frivolities. Based on the above passage, it will probably come as no surprise to find that I had little self-esteem. I didn’t like myself, so no wonder I didn’t value my time.

Now, though, I’ve changed. I do like myself. I like who I am. I like what I do. And because I’ve found self-worth, my relationship with time has changed. Whereas I once wasted hours on mindless television or (especially) on videogames, I rarely do this anymore. (Sure, I play games and watch TV sometimes, but it’s a conscious choice, a chance to unwind now and then.) I’ve also become much better about procrastination. When I do procrastinate, it’s usually because I’ve done a poor job prioritizing, not because I’m unhappy with myself.

There’s a lot of good stuff in The Road Less Traveled; I can see why it has sold seven million copies. If I’d read it earlier in my life, it might be one of those foundational books that my personal philosophy is built upon. Actually, it may still become one of those books. I’m sure I’ll be sharing more insights from The Road Less Traveled as I slowly work my way through it.

19 Replies to “On Self-Esteem and the Value of Time”

  1. Sounds like a book I need to add to the long list of book I need to read. Personally I am very fond of the idea of delaying gratification because it tends to lead to two outcomes, both of which are positive:
    1) The gratification is greater when it finally arrives,
    2) Upon reflection, during the delay, the gratification isn’t needed, and money and time are saved.

  2. Sammie says:

    OMG! I can not wait to get this book for my 21 year old son. It makes so much sense. Thank you!!

  3. Reading this blog is like listening to myself think. When I started on this journey of understanding my relationship with the world, I was advised by some very wise women to set the intention to be a woman of unlimited self esteem and to meditate on that for a year. At the time I had no clue why that was important when all I wanted was a relationship and money and self esteem and self love seemed so unimportant (I always figured if I had enough money, people would love me and if people loved me then I would love myself). A few years later all I can say is that spending that year meditating on self esteem has changed my life, my relationships and my approach to my work- I have stopped seeking approval outside and am more focused on making decisions that align with my values. It’s not always easy but I keep at it becaus I have learned that the longest relationship I will ever have is with me. I have also learned that you teach people how to treat you. If you don’t value yourself or believe in yourself, no one else can believe in you or value you. Same with time – if you can’t value your time, no one can value it.

  4. Sounds like a good book. I’ll have to put it on my reading list.
    The whole life is suffering philosophy is a bit misleading. It doesn’t mean life is miserable. It just mean you should be aware of tough situations that can happen and be prepared. 🙂

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Adding this book to my reading list! I really like this particular passage – it’s making me wonder if I should pay more attention to my time, not just my finances.

    J.D., I like that you pull wisdom from older books. Too many blogs only promote the latest and greatest titles, but some books are timeless.

  6. Peter says:


    Don’t you think procrastination can simply be a reflection of the value you place on what you are putting off? You might be using the time gained by procrastinating to do something useful that you do value. Just another thought.


  7. JB says:

    This is one of those seminal books that changed my life, and yet it’s amazing how quickly its wisdom (like most wisdom I seem to acquire) goes right out of my head over time. Thank you for mentioning it. The passage about valuing our time is priceless. Yet here I sit in New York, days after the hurricane, not directly affected (unlike many others), completely unable to concentrate. I’m wasting time reading about what’s going on outside instead of working or, if nothing else, getting outside and finding a way to be useful. Then again, if I hadn’t been ‘wasting time’ I wouldn’t have come across this page. So it hasn’t been a complete waste, not at all. (And I’m glad you’re writing again, JD. I’d missed your voice over at GRS.)

  8. Olga King says:

    I love this book! Read it 3 times by now:)

  9. Edward says:

    I’ve be very interested to read this book for several reasons.

    Firstly because I have never, ever thought “life was suffering”. Life rocks! …A lot!! Sure, the occasional relationship-breakup has been a downer, but whaddya gonna do? I still have all my limbs! There’s lots of amazingly fun stuff out there to do.

    Secondly, (anyone who’s ever met me can attest to this), I don’t have low self-esteem but I’m lazy as cat in a sunray. I don’t procrastinate much, get everything done that needs to me, but man–I love to lay around doing nothing. (It’s best when sipping beer on a tropical beach with a smoke in one hand, watching the bikinis stroll by.) I “value my time” absolutely most when I’m doing zero. I don’t think this is a product of unhappiness at all, but the opposite–complete contentedness. Whether it’s having a nap under a tree in a park or sitting in a Paris cafe watching the world go by, doing nothing rocks my world. …Though so does horseback riding in the Arizona desert or zip-lining in Costa Rica, both which require some level of effort, but I digress. I can’t wait for the day I get to sit around doing nothing at all!

    Anyway, would love to read this book to learn more. The book that’s always rang most true to me is “The Tao of Pooh” by Benjamin Hoff.

  10. Corey says:

    The point that you brought out about procrastination being a sign of low self-esteem reminds me of a key point in the book Your Money or Your Life. The authors talk about your life energy and how many of us work jobs that expend all of our life energy. I’ve found that this applies in my life to a certain degree and requires time to recuperate. It’s definitely something to be aware of so that you don’t waste your whole life being unhappy and miserable.

  11. KSR says:

    “Time” is a measure of change at a rudimentary level (lets not get quantum on this). But, if nothing is changing– you aren’t utilizing “time” appropriately, right? And if you’ve appropriately used time, the change is apparent. Meaning—it’s time to move on to something new to challenge time again.

  12. Jenzer says:

    This is the type of thoughtful, intelligent writing (and discussion!) which drew me into GRS in the first place. Thanks, JD, for continuing it here.

  13. Jacq says:

    Read the book eons ago and IIRC it wasn’t bad. I prefer Nathaniel Branden’s work on self-esteem – much the same message without the neurotic, totally hypocritical, perhaps eventually slightly bonkers reputation of Peck the man. I have a hard time reading self-help-y stuff from someone whose personal life is a complete shambles like Peck’s was. Gandhi’s m.o. of “my life is my message” is one that a lot of authors should think about before proselytizing.

  14. Michal says:

    I find the four Buddhist principles absolutely in alignment with what I have always known was there but couldn’t put my finger on in terms of language. That’s the beauty of books like that – they name things for you for greater clarity, even though the theories aren’t necessarily revolutionary if you think about them.

    BTW: These’s one more book on procrastination that highlight the insecurity and guilt component in it, I think it’s called the Now Habit – interesting concept.

  15. Amy F says:

    Question for you JD, and to everyone else as well. It’s similar to one I posted on GRS and one that JD answered. He pointed me to the direction of ‘How to Live Free in an Unfree World’….which I devoured. So here’s the question – do you think that ‘thought follows action’ or can action only come from changing your thoughts? I am determined to change many parts of my life, but am so caught up in the thought patterns of my past 37 years that sustaining better behaviors seem impossible given the scripts running through my head (not to mention associated bad habits). Do I train my mind or “body” first?

    BTW – ‘The Road Less Traveled’ is a fanastic book. It’s one of those reads that makes you want to subscribe to a higher ideal.

  16. Self Defined says:

    Consider the idea that self esteem IS as self-esteem DOES. Here, a strong, well-constructed self-concept can be bolstered through engaging in diverse behavioral activity in a variety of areas (i.e. more eggs in more baskets). In this model, strengthening self-esteem occurs indirectly — through behavioral activities that give rise to a wider range of beneficial knowledge and expertise. Thus, improved positive self esteem is the product of a “wider” self-concept, defined by “widening” one’s behavioral repertoire.

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