We’ve all heard Robert Frost’s verse: “Two roads diverged in the wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” What is the “road less traveled by?” To answer that, we need to look at motivation again. We’re either motivated by goals, which give us a sense of comfort when we achieve them, or we’re motivated by processes, which are stressful. Robert Frost’s two roads represent these two ways of being motivated. The road most traveled leads toward achievement of goals and the road less traveled leads toward stressful processes. The “road less traveled by” is dark, contains more unknowns, and is more difficult to follow. Its path is less defined because less people walk it. So, we need to find our own way along it. And it’s obvious why it’s less traveled. We tend to avoid stress and seek comfort.
If we look a little deeper at these two roads we find that goals occur in the future, while stressful processes occur in the present. And, this is important, because it points to what we can and can’t control. We can’t control the future. We can only control what occurs in the present. We have an unconscious tendency to be motivated by goals and dislike stressful processes. This sets us up for focusing our attention on what we can’t control, which makes us feel powerless. Warriors take the road less traveled, and although it’s stressful, they face that stress willingly, even desiring it.
In the last lesson, I referenced M Scott Peck’s book The Road Less Travelled, where he says that life is difficult. Life is difficult, yet we think taking the road most traveled, the comfortable one, is an option. Since life is stressful and full of challenges, we can’t hide from it. We may try to hide in the security of a job that pays a lot of money or the comfort that climbing 5.12 gives us. But, life eventually catches up with us and exerts its stress upon us.
Choosing the road most traveled is an unconscious tendency. To move beyond this tendency we need to become conscious. One of the first and most impactful things we can do to start becoming conscious is to value stress. Don Juan, Carlos Castaneda’s teacher, told Carlos that the basic difference between ordinary people and warriors is that warriors take everything that happens as a challenge, whereas ordinary people take everything that happens as a blessing or a curse. Ordinary people bless comfort and curse stress. Warriors don’t label situations that way. They don’t label situations at all; they simply accept them for what they are. The big downside to such labeling is that we unconsciously label the very thing that we need to grow and learn—stress—as bad, as a curse.
Ordinary people remain unconscious and think life is paradoxical. They can’t achieve what they want, those goals, by focusing on them directly. The more they want them, the more elusive they become. They live a paradox of doing what they don’t like, so they can achieve what they want. So, they practice being unattached to their goals. For warriors, however, there is no paradox. Warriors want stressful situations because this is where they learn. They hunt for stress, for situations that provide opportunities to learn, grow, and gain power.
To become warriors we need to move beyond this unconscious tendency to curse stress, to label it as bad. We need to see the value that stress provides us. We need to be motivated in such a way that we want to engage stress.
If we settle for the road most travelled then we don’t grow. Whether we’re conscious or not, the fact that life is difficult won’t go away. We’ll either live a frustrated, shallow life, resisting stress and whither away, or we’ll live a more peaceful, deep life, accepting stress and grow.
What’s interesting is that we actually want the difficulty of the road less travelled. Why would we subject ourselves to the stress of rock climbing? Because there’s something within us that wants to be challenged. There’s something innate within us that wants to grow. Growth is a natural part of life: trees grow, animals grow, people grow. Accepting stress as natural, even desiring it, helps us grow mentally. Now, we should ask ourselves: Why do we label small handholds as bad, just because they’re small and create more stress? If we want to be warriors, then we need to wake up and stop doing that.
The road most travelled, really, is an illusion. The fact that life is difficult eventually catches up with us. When? When we’re 40 and experiencing our mid-life crisis. The road most travelled isn’t aligned with the natural order of the world. So, at 40 we all get another chance to make a choice, to choose the road less travelled. We’ve lived long enough to feel the full impact of living a shallow life. For people who want to continue to remain ordinary, the choice is to settle and cope with life, living lives of quiet desperation, as Thoreau says. For warriors, however, the choice is to dig deep and become inspired. To be inspired by engaging in stressful experiences they want to learn from to grow.
Warriors are inspired by and curious about the darkness, the unknowns, and the difficulty of the road less traveled. Life is no longer a paradox for them. They can focus on what they want directly, in this moment, here and now.
Practice Tip: What’s Good about What’s Bad?
You may have an unconscious tendency to label traumatic experiences as bad. For example: think of a bad experience in your life. Was it an accident, breakup of a relationship, or death of a friend? Now, think about what you learned from that experience. How did it make you grow? Such experiences are stressful but they allow you to grow.
Decide today to remove the words “good” and “bad” from your vocabulary. When you communicate with yourself or others, do not use those words. Find different ways to express yourself. This simple shift will transform how you relate to stress.