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 it’s 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 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 situation 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 situation 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.
This Post Has 11 Comments
You wrote this well.
Small holds are better than no holds! However, proportion can effect determination.
I enjoyed your post Arno, and wanted to let you know that I’m still learning. A quote of late that moves me is one by Plato:
“Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress no matter how slow.”
My progression at times has appeared rather slow, sometimes even moving backwards. However, I stay with it, keeping an open and curious nature to continue to learn.
Extraordinary piece Arno. Links with a theme which is huge in my own writing.. if you have time I’d be honoured if you had a read of my piece, ‘Less Travelled Road’, on my blog.. https://whisperinginthewind2018.blogspot.com/2018/07/less-travelled-road.html
Respect to you sir!
Hi Richard, I read your blog. Nice job. That book was also one of the first I read when I started my journey with ww. It points toward the essential shift we need to make in our motivation in order to live meaningful lives. a
Thank you Arno for sharing. It takes a hardy bunch to take the less travelled road and I always actually said that I was a warrior. So what your wrote resonates in me and my life. Thank you.
Thanks for your comments Jayesh. There are many ways to look at life, aren’t there? Metaphors and stories really help. Continue on your warrior journey.
I have to question your use of the word stress. I get your meaning, but I think the widely accepted definition of “stress” makes the word misleading in the context of your piece. Stress, to me, is an effect caused by an inability to place the problems and challenges we are faced with into a healthy perspective. If I see obstacles, problems, and challenges as curses, or affronts to my plans or expectations, I feel stress. If, however, I see problems as a natural part of whatever activity in which I am engaged and immediately seek solutions or workarounds, I do not feel stress.
Hi John, Language is limiting because we all have subtle different understandings of words. There is a distinction out there between “good” stress (eustress) and “bad” stress (distress). Both are forms of stress that throw us out of our comfort zones. The former is healthy and can help us grow; the latter can cause ill health. But, as you point out, the latter can be converted into eustress by changing our mindset. One challenge I’d pose about “not feeling stress” is getting on a climb above your limit. You’re feeling something, right? A combo of fears around falling and the stress of exertion of effort. I’d call that stress because it’s definitely not comfortable. Thoughts?
Great read Arno. Have just finished reading the road less travelled. It has been a game changer and has certainly made me take stock of things. I am 41 and have found myself looking back at choices I have made and childhood experiences and how these have made me the person I am today. Currently weighing a few things up and it may be time to make some changes. Would you be able to provide some real life examples of others who have taken the road less travelled and how this had benefited them?? Thanks 🙏
Hi Phil, Thanks for your post and question. I can speak about my own experience. I’ve chosen to create morning routines that make my day more intentional along “the road less traveled.” Specifically, I remind myself that stressors, frustrations, etc are opportunities for learning. I even put a bracelet on that irritates me constantly. It’s actually doing that now as I type. This constant reminder give me awareness to relax into the stress, which moves me along the less-traveled road. Arno