Delaying Gratification – Tool/Technique 1 for Dealing Constructively with Suffering and the Pain of Problems – M. Scott Peck
Menanteau Serfontein – 27 May 2021. Updated 19 December 2021.
M. Scott Peck, an American Psychiatrist and Author, wrote the Book entitled “The Road Less Travelled” which contains essential principles about life that I have found extremely useful.
The book focuses on Peck’s core belief that, as stated in its opening sentence, “Life is difficult,” and that life’s problems can be addressed only through self-discipline. Humans, however, tend to try to avoid problems, a habit that only creates more difficulties, Peck says.
To the dose of self-discipline, Peck added an inseparable spiritual element. He states “I make no distinction between the mind and the spirit, and therefore no distinction between the process of achieving spiritual growth and achieving mental growth.” For the avoidance of confusion, my simplified interpretation of Peck’s reference to “spiritual growth” is that he means growth of the “inner being”.
Please note that almost all of the content of this Article has been transcribed verbatim from Peck’s Book.
During the next few weeks, several of the new Articles to be posted on the Website will cover invaluable gems that are contained in Peck’s Book.
Peck says that once we truly know and understand that life is difficult and accept it, then life is no longer difficult, because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.
He also states that most people don’t fully see this truth that life is difficult. Instead, they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly, about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties as if life “should” be easy.
Life is a series of problems. Do we want to moan about them or solve them? Do you want to teach your children to solve them?
Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems. Without discipline we can solve nothing.
What makes life difficult, is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one. Yet, it is in this whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning. They are the cutting edge that distinguishes between success and failure. Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and wisdom. Wise people learn not to dread, but to welcome problems and to welcome the pain of problems.
Most of us are not so wise. Fearing the pain involved, almost all of us tend to avoid problems. We procrastinate, hoping that they will go away. We ignore them, forget them, pretend they do not exist. We even take drugs to assist us in ignoring them, so that by deadening ourselves to the pain, we can forget the problems that cause the pain. We attempt to skirt around problems rather than meet them head on. We attempt to get out of them rather than suffer through them.
This tendency to avoid problems and the emotional suffering inherent in them, is the primary basis of all mental illness.
Carl Jung states that “Neorosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering. But the substitute itself ultimately becomes more painful than the legitimate suffering it was designed to avoid.”
Therefore, let us inculcate in ourselves and our children the necessity for suffering and the value thereof, the need to face problems directly and to experience the pain involved. Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems. These tools are techniques of suffering, means by which we experience the pain of problems in such a way as to work them through and solve them successfully, learning and growing in the process. When we teach ourselves and our children discipline, we are teaching them and ourselves how to suffer and how to grow.
What are these Tools/Techniques to deal with suffering, these means of experiencing the pain of problems constructively that Peck calls Discipline? There are four:
- Delaying Gratification (dealt with in this Article)
- Acceptance of Responsibility
- Dedication to Truth
- Flexibility and Wisdom (Balancing)
They are simple tools and almost all children are adept in their use by the age of ten. Yet, presidents and kings will often forget to use them, to their own downfall. The problem lies not in the complexity of these tools, but in the will to use them. For they are tools with which pain is confronted rather than avoided, and if you seek to avoid legitimate suffering, then you will avoid using these tools.
This Article is the First of a Four-Part series analyzing each of these Tools/Techniques. Thereafter, we shall examine in detail, the will (the driving force) to use them, which is Love, i.e. What is Love, What it is Not and its Role.
Tool/Technique 1: Delaying Gratification
Delaying gratification is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way, so 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.
This tool (principle) should be taught to children quite early in life and should be “exercised” on a daily basis to ensure its inculcation so that it can be regarded as normal. One of the best practical examples is to teach your children to do their homework first, before they go outside to play or watch television.
According to Peck, a substantial number of adolescents at the age of fifteen and sixteen, have not developed this capacity at all. These are the problem students. Despite average or above average intelligence, their grades are poor, simply because they do not work. They skip classes, are impulsive, and their impulsiveness spills over into their social life as well. They get into frequent fights, become involved in drugs and get into trouble with police. “Play now, pay later is their motto”. These adolescents are resentful of any attempt to intervene in their lifestyle of impulsiveness. When psychologists are called in, they miss their appointments; they avoid all the important and painful issues. They often drop out of school and can end up in disastrous marriages, in psychiatric hospitals or in jail.
Why is this? Why do the majority develop a capacity to delay gratification, while a substantial minority fail, irretrievably, to develop this capacity? The answer is not known scientifically, but most of the signs clearly point to the quality of parenting as the determinant.
When parents themselves are “un-self-disciplined”, they serve as undisciplined role models for their children. They are “do as I say”, not as do as I do parents. They get drunk in front of their children, they might fight with each other in front of their children, without restraint, dignity or rationality. They may be slovenly. They make promises they don’t keep. Their own lives are frequently and obviously in disorder and disarray, and their attempts to order the lives of their children therefore seem to make little sense to these children. If father beats up mother, what sense does it make to a boy when his mother beats him up because he beat up his sister? Parents are godlike figures to our children’s childish eyes. If a child sees his parents behaving daily with self-discipline, restraint, dignity and a capacity to order their own lives, then the child will come to feel in the deepest fibres of his being, that this is the way to live.
Yet, even more important than role modelling is love. For even in chaotic and disordered homes, genuine love is occasionally present and from such homes may come self-disciplined children. Often parents who are professional people such as doctors and lawyers, who lead lives of strict orderliness and decorum but yet lack love, send children into the world who are as undisciplined, destructive and disorganized as any child from an impoverished and chaotic home.
(Also read article on the Website entitled “Sacrifice Today for Something Better Tomorrow – Delayed Gratification”)
Ultimately, love is everything
The time and the quality of the time that their parents devote to them, indicate to children the degree to which they are valued by their parents. Some basically unloving parents, in an attempt to cover up their lack of caring, make frequent professions of love to their children, repetitively and mechanically telling them how much they are loved and valued, but not devoting significant time of high quality to them. Their children are never totally deceived by such hollow words. When children know that they are valued, when they truly feel valued in the deepest parts of themselves, then they feel valued. The feeling of being valuable – “I am a valuable person” – is essential to mental health and a cornerstone of self-discipline.
In summary, for children to develop the capacity to delay gratification, it is necessary for them to have self-disciplined role models, a sense of self-worth and a degree of trust in the safety of their existence.
The Next Article in this 4-Part Series deals with the second Tool/Technique of discipline, i.e. “Acceptance of Responsibility”.
Almost all of the content of this Article has been transcribed verbatim from Peck’s Book entitled “The Road Less Travelled”.
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