Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A NextGen 7 Habits and Road Less Traveled

Two score and three years ago, M. Scott Peck, M.D., wrote one of the greatest books that has ever been written on the subjects of human cognition and behavioral regulation as it relates to personal CHANGE and GROWTH.  

The book is called, The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth.

Peck's book is not religious scripture, nor is it an ideological, political, or philosophical treatise. Rather, it is a practical, common sense exploration in psychology, love, and personal growth based on Peck's own experience working with real patients as a clinical psychiatrist.

The Road Less Traveled was published in 1978, one year before I was born. For the following decade—throughout the 1980s—it was a huge bestseller, demonstrating that many human beings really do earnestly seek after real answers to real problems in their lives, even if it requires hard work, courage, and personal sacrifice.

Eleven years later, in 1989, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People—Dr. Stephen R. Covey's famous book on essentially the same subject (Personal Change)—was published. Like Peck's The Road Less Traveled, Covey's 7 Habits was also a huge bestseller (selling nearly 20 million copies) demonstrating a generation later that, once again, many human beings really do ardently desire real solutions to real problems in their lives—even if those solutions require hard work, sacrifice, dedication, persistence, and patience on our part. 

These two books—The Road Less Traveled, and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, influenced my thinking—and the development of the Self-Action Leadership Theory and Model—more than any other single texts. Other books by Covey and Peck, including: Principle Centered Leadership (1990), Further Along the Road Less Traveled (1993), First Things First (1994), and The Road Less Traveled and Beyond (1997) were similarly influential on my thinking and writing.

For you old timers who are wondering what the NextGen Road or 7 Habits is going to be, you don't have to wonder anymore. It has already been written and published!

The 1980s brought The Road
The 1990s and 2000s brought The 7 Habits
The 2020s now offers SAL
It's called: Self-Action Leadership, Volume I & II; and it builds upon The Road and The 7 Habits in creative and important ways. And the only significantly substantive difference between SAL and its two forerunners is that SAL hasn't yet sold millions of copies. 

But all in good time my friends; all in good time!

Or, in the words of Alexander Hamilton (of Hamilton the musical fame): "There's a million [copies I haven't sold], but just you wait; just you wait!" 

Peck famously opened The Road Less Traveled with a timeless truism summed up unforgettably in just three (3) simple words...

"Life is Difficult."

As seemingly self-evident and obvious as this statement may be, Peck went on to explain that a certain irony exists in the phrase as it relates to us humans.

In his own words: 

"Most do not 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, their difficulties as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy. They voice their belief ... that their difficulties represent a unique kind of affliction that should not be and that has somehow been especially visited upon them, or upon their families, their tribe, their class, their nation, their race or even their species, and not upon others" (The Road Less Traveled. 1978, New York, NY: Touchstone. p. 15).

Peck then humbly confesses what most (if not all) of us might well echo:

"I know about this moaning because I have done my share" (p. 15).

If I'm honest, I must echo Peck's confession myself.

Life is indeed difficult—for everybody. And while it may often seem to be more difficult for some than for others, it is vital to remember that an individual's suffering, no matter who that person is or what they may face, is relative.

As Viktor Frankl—a Nazi concentration camp survivor, who knew a thing or two about intense suffering—so cogently articulated:

"A [person's] suffering is similar to the behavior of gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the 'size' of human suffering is absolutely relative" (Man's Search for Meaning. 2006. Beacon: Boston, MA, p. 44).

Given this reality of our human experiences, we would all do well to spend less time and effort judging others and comparing ourselves to others and instead reinvest that same energy in alleviating and managing our own suffering in an effort to grow personally and professionally—and then help others to do the same.

By so doing, we can inch steadily toward "gain[ing] ever greater levels of maturity" (Peck, 1978, p. 11). After all, GROWTH (personal and professional) is the entire purpose of the SAL Theory and Model.

Along the way, we have the opportunity to realize that high ideal set forth by the great Russian novelist, Dostoevski (and reiterated by Frankl), whereby we have the potential to become "worthy of [our] sufferings" (p. 66). In Frankl's view, being worthy of our sufferings qualifies as a "genuine inner achievement" (p. 67), which can, in-turn, lead us to a "spiritual freedom—which cannot be taken away—that makes life meaningful and purposeful" (p. 67). 

As we consider our options for responding to the inevitable difficulties of life, there are, generally speaking, only two kinds of choices to be made in any situation. One option is negative, reactive, combative, and therefore counterproductive. This choice invariably makes any situation worse than it was in the first place. The other possibility is a positive, proactive, cooperative, and therefore productive response. If pursued consistently and persistently, the latter option is bound to either solve the problem(s) at hand, or at very least, to mollify or ameliorate it/them over time.  

For thousands of years, civilizations around the globe developed and flourished on the wings of certain timeless aphorisms, mantras, and other simple statements of fundamental truth about the way things really are in this world in terms of their relation to human actions and interactions—and their concomitant consequences. 

Conversely, many of these same civilizations eventually atrophied into extinction by choosing actions that flouted goodness and truth as articulated in said aphorisms. The consequences of doing so led inevitably to disaster, destruction, and despair.

Such statements of "Truth" are rooted in science, religion, philosophy, politics, commerce, parenting, literature, and a wide range of other human endeavors. The authors of such statements—from Plato and Pericles to Caesar and Cicero; from Moses, Muhammad, and Jesus to Confucius, Siddhārtha Gautama, and Guru Nanek; from Franklin and Goethe to Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.—are representative of all major civilizations, continents, cultures, creeds, races, and religions. When civilizations adhere to principles and practices contained in this diverse, yet largely harmonious, historical canon of "Wisdom Literature," positive long-term consequences ensue, both individually and collectively speaking. When this wisdom is disregarded, disasters always arise eventually, for both individuals and the body politic.   

This historical ebb and flow of circumspect adherence to common sense principles of successful human thought and behavior has, in the past half-century or so, wended deeply toward its latest ebbing (speaking collectively and not individually). This dramatic ebb explains why there is so much violence and unrest in the streets, so much fear, panic, and desolation in the lives of individuals and their families, communities, and organizations, and why the United States of America is so dramatically divided—or perhaps fractured would be a more accurate term—both politically and culturally. 

What is the answer to these deep, perplexing, and systemic problems? Wherein lies the key to our escape from the current moral ebb into a future ascent (hopefully) into the next flow of peace and prosperity? What will the next chapter in Western Civilization look like? And how in the world did we get here in the first place?

I would suggest that one of the biggest problems in the West today is our collective tendency to focus too much on the weaknesses and shortcomings of others while simultaneously failing to see, much less working to change, ourselves.

Quite frankly, ours is a sad, even pathetic, era marked by endless finger-pointing. According to politicians, professionals, and pundits everywhere, every problem under the sun is someone else's fault. It seems almost nobody in the spotlight is willing to take any real personal responsibility for anything. And even when a high profile person does "accept responsibility" their half-hearted admissions and forced apologies are usually "all talk" and "no action."

Sadly, in the midst of this ever-cycling blame-game, individuals everywhere fail to comprehend that every time they point a finger of blame at someone else, there are three other fingers pointing right back at themselves.

If you don't believe me, just try it! 

Point your index finger out at some imaginary someone else out in the distance, and then look closely at where your middle finger, ring finger, and pinkie are pointing.


It is very popular these days to talk in broad, sweeping strokes about serious and complex macro subjects that are important and require our attention and action.

The SAL question, however, is not "whose fault is it?" The SAL question is: what are YOU actually doing about macro problems in your own little micro world? If you are like most people, you probably talk about the problem and point the finger of blame at others a LOT more than you actually DO SOMETHING that will make a tangible difference in the lives of real people.    

Self-Action Leadership is all about individual ACTION and micro SELF-CHANGE. Why? Because I am the only person I can control; and you are the only person you can control. And because all real macro organizational or societal change begins in the minds and hearts of individuals.

This includes YOU; and it also includes ME—because we are individuals.  

The aim of SAL is to teach and inspire people to recognize that the only person on the planet they can truly control is oneself. As such, we should spend the majority of our time and effort focusing on what we need to think about, say, and do to be our best selves, rather than continually pointing out where others are falling short and must improve.

Colonel Theodore Roosevelt
First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment
In the words of Teddy Roosevelt, one of the most courageous, progressive, enthusiastic, and accomplished leaders in American history:

"There are many who confine themselves to criticism of the way others do what they themselves dare not even attempt. ... It is not the critic who counts; not the [person] who points out how the strong [one] stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the [person] who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends [oneself] in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if [he or she] fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that [his or her] place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Perhaps no one in American history is more qualified to talk about self-change and striving valiantly in the arena than Theodore Roosevelt. Growing up, Roosevelt had to focus intensely and work diligently for many years to overcome a devastating and breathtaking (literally) case of asthma at a time in history when medical treatments for the mysterious disease were limited and primitive.  

Then, a few short years before becoming the youngest President in U.S. history at age 42, Roosevelt was voluntarily charging up San Juan Hill at the head of a regiment of cavalrymen that he himself had organized and helped train. Many tried to persuade the 39-year old Roosevelt to stay in Washington where it was "safe." At the time he was serving as Assistant Secretary of the Navy—an excellent and entirely legitimate excuse to not join the fray on its front lines. But Roosevelt had the heart of a lion and could not remain caged on the sidelines when his Country needed his help in the arena.

Winston Churchill in middle age
circa the World War I era.
Eighteen years later, another lion-hearted leader—Winston Churchill—followed Roosevelt's example by accepting a field commission in the British Army after losing his prestigious and high-ranking post as First Lord of the Admiralty (aka: Secretary of the Navy in the U.S.) following the disastrous amphibious Allied landings at Gallipoli. Like Roosevelt in Cuba, the high profile Churchill spent several months alongside ordinary field soldiers in the dangerous trenches of the Western Front—perhaps as personal penance and to otherwise take personal responsibility for his unintentional, but nonetheless high profile and costly failure at Gallipoli.

Why would he do such a dangerous and courageous thing when he didn't have to? Because that is what principle-centered leaders do: they are proactive, courageous, and have integrity—and win or lose, they always take personal responsibility for their speech and actions.         

Like Churchill, Roosevelt was the author of many books and countless letters and speeches over the course of his incredibly energetic and productive life and career. He was also fearless when it came to putting his money (walk) where his mouth (talk) was. As a result, his life and legacy changed the course of American history in a variety of positive and productive ways. America needs more men and women, boys and girls with the heart, mind, conscience, and courage of Theodore Roosevelt.

Turn on the news or join in on most contemporary conversations about current events and you are almost certain to hear next-to-nothing about SELF-CHANGE. Instead, you will see and hear endless finger pointing. According to most politicians and pundits, all of the world's problems are somebody else's fault! According to present cultural conversations, all of America's problems are the fault of others, while oneself is perpetually postured as being highly virtuous and above reproach. And since none of us are perfect, hypocrisy obviously abounds in many of these conversations and reports.

It is a sad, childish, dishonest, and counterproductive state in which we find ourselves; but it is where our culture currently stands. 

This trend must change if things are going to get better. And the truth is that for any real, lasting, macro changes to occur, individuals must begin making real, lasting, micro changes within their own minds and hearts.    

SAL is all about looking in the mirror
in an effort to grow and improve personally.
Any truly honest and authentic person knows deep down in one's heart and soul that the only real solution to our deepest personal, relational, and civic problems is to look oneself straight in the mirror, accurately identify one's own personal (or organizational) foibles and flaws for what they really are, admit them candidly to oneself (and where necessary, to others), and then go to work courageously to do the most difficult thing in life: that is, to actually CHANGE.

Until that difficult but oh-so-necessary step occurs, things are only going to get worse, wending us further down a slippery slope to the utter desolation or destruction of individual lives, organizations, communities, states, and nations. 

It really is that simple (in theory). And it really is that difficult (in practice).

It is simple because the answer to all of our deepest and most distressing problems in American and beyond lies in right thinking, doing, and being—not from a political or cultural point of view, but from a behavioral, existential, and moral standpoint. And it is difficult because thinking, speaking, doing, and being right on a consistent basis is incredibly challenging; indeed, it is a lifelong struggle for even the most careful, conscientious, and circumspect among us. 

In the words of Peck:

"We cannot solve life's problems except by solving them. This statement may seem idiotic... or self-evident, yet it is seemingly beyond the comprehension of much of the human race. This is because we must accept responsibility for a problem before we can solve it. We cannot solve a problem by saying 'It's not my problem.' We cannot solve a problem by hoping that someone else will solve it for us. I can solve a problem only when I say 'This is my problem and it's up to me to solve it.' But many, so many, seek to avoid the pain of their problems by saying to themselves: 'This problem was caused me by other people, or by social circumstances beyond my control, and therefore it is up to other people or society to solve this problem for me. It is not really my personal problem. [And] the extent to which people will go psychologically to avoid assuming responsibility for personal problems, while always sad, is sometimes almost ludicrous" (p. 32-33). 

For those willing to put forth the enormous effort required, it all beings with an EDUCATION that is dedicated to truth and reality. After all, in the words of Peck, "truth is reality" (p. 44) and "we must [therefore] be totally dedicated to truth ... [and] must always hold truth ... to be more important, more vital to our self-interest, than our comfort" (p. 50).

In other words, SAL only works if YOU are willing to get out of your comfort zone and stay out of it for as long as true change and authentic growth demands.  

To illustrate the kind of education promoted at Freedom Focused, consider a story from the life of M. Scott Peck, M.D.

"I had the kind of grandfather every boy ought to have. He was not a particularly smart man, and his speech was seldom more than a series of clichés. He would say to me, "Don't cross your bridges until you come to them," or, "Don't put all your eggs in one basket." Not all were admonishments; some were consoling, like, "It's often better to be a big fish in a little pond than a little fish in a big pond," or, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." ... He was not above repeating himself ... [and] if I heard "All that glitters is not gold" once, I must have heard it a thousand times. But he loved me. ... [And] it was on ... walks with my grandfather ... that I was able to not only hear but to digest and absorb his proverbs, and their wisdom has stood me in very good stead over the years" (Further Along the Road Less Traveled. 1993. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. p. 141-142).

Peck then goes on to say:

"I've often thought that it would be saving if we could develop some program of mental health education in our public schools, but I know we wouldn't get away with it. People would object to it. ... But ... [who could] possibly object to a program in our schools to teach the old proverbs to our children[?] ... So I hope someone will start instituting such a program. I also hope it will be done soon" (p. 143-144).

I will never forget reading these words back in 2011. I was high up in the air on an airplane en route to an eastern Canadian city where I was scheduled to teach some business seminars. I had known for nearly a decade already that my life's calling was to answer this call of Peck's, and had been anxiously engaged in striving to fulfill that mission since 2003. Peck's words therefore served to powerfully reinforce the mission in my own mind.

Unfortunately, though, Peck is right...  many people—including and perhaps especially those in positions of power capable of doing something about it—do object to it. And there is a chance that Freedom Focused won't "get away with it," just as Peck feared. But that won't stop us from making the attempt and giving our all in the process. Thus, if we do fail, it won't be for lack of effort or passion; it will merely be because those who needed it most chose to reject it.  

This article—and everything else that goes forth from the mouth of this organization—is part and parcel of that attempt. We will keep trying and won't ever give up until someone in a position of power finally does listen, and by-and-by grants us the opportunity to empower a growing number of others with the kind of saving education that all successful, happy, and self-actualized (Maslow, 1943) persons ultimately receive and apply—to their own benefit and the blessing of others.  

Freedom Focused has been around now for 17 years. The Self-Action Leadership TEXTBOOKS have existed (in one form or another) for 15 years. Sadly, its message of self-leadership, personal responsibility, education, truth, and a "dedication to reality" (Peck) has been almost entirely ignored for all those years.

As frustrating as this fact sometimes feels, it doesn't alter the quality of my life personally.


I have a great life no matter what happens with Freedom Focused

How is that possible, you ask?

Simple: I have a healthy mind and body and a wonderful, loving family that is committed to SAL principles and practices. Moreover, my wife has been very successful in her career, so we don't need the money

What more could I possibly ask for?  

In other words, our lives are already FANTASTIC because we have lived this stuff ourselves for many decades now. It's just who we are; SAL is inextricably linked to our very souls and we practice what we teach, even though we admittedly do so imperfectly—just like all human beings. Yet, even with imperfect practice, the results speak for themselves in terms of the long-term happiness, success, unity, growth, love, and inner peace we have enjoyed. And those same patterns will continue in our lives as long as we remain committed to SAL principles and practices. After all, there is nothing special about us, per se, but everything is special about SAL principles and practices. Thus, other people—including YOU—can ultimately benefit from them as richly as we have if you are willing to pay the price demanded by natural law. 

Simply stated: if you are willing to put in the work, then SAL principles and practices will WORK for you, and serendipity will usually take care of the rest over time.   


Self-Action Leadership works because it is rooted
in physical and metaphysical truisms.
Because SAL principles and practices are rooted in natural laws of physics and metaphysics. So they are scientifically sound and rooted in common sense. In other words, when rightly applied over time, they work! And they can work as well for YOU as they have for Lina and me. 

That doesn't mean our lives will mirror each other's exactly; and that is a good thing, because how boring would that be? Besides, SAL is not about comparisons. As our pal Teddy Roosevelt once wisely put it: Comparison is the thief of joy.

"Comparison is the thief of joy."

— Theodore Roosevelt  

Self-action leaders do not spend their time unwisely comparing themselves to other people and their unique talents, attributes, accomplishments, or successes. Self-action leaders recognize and rejoice in the reality that unlimited happiness, success, unity, growth, and inner peace is as much a possibility for THEM in their lives as it is for me and my wife in our lives—or anyone else on the planet for that matter.  

I do confess that it saddens me that so many people who could be helped right now aren't being helped by the message of SAL because of a current lack of courageous, proactive, visionary, and principle-centered leaders who presently possess the power to begin bringing SAL into the lives of their students, children, subordinates, etc., but who, for whatever reasons, choose to ignore, reject, or delay.   

But I'm not worried.

Such leaders are in the process of being developed, and when the time is right (i.e. once they have gathered up their courage and are otherwise sufficiently prepared), I have no doubt they will rise to the occasion and help us change the world—one mind and heart at a time. In the meantime, I certainly can't complain about the myriad of blessings I enjoy both personally and professionally—thanks to a synergized amalgamation of serendipitous grace and my own conscientious dedication to SAL—so I am amply prepared to continue to work hard and wait patiently... for however long it takes.    

If you are a parent, educator, leader, politician, or just an ordinary citizen bereft of any formal title or organizational influence, I invite you to buy, read, and study the Self-Action Leadership textbooks—and complete the SAL Master Challenge along the way. If you discover the value and benefit of taking on that challenge yourself—as I did in my own extended, comprehensive journey throughout the past 34 years, I further invite you to help me spread the message of SAL far and wide, so that it can begin to influence, impact, and even transform the lives of others who, like all those readers of The Road Less Traveled in the 1980s-90s and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in the 1990s and 2000s, are desperately seeking for real solutions to real problems in their lives and careers.

Peck was spot on: Life is indeed difficult. 

          But that doesn't mean it isn't doable.  

With the power of SAL and the grace of serendipity in your corner, the sky is truly the limit—both personally and professionally.  

          What are you waiting for?

Click HERE to buy the Self-Action Leadership TEXTBOOKS   


Tune in NEXT Wednesday to learn what Faith has to do with Self-Action Leadership.  

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