My Reading Notes of The Road Less Traveled

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Part 1: Self-Discipline

Self-discipline is the primary tool for solving life’s problems and the most effective method for alleviating life’s suffering.

Life is full of hardships, and this is a profound truth. The greatness lies in understanding this truth, as it enables liberation from suffering. Life is a continuous process of facing and resolving problems.

The tendency to avoid problems and escape pain is the root cause of human psychological disorders. Mental illnesses often serve as common substitutes for life’s suffering. However, disregarding problems and pain at all costs hinders mental growth and can lead to long-term psychological issues, preventing true maturity. In reality, life’s problems and suffering hold extraordinary value—they contribute to our mental health when we confront difficulties.

Self-discipline involves actively demanding that we endure pain with a positive attitude and work toward solving problems.

Self-discipline is guided by four principles: delaying gratification, taking responsibility, staying true to facts, and maintaining balance.

Treating psychological disorders is an intensive process of mental growth, involving significant changes and letting go of our past selves. The meaning of life exists within death—a secret at the core of all religions. Temporarily abandoning the self is a skill essential for adult life, known as “embracing and accommodating.” It means affirming our stability while creating space to absorb new ideas.

Life and death are like two sides of a coin, and the cycle of life and death is perpetual. From a physics perspective, life involves replicating genetic material from parents, while death occurs when the offspring has already replicated all your information (both the material part of genes and the spiritual part accumulated over decades), rendering physical existence meaningless.

Life itself represents a balance. The longer we live, the more joy and pain we experience. Joy and pain are another form of energy conservation, and the possibility of choosing only one doesn’t exist.

Is there a way to minimize mental suffering through personal growth? The answer is both affirmative and negative. It’s affirmative because we can accept pain through mental growth, and by accepting it, we somewhat reduce its impact. On the other hand, as our abilities and cognition expand, they can also amplify the sources of pain (for instance, the difference between a military officer who understands life’s meaning and one who doesn’t).

Therefore, life involves a continuous process of diminishing and alleviating suffering while simultaneously generating more pain due to cognitive and skill growth (similar to a cognitive curve).

Part 2: Love

Love is the desire to promote our own and others’ mental maturity by continually expanding our self-boundaries and achieving self-improvement.

Definition of Love: 

Love serves as the driving force for self-discipline. It aims to promote our own and others’ mental growth by expanding our self-boundaries and achieving self-improvement. The most significant difference between love and non-love lies in whether the conscious and subconscious goals align. If they don’t, it’s not genuine love. Love is long-term—it involves loving oneself and others, requiring effort. Love is an act of will.

Humans possess an altruistic spirit, which is the result of love. Loving others doesn’t necessarily seek personal gain, although it may ultimately benefit us. Will is the result of desire with action; desires without action aren’t true will. Genuine love arises from intentional actions.


In infancy, we perceive ourselves and the world as interconnected and whole. As we grow, we realize the separation between ourselves and the world. For example, we understand that crying won’t always lead to being fed or that wanting to play won’t always result in our mother’s companionship. This budding self-awareness marks the formation of healthy self-boundaries. A mother’s influence significantly shapes a child’s healthy self-awareness. Those who perpetually live within their self-boundaries feel loneliness. Individuals with incomplete personalities use self-boundaries as protective shields, exhibiting introverted behavior and fearing the external world. However, most people naturally yearn to break free from loneliness and transcend their self-imposed limits (similar to children admiring superheroes, hoping to surpass themselves).

The Pitfall of Infatuation: Infatuation is the most common misunderstanding of love. From a psychological perspective, romantic love resembles returning to infancy—a temporary loss of self-boundaries, fueled by the power of love, making us feel invincible. However, this feeling is illusory and often disconnected from reality. Infatuation isn’t genuine love; it’s a mirage. True love doesn’t depend on romantic feelings; it can even exist without them.

Why isn’t infatuation real love? First, it lacks conscious intention. Second, it doesn’t expand self-boundaries but temporarily collapses them. Third, infatuation’s sole purpose is to alleviate loneliness, not promote mental growth. Therefore, we advise against making marital decisions during infatuation. Instead, after the honeymoon phase or passionate period (when we emerge from infatuation), we should allow both partners to return to their normal selves (rational thinking devoid of romantic feelings). Only then can we assess whether we have the willingness to spend our lives together?

Infatuation, though illusory, is highly deceptive because it closely resembles true love. True love involves expanding the self (such as parental love, where self-boundaries extend) and is closely tied to self-awareness. In the process of love, the giver desires to nurture the recipient, fostering their growth (whether it’s parental love, a teacher’s love for a student, an artist’s love for their craft, or a scientist’s love for their research).

For instance, a gardening enthusiast meticulously tends to their garden, prioritizing it over their spouse, foregoing travel, and dedicating time to studying various plant cultivation techniques and investing in materials and equipment. Long-term love for something allows us to live in a state of mental immersion, extending our self-boundaries (similar to parents extending their boundaries through nurturing and educating their children, constantly improving their earning abilities for their sake, or scientists relentlessly pursuing their research goals, achieving continuous breakthroughs in knowledge and skills).

The “seven-year itch” in marriage is essentially the realization that infatuation has faded, and both partners return to reality, but cannot forget the passion while they are falling into love at the beginning. 


Another common misconception related to love is dependency. Dependency cannot lead to the expansion of self-boundaries. Excessive dependence only results in a pathological life. We need to differentiate between pathological dependence and normal desires for dependency. Regardless of age or maturity, everyone desires care from others. Psychologically healthy individuals accept this feeling as reasonable but do not allow this craving to control their lives. If dependency takes over one’s life, it becomes a psychological issue known as negative dependency personality disorder. Patients with this disorder crave love from others but never reciprocate, lacking self-awareness and placing their entire life value on others’ emotional relationships (similar to the sudden transformation of an alcoholic).

Dependent individuals often view losing a partner as terrifying (a common theme in American horror movies), refusing to reduce their dependence on others or grant them freedom. Sometimes, marriage becomes a trap of dependency, where both partners cannot achieve true independence (hence, women should maintain financial independence, and men should be self-sufficient in household chores). True love and self-restraint go hand in hand; only disciplined individuals can genuinely give love.

Total Immersion: 

Not all total immersion is love. Immersion that is unrelated to mental maturity and fails to nourish the soul is not love. Love can be directed toward people, things, or activities (understanding a person’s love for their work). The sole purpose of love is to promote mental maturity and human progress. For instance, young people often consider gaming and entertainment their love, but these hobbies do not contribute to self-improvement—they merely serve as substitutes for the pain of self-expansion. Similarly, older individuals mistakenly label their fondness for golf as love.

Total immersion in something itself is not love; whether it is love depends on whether the ultimate goal of that immersion is achieved. For example, being completely immersed in making money is not love if the purpose is solely for wealth and showing off. However, if earning money is intended to provide better education for one’s children and parents, that is love.


Loving others cannot be akin to loving pets. Our love for pets often stems from valuing their dependence on us, but this is not genuine love. If parents always treat their children like pets or infants, it’s a tragic situation. As children grow, they reject this unhealthy “love,” leaving parents feeling frustrated and sad. Such families overlook the growth of self-awareness in individuals, and children from such backgrounds are prone to depression or negative dependency personality.


Unreasonable giving and destructive nourishment indicate a lack of regard for the other person’s mental growth (the story of the priest who called his wife “my kitty” and his son “my baby”). Excessive giving is not kindness; it is harmful. Abusing love destroys the recipient’s ability to expand self-boundaries and leads to greater dependence. Love is never about unconditional acceptance; it includes necessary conflicts and criticism.

Love is not a feeling; it is action. True love requires commitment and dedication. It needs actions to manifest, requiring resistance against laziness and fear. Often, we prefer to reject change rather than endure the pain it brings. In such moments, courage becomes essential. Courage doesn’t mean being permanently fearless; it means facing fear with openness and stepping boldly into an unknown future (the story of the woman in the church who appeared and disappeared, afraid of social interactions).

Expanding self-boundaries and achieving self-improvement are the purposes of love. The most significant expression of love is attention. Listening attentively is the most common and crucial way to show attention (the author’s story of listening to a lecture—true love in action). Similarly, playing games or doing homework with children is another primary form of love.

The Risk of Independence: 

The greatest risk in life is growth—the transition from childhood’s haze and chaos to adulthood’s reason and clarity (the author’s story of independence at age 15). Although Phillips Exeter Academy, a prestigious private school, seemed like the right choice, the author felt out of place when joining at age 13. It took two years to integrate into campus life, overcome isolation, and combat constant emotional turmoil. Most of the time, the author shut themselves in their dorm room, detached from noisy activities like basketball. The author even avoided any event with the self-reinforcing excuse that “everything is boring.” In the third year, the author decided to leave the school. After consulting a psychologist and being diagnosed with depression, self-doubt plagued the author. Despite rational reasons to return to Phillips Exeter, the inner voice insisted on avoiding it. Eventually, the author left Phillips Exeter and embarked on the path of self-independence.

In addition to love and self-improvement, what else does mental maturity require? Self-esteem and self-love. Firstly, daring to pursue independence is an embodiment of self-esteem and self-love. Secondly, self-esteem and self-love also are the motivation to meet challenges and the source of bravery.

Part Three: Growth and Faith

Every person holds their own beliefs, and their understanding of life falls within the realm of faith.

Faith and Worldview:

Having a belief doesn’t necessarily mean joining a specific religion. Each person’s understanding and knowledge of life constitute their faith. Worldviews and beliefs are only partially conscious. Believing in a religion doesn’t always align with true faith. (Consider the story of an atheist who, due to childhood beatings, developed a subconscious fear of an evil God.) Specialist in International Relations and Psychology: Psychologist Bryant, who specializes in studying international relations, researched both Americans and Russians. He discovered that their understanding of human nature and society is entirely different, leading to various issues and challenges during negotiations.

Science and Belief: Mental maturity is essentially the transition from a small universe to a larger one. People’s worldview often stems from childhood experiences, creating a contrast between belief and reality—the clash between the small universe and the larger one. In the small universe, cognitive elements dominate one’s worldview. However, each person’s small universe may significantly differ from the larger universe.

To break free from the small universe, continuous learning and progress are essential. Only by digesting and absorbing new information, expanding our horizons, and fearlessly venturing into uncharted territories can we escape the limitations of past experiences (the constraints of the small universe). We must challenge and even overturn our past beliefs to achieve this. The starting point is science—there is no other way. Gradually, we replace parental or past beliefs with scientific faith, challenging the laws of the small universe.

Humans face a common problem: very few possess truly unique lives. Much of what we encounter seems secondhand. Due to our lack of knowledge, we rely on secondhand information in various fields (such as diseases, agriculture, and art). However, when it comes to the meaning of existence, the significance of death, etc., we cannot accept secondhand viewpoints. People must seek the meaning of life through their own experiences.

Science represents a complex worldview and is itself a form of belief. From a scientific perspective, no single experience can serve as a rule of cognition. Only when others arrive at consistent conclusions through similar experiments under identical conditions can we deem an experience reliable and trustworthy. In shaping our worldview, science plays a significant role, surpassing any other belief. The community of scientific believers far exceeds the number of adherents to any religious faith (the story of Casey, who added divine punishment to his desires).

Ted’s Story: Ted secluded himself for seven years, intending to accomplish something but giving up whenever faced with difficulties. During his freshman year of college, he fell for a girl who rejected him. Subsequently, he lost interest in everything, turned to alcohol, and became indecisive about everything (a lack of self-confidence in decision-making). For instance, he agonized over choosing a research paper topic for an extended period without making a decision. While others completed their papers in a month, Ted spent three years without finishing his. Afterward, he retreated to the mountains and secluded himself.

Ted attributed his lack of passion to failed romantic relationships. However, during therapy, the author discovered that Ted lacked enthusiasm for anything. He approached everything with a critical attitude, maintaining distance from anything that might affect his emotions. In a dream, Ted hid a box in a tree hollow in the forest, sealing it with bark and nails. Upon returning to the classroom, he worried that the nails weren’t secure and rushed back to the forest to reinforce them. This dream of classrooms and lessons represented typical self-healing in the realm of the mind.

When discussing Ted’s lack of passion, he revealed that the last time he felt passionate was ten years ago when writing a final paper in his junior year. The paper analyzed a religiously themed poem. Despite his lack of interest in religion, Ted had been devout during high school. The author concluded that a retaliatory mindset led Ted to reject God. Ted believed that God had abandoned him, so he chose to reject God. This breakthrough marked the beginning of therapy.

Ted later shared his diary from sophomore year with the author. Caught in a storm, he ended up at the beach, where he was swept into the sea but miraculously washed back ashore. Ted claimed to enjoy adventure, but in reality, he contemplated suicide because he didn’t value life. Surviving the sea, he felt lucky. Many would consider this a miracle, but Ted attributed it to luck. When unfortunate events occurred, he blamed God (such as heartbreak), complaining about the world. Yet when miraculous events happened, he dismissed them as mere luck. Unconsciously, he applied a double standard.

From then on, Ted began noticing positive aspects around him, focusing on the bright side. His therapy progressed, and two years later, he declared he could stop therapy and wanted to study psychology. When asked why, Ted believed that helping people achieve mental growth was valuable. The author inquired about the most valuable thing to Ted, and he replied, “God.” So why not study theology and serve God? Ted refused, as that would mean admitting he was God’s servant. His brothers ridiculed him whenever he expressed passion for something, including his love for God. Whenever they discovered his interests, they punished him by taking away what he loved.

Scientists often pour out bathwater along with the baby because science itself is a form of religion. One of the signs of a mature scientist is the awareness that, like other religions, science can also become dogmatic. Atheism and agnosticism are not inherently superior to believing in God; the greatest requirement for faith is to avoid fanatical zeal and transcend reason.

Part Four: Grace

Our capacity for love and our willingness to grow depend not only on the nurturing we receive from parents during childhood but also on our acceptance of grace throughout our lives. A tragic childhood doesn’t necessarily mean a tragic future. Consider the story of a businessman: born out of wedlock, he left his deaf-mute mother at age five and was adopted. His adoptive parents mistreated him. At fifteen, he suffered a ruptured brain artery, leaving him disabled. At sixteen, he lived independently. At seventeen, he injured someone in a fight and served a year in prison. After release, he joined a small company as a warehouse worker. Everyone believed his life was destined for poverty. Yet, three years later, he became a manager, married after five years, and started his own business. Soon, he became wealthy. He went on to be a loving father, a community leader, and a talented artist.

The Miracles of the Subconscious

All illnesses fall within the realm of psychological disorders. Mental issues can weaken the body’s immune system. The impact of psychology on immunity is significant (as seen in cases of meningitis-related deaths). Some people, due to psychological fragility, collapse when faced with illness, while others (more optimistic) breeze through the same conditions (elderly individuals fearing death are more prone to it).

Consider the case of someone frequently experiencing accidental injuries. The author discovered underlying reasons for these accidents.

Dreams serve as a window into the subconscious. Analyzing dreams helps us understand our hidden thoughts. Take the story of the marionette patient: a girl who often felt dizzy. She loved wearing colorful clothes but feared falling due to dizziness. Her gait resembled that of a marionette with a sinking hip. Her controlling mother forced her to perform various tasks. Freud concluded that the subconscious is the root of psychological disorders.

Serendipity: The talent for discovering valuable or delightful things unexpectedly.

When faced with decisions impossible to make through rational deduction, trusting serendipity and subconscious judgment is a good choice—even if it doesn’t always bring good luck. Scientifically, the subconscious may represent inherited wisdom achieved chemically through genetic material, rather than conscious learning. The choices guided by the subconscious are opportunities brought by grace.

The Miracle of Evolution

While the body peaks at a certain stage (around age 35) and then declines, the soul can continue evolving, increasing abilities until death. Mental growth remains largely unaffected by external circumstances—whether in adversity or comfort. This process of evolution defies the natural trend, as it involves a decrease in entropy (requiring external forces). It’s a challenging journey, opposing the natural order.

Entropy and Original Sin

What is the greatest obstacle to mental maturity? Laziness. Overcoming laziness resolves other hindrances. Without overcoming laziness, success remains elusive, regardless of other favorable conditions. Laziness opposes love; mental maturity requires effort, while laziness is a formidable negative force in life.

Everyone carries an original sin: laziness. Almost all humans share this common nature, although some overcome it while others succumb to its control (the spirit of the old man—lacking education but leaving behind a legacy of hardworking genes, ensuring the family’s continuity and growth). Laziness isn’t merely about the time spent on physical labor; it also manifests as a reluctance to think. Its primary feature is fear. Most fears are related to laziness (such as fear of new knowledge or information). For instance, my fear of AI stems from the implication that if I don’t learn, I’ll be left behind. Accepting AI as a mainstream force means I must work hard to keep up—with the anxiety shared by students facing new subjects.

Laziness is highly deceptive; most people won’t admit their laziness, even when it’s evident that they surpass others. The more mature the mind, the easier it is to recognize personal laziness and engage in self-reflection and correction. Mature minds understand that the battle against entropy is eternal.

Each person has two selves: one pathological and one healthy. One leads to survival, the other to destruction. Every human body instinctively longs for divinity, and desires to reach perfection, yet also carries the original sin of laziness. Entropy drives us toward self-destruction, but our divinity compels us to resist entropy, extend our boundaries, and achieve mental growth (similar to religious figures emerging from suffering—religious practices often guide individuals to combat laziness through physical diligence, such as the Puritans in Christianity or Buddhist ascetics).

The Problem of Evil

Laziness is the original sin, often manifesting as a psychological disorder. Its expression is indulgent laziness—doing as one pleases. (In Buddhism, ascetic practices stem from reflecting on original sin and involve physical diligence to combat laziness. Buddhist practitioners ring bells in the morning, recite scriptures, and engage in evening meditation—essentially a battle against laziness to achieve spiritual growth.)

The subconscious can be divided into two categories: shallow, individualized subconscious and deep, collective subconscious shared by all humanity. Our illnesses often result from the conscious mind resisting the wisdom of the subconscious. When the conscious mind suffers, the subconscious seeks to heal it, leading to an internal struggle.

The ultimate goal of mental maturity is unity between the conscious and subconscious—the integration of both. As individuals mature, they become more humble and joyful.