Influence and Discipline

Here are four common ways to influence people (and the four most common approaches to discipline):

  1. Coercion or force: Discipline by threat or punishment is the approach here. This works as long as the threat is more powerful than the desire to resist it. 
  2. Offering an incentive or reward: With young people, the incentives are generally those that appeal for immediate satisfaction, rather than to those that build responsible character development and mature values. This discipline approach is commonly used in homes and schools to get the young to do what the adult wants. It promotes a mindset of, “What will I get for doing it?” and leads to long-term selfishness, as many studies have demonstrated.
  3. Cooperation: This is how most of us live our lives most of the time—as when we stop at red lights, stand in lines cooperatively, and respect others’ rights. It’s a form of self-discipline. 
  4. Appeal to one’s own self-interest: This is the most effective approach because it promotes enthusiasm and commitment. People are most productive when they realize that their efforts benefit themselves. Interestingly, the third approach is also at work here in that self-interest also results in more cooperation and collaboration. This is self-discipline at its finest.

Many educators rely primarily on the first and second approaches to discipline and influence youth. Using external and manipulative approaches is so well established that many educational leaders ask teachers, “What incentives are you using to influence your students?”

But this mindset of using external incentives completely ignores the intrinsic motivational approaches of curiosity, challenge, interest in the task, and enjoyment of learning.

Hopefully, with increasing knowledge of how the brain works, those responsible for building future citizens will move away from the first two approaches and toward the third and fourth approaches that promote responsibility and self-discipline.