Thoughts Affect Discipline

An understanding of mind-body connection is essential for reducing stress and influencing others. Thoughts have direct and powerful connections to all sorts of physiological functions. Think hard enough about jumping out of an airplane, and your heart will start to race and your palms to sweat.

Perhaps the most dramatic and best-known case was described by Norman Cousins in his “Anatomy of an Illness As Perceived by the Patient.” While I was recently re-organizing my library, I came across his description of his experience in the May 28, 1977 issue of The Saturday Review (pp. 4-6, 48-51).

Cousins came down with a serious collagen illness, a disease of the body’s connective tissues. One result of the disease is the reduction of functioning of the adrenal glands. Cousins theorized that if he could have these glands function normally, his illness could be cured. “If negative emotions produce negative chemical changes in the body, wouldn’t positive emotions produce positive chemical changes?” (p.6) He began a program where part of it called for the full exercise of the affirmative emotions as a factor in enhancing body chemistry. He employed a psychological approach to the ancient theory that laughter is good medicine. Using a variety of sources, Cousins actuated laughter in his body. He regained his health, returned to his position as editor of the magazine, and even began teaching at the School of Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

The second chapter of my book, Discipline Without Stress, alludes to this same concept of the interaction between the mind and the body. For example, if a teacher views a disruptive student’s behavior as a deliberate attempt to disrupt the class, the teacher may view coercive corrective action to be necessary. In the process, however, the teacher unwittingly prompts stress in the body, in addition to pushing the relationship apart, rather than bringing it closer.

In contrast, if the teacher perceives that the student’s behavior is his or her best attempt to solve a frustration or problem, then the teacher views the situation as an opportunity to help the student help him/herself.

The first approach naturally engenders stress (more accurately, “distress”). The second starts with a psychological perspective that motivates in a positive and beneficial manner. This approach disciplines without stress, assists the student, and brings joy to the teacher (and/or parent).