The value of self-discipline

Recently I had the chance to watch Lindsey Lohan’s 2004 film “Mean Girls.”  I hadn’t realized it when I first saw this performance but it was brought to my attention that it was based in part on the nonfiction book, “Queen Bees and Wannabes,” by Rosalind Wiseman.  This insightful look at the social dynamics of teenagers gives parents advice to help girls survive cliques, gossip and other issues at school.

Wiseman’s book fundamentally changed the way that parents look at their daughter’s friendships and conflicts.  It encourages them to become proactive in their children’s social development suggesting how to choose best friends and how to express anger.  Similar articles on child development stress that self-discipline is a very important skill to teach children.  By directing ones’ actions according to what one thinks instead of how you feel you can build your self-discipline.  After the novelty of beginning a new sport or musical instrument wears off one is tempted not to practice however by acting according to what we think rather than what we feel will help us attain our goal.

The background story of The Littlest Dragon and the Princess deals with incorporating positive growth principles into our lives.  It reinforces the important Napoleon Hill’s “Twelve Great Riches of Life,” presenting them as specific objectives that will increase peace and joy into our lives.  Hill’s list is prioritized with the most importance at the front but as important as “positive mental attitude” is I wonder if number nine, “self discipline” is perhaps equally important in one’s life.

Life can have challenging times and if we don’t learn to discipline ourselves to prevail we face discouragement, defeat and failure.  Repeatedly The Old Dragon Sage encourages The Littlest Dragon to face the bulling difficulties at school with self-discipline and not by responding to his teasing classmates.

Attainment of the Twelve Great Riches of Life is a life long pursuit but parents can ensure their children a greater likelihood of success by building self-discipline during the early years.  After winning the 2012 Olympic Gold in time trial U.S. cyclist Kristin Armstrong credited her success to self-discipline, “This is an amazing moment for me…I read about things like Michael Phelps.  But I always feel like I’m the normal one, the normal kid that never was told by their coach that I have anything special…It was just the determination and sacrifice that I had, all the way from when I was in elementary school.”

The importance of a positive mental attitude

The advice that The Old Dragon Sage gave to The Littlest Dragon, to ignore the bulling and it will usually go away, is an important approach to this type of situation.  The harassment in this story was more like mean teasing and not as severe as some of the hurtful things that happens in our Nation’s schools each day.

After The Old Dragon Sage encourages The Littlest Dragon to ignore the mean teasing he moves on to a more important part of his advise to the little guy.  One of the most valuable aspects of our mental make up has to do with having a positive mental outlook about one’s self.   That would be hard to do if The Littlest Dragon believed he was a nobody so The Old Dragon Sage begins a conversation about self esteem and his beliefs about himself.

As we grow up not only do we create an operating system that kept us safe during the formative years of our life, during this time we also accumulated a great number of beliefs about ourselves.  One of the most common approaches of looking at these beliefs is to evaluate them as whether or not they are true or false.  Unfortunately we can always find evidence that support a belief even if that belief isn’t true.

I’m not suggesting that truth is relative and you can make up your own reality and set of rules about life.  To do so would be dangerously heading down a very slippery slope.  The type of belief that I refer to has nothing to do with topics like, “is there a God?” “Is man basically good or bad?” etc.  The beliefs I refer to are the ones that we hold to be true about ourselves, of those in relations to others and to the world.

Instead of looking at beliefs as whether they are true or false The Old Dragon Sage suggests that a better approach is to look at your beliefs about yourself as whether or not they are resourceful to you.  Thinking that you’re insignificant, a looser, unlovable or a misfit doesn’t do anything but bring unhappiness.  These types of beliefs should be discarded and replaced with ones that affirm uniqueness, success, talent and goodness.

I expect that some would feel that presenting this information to my target audience, 8 to 12 year olds might be a bit too soon, perhaps, but one of the driving forces behind this project is that I didn’t encounter the 12 Great Riches of Life or positive life coaching until much later in life.  The question “Why I was unaware of these insights” turned into “What can I do to interject this way of thinking to the youth of our society,” hence The Littlest Dragon and the Princess.

A few more thoughts about the origins of this story

The years between the initial story that was created for a presentation for J. Paul Getty’s Educational seminar and the final version were filled with turmoil, challenge and personal rebirth.  This rediscovery of what I was capable of came to be through the exploration of a number of personal growth books, lectures and meditation.  A great amount of this rediscovery was centered on the insights of Napoleon Hill.  I was enlightened by his knowledge shown in the “Twelve Great Riches of Life,” or The Magic Ladder to Success.  I was a little frustrated that I hadn’t come across this knowledge earlier in my life.  That thought turned into the question, “Why did it take so long to discover this knowledge and how can I change that for others?”

Until recently, I was an art teacher at Santa Monica High School.  During short art history lectures, many times I would weave in a life principle concept or some other insight from Hill.  The feedback was terrific. The value of these insights was enormous. When the story was rewritten, I decided to add the character of the Old Dragon Sage, who would introduce these personal growth concepts into the story and therefore introduce the reader to these valuable insights.

How successful individuals deal with adversity is a major part of this story.  If we let external situations create bad feelings about ourselves, we become victims; instead we can use negative situations as a reference point to stand back and look at our lives and ask the question, “Who do I want to be?”  “What must I do to I achieve it?”

As we grow up, we form an operating system that will keep us safe during our formative years.  If we had a safe, loving environment, this system would be normal and give us the results in life that we want.  when we face challenging situations we must overcome, we sometimes make decisions that don’t always work to our advantage.  The problem stems from the fact that this operating system works subconsciously, kind of like being on automatic pilot.  We can engage in behaviors that don’t serve us well. Such behaviors can be discarded but it’s not always an easy task.  By watching ourselves with awareness and facing the frustrations of life with courage, resolve and dignity, we can turn into the person that we want to become.

Please know that I don’t sit in some remote ivory tower untouched by human difficulties.  The observation about facing life’s difficulties was inspired during a religious ceremony that I attended at the end of the writing part of this project.  I was reading a passage in a Bible that talked about trials from above and how to face them.  I believe that God allows us to encounter difficulties with our own free will and how we respond to them defines our character.  I included this insight (how to face life’s challenges with courage, resolve and dignity) in the conclusion of the story.  Strangely as soon as I did so, I found myself entangled in difficult situations that tried my own resolve and patience.

I hope the challenging days are on the wane and i am looking forward to getting this story published.  The key illustrations are completed and will be displayed in later posts.