Choice Theory Psychology

This summary of William Glasser’s Choice Theory psychology is reproduced here from the book “The Practice of Reality Therapy” by Brian Lennon.

Choice Theory psychology is relatively simple to explain but its implications for human life can take many years if not a lifetime to understand. In developing the ideas, Glasser’s original intent was to establish his therapy on a firm theoretical footing. What he created as a result was not merely a theory of counselling but has become an explanation of human behaviour in general. Indeed it has such a direct relevance for the choices we make at every moment that it could be seen to have a strong existential dimension.

Glasser applies Choice Theory not only to his therapy but also to his ideas on education and management. In fact, from approximately the year 2000 onwards, the theory came more and more to the fore in his counselling leading him to focus on the teaching of mental health both inside and outside of formal counselling.

For Glasser, Choice Theory was to become a set of principles that could be applied directly to life as well as therapy. Bannister and Fransella observed that “in psychology, many of us behave as if ‘theory’ were like heaven – a fine place to go when the practical business of living is all over, but not a matter of much concern here and now.” Glasser, more a technician than a technologist, would not want his ideas to have this particular heavenly quality. For him theory is very much something to enlighten the practice. This is borne out by the fact that he has quietly moved some aspects of his ideas (such as “levels of perception”) away from centre-stage, not because they were not valid but because they were not of great practical application in his view.

Choice Theory challenges many of the everyday assumptions we make about our own behaviour and that of the people in our worlds. It is deceptively simple on the one hand and surprisingly profound on the other. It began to form when Glasser first challenged what he was taught as a trainee psychiatrist in the early nineteen sixties.

Glasser originally explained his ideas using some of the language of traditional psychiatry in his very first book “Mental Health and Mental Illness” published in 1960. Five years later with the publication of “Reality Therapy” he was already using his own terms summing up his theory in a set of quite radical statements.

By 1981 he had discovered William Power’s application of Control Theory to psychological phenomena and found there a clear explanation of how and why we behave. By the end of the 90’s he realised he had changed so many aspects of this theory to fit his own explanations that a new name was required and “Choice Theory” came into being as the definitive statement of his underlying belief system. It remains heavily indebted to William Powers’ Control Theory but differs in important aspects such as the role of Basic Needs and Total Behaviour.

In the rest of this chapter I will examine the main tenets of Choice Theory and explore briefly the corollaries they give rise to. Taken together these will give the Choice Theory answer to the question posed in the introduction “Why do people do what they do?”

I am controlled from within.

Central to Choice Theory is the idea that I am controlled from within myself and not by outside stimuli. Once I acknowledge that I am controlled from within this has four important corollaries for us:

  • Only I can change me.

You can take me to the water but you cannot make me drink. You can keep me in school but you cannot make me think. All personal change will begin with the individual’s willingness to change.

  • I am responsible for my own behaviour.

Some have misinterpreted this as meaning that I am to “blame” for what I do but Glasser’s emphasis is on choice. If I am responsible for my behaviour it means I am choosing what I do and this in turn means I can choose something different. My control over my own behaviour is a liberating power and it is a characteristic of Reality Therapy that clients discover just how much control they have over the problems they brought to counselling.

Another confusion that people experience is that they assume choice is synonymous with awareness. In fact we make many choices in everyday life without full awareness of what we are doing. They are still our choices! Obviously, in counselling, the Reality Therapy practitioner will help the client become aware of his or her own choices so that it then becomes more possible to change them.

  • I cannot change other people.

This has enormous implications for our relationships. So many marriages and similar long-term relationships are seriously damaged, sometimes beyond repair, by attempts to change the other person. It would appear that the closer I draw to another person, the easier it becomes to confuse the delineation between the two persons. The result is that my attempts to improve myself become attempts to improve the other person and this ultimately is seen by the other as criticism or nagging, two of the most destructive behaviours for relationships.

There are, of course, situations where our goal appears to be to change someone else, as in education for example. However the Glasserian view is that whether we are in the counselling office, the home, the classroom or the workplace, we simply cannot change anyone else unless they want to change. It is not the educator’s task to change others but to present ideas in such a way that the recipients want to change.

  • Other people cannot change me.

We often live according to the myth that other people can change us. We say “John makes me angry”, “Mary makes my life a misery” and so on. We even believe that people can do this remotely: “the telephone drives me mad!” Glasser says we choose these behaviours. I choose my behaviour in regard to John, Mary or the telephone and by doing so I choose to be angry, miserable or mad. Only when we fully realise this can we begin to take responsibility for our own lives and begin to examine more effective choices for ourselves.

Even when a criminal puts a gun to my head and demands the keys of my car, it is still my choice to give them or not. Normally, of course, I would choose to do so in the interests of staying alive. In fact, all others can do is, as Glasser likes to say, “give me information”. The criminal with the gun is giving me a lot of quite definite information about what he wants me to do but it is not control. I control me because it is I who decide what to do with the incoming information.

I rely on my own evaluation of my life.

If my control is internal then it is my evaluation of my internal world that determines whether or not I change. This introduces the very important Choice Theory concept of “self-evaluation”. A major focus of Reality Therapy is in helping the client make a self-evaluation of his own life specifically in the problem area he has brought to counselling. Instead of offering the client an external evaluation of his or her life situation, the Reality Therapy practitioner will help that client tease out different aspects of the situation and then let the client reach his or her own conclusions about it.

I have basic needs.

At the very heart of my internal control is my set of basic needs, the ultimate driving force of my organism. Glasser lists these as five though he acknowledges that others may list a different number of needs and different titles for them:

  • Survival

This need refers to our genetic instruction to survive, not only as an individual but also as a species. As individuals we need health and safety, warmth and nourishment. As a species we need to reproduce. As we evolved and our larger brain capacity permitted the mind to develop we became aware of other needs that enhanced our survival chances and the very quality of that survival. Whereas we might see “survival” as mainly a biological need, the other needs could be classified as “psychological”.

  • Love and Belonging

Having a strong relationship with those around us and belonging to a group greatly improves the quality of our survival both as individuals and as a species. This is a very important need insofar as we meet most of our needs through our relationships with others.

  • Power

This relates very closely to having a sense of control of our own lives. It does not mean power over others although many people try to satisfy it in this way and the result is serious conflict with their love and belonging needs. Power in the Choice Theory sense is associated with personal confidence and competence.

  • Freedom

This is the need to be unfettered, not to be controlled, to have the space to meet all our needs. It includes the freedom to express ourselves but also carries a responsibility to respect the freedom of others.

  • Fun

This is seen by Glasser as “the genetic reward for learning”. It is part of our ongoing adaptation to the world we live in, always updating our need-satisfying skills.

What constantly motivates my behaviour is my basic needs.

My needs are internal and are constantly moving me to satisfy them. Seeing them as the driving force of my behaviour has a number of implications:

  • When a need is not fully satisfied I am motivated to behave in order to fulfil it.

Hunger is a very good example and it relates to the need for survival. When my body is short of food hunger signals reach the brain and begin to focus my behaviour on seeking food. The other needs work in a similar way each with its own specific feeling signals. Feeling lonely, helpless, trapped or bored relates to love and belonging, power, freedom and fun respectively.

  • When a need is satisfied I am motivated to behave in order to maintain it.

Once I get what I want the motivation to acquire changes to a motivation to keep. In simple terms, once I get a bowl of soup to satisfy my hunger I behave in order to enjoy it and not to spill it.

  • Insofar as my needs have a hierarchy, the need that is currently experiencing the greatest frustration becomes the strongest motivator at the present time.

Unlike Maslow’s idea of a fixed hierarchy, Glasser’s view is that the rank order changes frequently according to the current state of frustration. Survival might appear to be permanently top of the list of needs but people have been known to give up their lives to satisfy the Love and Belonging need.

  • Everyone seems to have the same needs but not necessarily the same ways of satisfying them.

Glasser admits that others may propose a different set of words to label the basic needs but generally it appears that people’s basic needs are similar to those he describes. However, the ways people satisfy needs can vary a lot. For example, the nature of shelter and food varies considerably around the globe although the basic need for survival they cater for remains the same.

  • The more immediate motivator of my behaviour is any discrepancy between what I want and what I have.

Whereas my Basic Needs are running in the deeper layers of my being, my thoughts are constantly interpreting these into realities I want to achieve. I am constantly sizing up my view of my real world to see how well I am getting what I want. I then behave to reduce the difference between what I have and what I want.

If I decide I want a new camera, one with very specific capabilities and accessories, it is because this object somehow or other satisfies one or more of my basic needs. It may be that I want to make a really good photographic report of my kid sister’s wedding and so my relationship to her is a key factor.

In my current real world I note the shortfall in my finances compared with the advertised price of the camera. Consequently I either modify the picture of what I want or I begin to behave to acquire the additional funds.

In the following paragraphs we will examine these processes in more detail.

I behave according to my present perceptions of the world.

The importance of perceptions is common to other authors such as Rogers, Kelly and Powers. All that we know comes through our perceptions and we behave in order to control this perceived world, our best estimate of what is real. This principle too has important corollaries:

  • I deal with my perceptions of the world, not the world itself.

What I take to be “real”, what I believe to be happening depends totally on my perceptual system. This in turn will depend on where I am, what my senses can perceive, how well my senses are working, how my values system selects what I perceive, how I label what I observe and finally how my inner logic deals with the resulting perceptions.

  • My perceptions operate in the present.

It is possible that the past will help explain the present and we may even be able to learn lessons from the past but any problem we have exists in the here and now and so the solution will be in the here and now. In Reality Therapy it will be rare for the therapist to begin by exploring the past since the main focus of the counselling will be on the client’s current perceptions. If there is any exploration of the past it is to clarify the present.

When your car has a puncture, to quote an example from Glasser, you normally prefer to have it fixed than to fill in a survey about how and where it happened. One important exception to this focus on the present is when the Reality Therapy practitioner explores the past for evidence of strengths that might be used in the present.

  • I cannot change the past.

This has important implications for personal living and for therapy and is a Choice Theory view that sets it apart from many other approaches to therapy. Glasser often comments that we cannot eat yesterday’s dinner. He will not invite a client to re-live painful episodes from the past. If there is such a thing as “catharsis” it is in solving the problem in the present rather than in re-visiting yesteryear’s pain. Revisiting the past can easily become a form of avoidance or can generate excuses for inactivity.

  • I may be able to change the present or future.

Indeed the only hope of change in my life is the present or future. Once I realise just how much control I have over my life then a new world of choices can open up to me in the present.

  • For another to interact effectively with me, he or she needs to try and understand my perceptual world.

No matter how well another human being can fathom my “personality” (that summary description of my behaviour as viewed from the outside), they will only ever really understand me insofar as they comprehend how I see the world. As I said in the first lines of this book, I believe that full understanding of another human being is in fact impossible. All we can do is try to get an insight into their perspective.

There is a joke about a psychologist who was about to chastise his son for cutting a worm in two. As he approached to scold his errant child he heard the boy whisper to the two wriggling pieces, “there, you’re not alone anymore. Now you have a friend!” Although the worm might not appreciate it, the boy’s intentions were noble and were based entirely on his perceptions of his world.

Obviously in counselling it becomes of paramount importance to attempt to understand the client’s perceptual world. This world includes how the individual is perceiving the present situation and also what the client wants. These are both important as they govern the person’s choice of behaviour.

  • I myself decide whom I will permit to probe my internal world.

If I control my own internal world then I can decide whom I will explain it to. I control the access. The trust required for me to open up to another person means that I must first add that person to my own internal world identifying him or her as a potentially satisfying person in my life. For this to happen Glasser says I must be “involved” with that person and so involvement becomes a key component of Reality Therapy.

The counsellor seeking this involvement will behave in such a way that the client will be able to see him as need-satisfying. As we shall see in the next paragraph, this means that the client takes the counsellor into what Glasser calls her “Quality World”. It becomes important therefore for the counsellor to create this very special environment or relationship for counselling.

I behave according to a set of internal perceptions known as my “Quality World”.

Over time I learn that certain persons, situations, objects, experiences and values appear to be satisfying to me. These become a very special sub-set of my perceptions because I perceive them to be need-satisfying. These are more than simply good memories; they are also blueprints for future satisfaction. They become my very own personal catalogue of ways to satisfy my needs and Glasser calls this the “Quality World”. We have already referred to these when we spoke about “wants”.

We do not normally live our daily lives thinking overtly about our basic needs themselves. Of course, this generalisation does not apply to those who have studied Choice Theory. Such students become prone to utterances such as “My need for power is a bit low at the moment”. “Normal people” are more likely to spend time dwelling on the images from our Quality World, daydreaming about a holiday, some nice food, a close friend. These special pictures we carry in our Quality Worlds have certain characteristics:

  • Quality World pictures are perceptions.

No matter what in the real world may have contributed to the pictures in my Quality World, what I store internally is a set of perceptions and not external reality. For a long time I may have held the name of a new film in my Quality World because I have heard so many people sing its praises. I want to see this film. When I eventually get to see it in the cinema, motivated by that image in my Quality World, the reality may disillusion me and I promptly remove it from my Quality World. It is no longer one of my wants.

  • Quality World pictures can be of people, activities, objects or values.

In fact, anything I can want. I want to be close to a particular person. I want to visit Peru. I want a new boat. I want democracy. Our wants are the pictures in our Quality World.

  • The pictures in my Quality World are always “good” in my eyes.

This is an important concept and is easily misunderstood. The word “good” is very relative here. My pictures are not “good” because they are in my Quality World. Rather I put them into my Quality World because I consider them good. It does not mean others will consider these pictures as “good” nor that they are good by any objective standard.

When I visit a new restaurant with a few friends and find it very need satisfying I then add it to my Quality World as a good place for dining with my friends. In my internal world that restaurant will carry a big plus sign for the foreseeable future.

My pictures are not necessarily need-satisfying in reality. I put them in my Quality World because I believe them to be satisfying but I could be mistaken – or they might be satisfying in the very short term only. This could be said about many drugs, especially alcohol. I may put it in my Quality World because I believe it gives me greater confidence!

A tragic aspect of the power of these inner pictures is that some people put horrific pictures into their personal albums, pictures of killing or harming others, for example. In the twisted logic of their lives they see these acts as “good” whereas the rest of the world may deem them totally evil.

If we hope to help people deal with ineffective, evil or illegal pictures in their Quality Worlds, we need to understand how and why they get them in the first place.

  • These pictures come from my personal and cultural experiences.

As I go through life I have direct pleasant experiences myself. Similarly I may adopt experiences from my surrounding culture or from the recommendations of friends. An apparently simple picture such as “a cup of tea” can have very different meanings in different cultures. We are offered and usually adopt very specific pictures about family and relationships from our own cultures. In Ireland “family” usually means the father-mother-child group whereas “familia” in Spain will extend all the way from grandparents to cousins.

  • The pictures are very specific.

If I claim that “Jazz” is in my Quality World it does not mean that I will automatically like everything from Bebop to Cool to Swing. Indeed, our tendency to be vague when expressing our wants gives rise to many interpersonal misunderstandings and, indeed, unwanted gifts. When you want to request something from another person you really need to state it in very specific terms because the picture you have in your head will be very specific.

  • Many of my pictures are difficult to change.

Once we make a definite decision to include somebody or something in our Quality World it can be quite hard but not impossible to remove it.

  • These pictures have their own internal logic.

Some time ago an accountant friend told me about a family of middle-aged brothers she needed to meet with to discuss their shared finances. They seemed to have some aversion to coming together and it was some time before she understood the internal logic of what was, as it happens, their shared Quality World. For them, the idea of coming together was not in their Quality World as it would involve leaving nobody at home to safeguard their life-savings stored in hard cash under one of the beds!

Asking people why they want something can often reveal a complex logic of interrelated wants. Without some understanding of that logic, their behaviour can appear quite mystifying and difficult to deal with.

  • My Quality World pictures are not necessarily good for me or others.

The fact that I believe something to be need-satisfying does not mean that it really will satisfy my needs. In like manner, the fact that I believe a particular behaviour is good does not mean that it will be seen as good by others. In fact, as already indicated, my Quality World pictures can be terribly destructive for myself and others.

Just as my Quality World may include a picture of myself graduating in civil engineering or buying a good book for my child it might equally carry a picture of me physically punishing a child “for his or her own good”. It might even include acts of violence against those I see as my enemies or plans to overthrow a democratic government.

Somehow in my inner perceptions and the logic that holds them together I choose pictures that in each moment seem to be the best for me. It is this inner belief that can give frightening power to acts that the rest of the world may see as inherently evil.

  • My behaviour is the best indicator of what is really in my Quality World.

We behave according to the pictures in our Quality Worlds. I may know that smoking is bad for me and tell my friends that I really want to stop. However, if I am still choosing to smoke it is because it is in my Quality World. For some reason the picture of smoking is still more attractive to me than the picture of not smoking. I may not even be able to express why this is so.

I am constantly choosing behaviours to keep my needs in balance.

This is very similar to the biological notion of “homeostasis” or to the servo-mechanisms of engineering. Homeostasis is the natural balancing that goes on in living organisms. If my brain detects heat loss in my fingers it sends an extra blood supply to restore temperature levels. Servo-mechanisms have a similar function in engines and a simple example can be seen in the small metal vanes that help steady the motor in a music box. Glasser believes that human choice has a similar balancing function.

Just as physical dehydration will spur my brain into water-seeking behaviours, so too any form of psychological frustration will create a felt need and active search for whatever will satisfy it. After many hours doing serious work my fun need starts to run low.

These “fun-hunger pangs” take the form of feelings of boredom and weariness and send a clear message to the mind: “I need fun”. One look at my cluttered desk and I perceive a major discrepancy between what I need and what I have before me. In my mind I begin a quick search for some Quality World picture that will fill the gap. I pick up the telephone and arrange a game of tennis with a friend. Even as we joke on the phone my fun needs are beginning to balance again.

  • In a general way my organism urges me to meet my needs.

When I am peckish I may visit the kitchen and prowl around looking for something to nibble. There is a constant flow of signals about the state of my needs and, where a need is running low, these signals are uncomfortable and may even be painful.

  • In a specific way my mind urges me to achieve my need-satisfying pictures.

I have a set of established ways of meeting certain needs such as playing golf several times a week to meet fun and friendship needs or I may enter the kitchen looking specifically for a packet of my favourite snacks.

  • I seek the pictures that meet the currently frustrated needs.

After a business trip away from home I might pick up the telephone and call around my friends to arrange a game of golf. Even without fully realising it I am restoring an imbalance in both my fun and my love and belonging needs. In my Quality World I want to be in contact with my friends; in my real world they are absent. So I choose a Quality World picture that will bring us together. My internal set of Quality World pictures is my personal formula for need satisfaction.

  • This self-regulatory process is an ongoing feedback loop.

Although we become more aware of this at times of greater frustration, this processing of phenomena is continuous. At a physical level we constantly adjust our posture to reduce discomfort. Our heart rate increases to deal with a potential threat. Our skin sweats to deal with over-heating. We decide we need a little break when we begin to tire. The core of the brain, the older part in evolutionary terms, looks after this biological balancing without conscious control from us.

The newer part of the brain evolved giving us the distinctly human attribute of the mind but Glasser claims it works in the same way. We constantly behave to keep our needs in balance. Somewhere in our mind we compare what we have with what we want and, on detecting a gap between these, the resulting frustration creates a negative feedback loop that aims at a reduction of this gap. If we receive positive feedback, that all is well and we are in fact getting what we want, then we simply behave to enjoy and maintain this.

My behaviour is my attempt to activate my pictures.

  • My behaviour is always my best attempt to meet my needs.

In my own very private internal logic everything I choose to do is, at that moment, my best attempt to meet my needs. If I thought I had a better choice I would take it. This Choice Theory idea offers a very positive view of human behaviour but does seem to present some contradictions. For example, I may be a “workaholic”, doing lots of extra work putting my physical health at risk and straining family relationships. How could something so negative be a choice and how could it be described as my best choice at the time?

First of all we need to remember that a choice does not mean it is conscious. Although it may be difficult to do I could choose not to work extra hours and so it is a choice. But how could my inner logic favour something so gruelling as an excessive work schedule? One possibility is that there is a situation at home that I don’t know how to deal with and it is easier to choose this form of avoidance.

Another possibility could be that many things have been going wrong for me in recent times but work gives me a strong sense of security I badly need just now. Yet another possible explanation is that I simply have not spotted the damage my over-working is generating.

This specific choice might not be pleasant but in my internal view of the world it somehow makes sense at this point in time. The logic we use to run our lives is not always clear-cut; sometimes it is quite fuzzy. Like the person who smokes in spite of knowing the health risks, I might not be able to explain my choice very easily. Somehow, in my internal logic, the balance in favour of making the choice is greater than the balance against it.

  • Normally I resort to organised behaviours.

When one of my needs is frustrated my own direct experience and vicarious experience through learning usually offers me a range of known options. If I need food I can try the refrigerator, the shop at the corner, a nearby restaurant or a friend’s house. If I have been brought up in a jungle tribe my organised behaviours for getting food may be quite different. This organised behaviour system is not unlike a filing system of ideas for different situations, a personal resource I have built up and constantly turn to for solutions and ideas.

  • In special circumstances my creative system helps me develop new behaviours.

If my frustration is very big and my organised behavioural system has no solution to offer, my creative system may churn out some brand-new options. If I become hungry while camping miles from my usual sources of food I might decide to search for bird’s eggs or eat insects, something I have never done before. For me this would be a creative behaviour. However, once I have used the new behaviour successfully I might then add it to my organised behavioural system for future use.

  • Such new behaviours may appear “crazy” or may even interfere with my physical health.

My hunger may be so great that, failing to find any bird’s eggs, I may start screaming to the heavens in desperation. To the onlooker this would certainly appear somewhat “crazy” but to me it is simply a desperate attempt to change my situation. Of course, not all crazy behaviours are so ineffective! I may find that thumping the table in anger, originally a creative gesture, does in fact achieve the attention I need. In this case I will probably use the same behaviour again. Reflection on my behaviour might help me realise that although I do get the attention it is at the expense of relationships and respect.

I normally satisfy most of my needs through relationships.

Glasser has often joked that the only real problem we have is that others will not do what we want. In more recent adjustments to his ideas Glasser firmly puts relationships centre-stage and says, “the cause of the misery is always our way of dealing with an important relationship that is not working out the way we want it to.” In a further refinement of this idea Glasser emphasises that all we do that separates us from others creates problems for us since the need to relate to others is in our genes.

  • Everybody needs at least one significant relationship.

This theme first appeared in Glasser’s writings in 1960 but was more clearly stated in 1972: “Involvement with at least one successful person is a requirement for growing up successfully, maintaining success, or changing from failure to success.” As children, we learn mainly from adults and if good role-models are not available to us then our learning can be seriously impoverished.

  • Most long-term psychological problems are really relationship problems.

In Choice Theory Glasser identifies relationships as at the heart of people’s problems. By 1999, when he published “Reality Therapy in Action”, he was recommending counsellors to seek the relationship problem as the heart of most problems people bring to counselling. This is not limited exclusively to the quality of our relationships in terms of level of human warmth. It would extend equally to the expectations we believe others have of us. We live our lives in a world of relationships.

  • Those who do not have relationships in their Quality Worlds tend to use dangerous non-relational substitutes.

If people completely remove the idea of relationships from their Quality World then the pictures they use to meet their needs will also be devoid of relationships. They will not take other people’s rights or feelings into account, for example, and this can give rise to many problems.

Glasser believes that this explains why people will resort to drugs, promiscuous sex and violence. These are apparent need satisfiers that do not involve relationships. They appear to offer fun, love and power but without relationship. Those who have been abused or have been reared in a world of shallow or non-existent relationships may very well shy away from true relationships and seek solace in the notorious trio of drugs, promiscuous sex and violence.

My behaviour is an inseparable totality of four components.

The reader will have already grasped the idea that Glasser sees all human activity as behaviour and that most of it is chosen by us in our ongoing attempt to meet our basic needs using our own special set of pictures to guide us. Taking this analysis of human behaviour one enormous step forward Glasser then explains that all behaviour has four inseparable components: acting, thinking, feeling and physiology.

When we describe these components in a given individual we might do this in a very narrow sense like a snapshot of the behaviour in a given moment (e.g. while sitting in the dentist’s chair) or in a broader sense (e.g., my total behaviour at my place of work).

This idea of “Total Behaviour” is unique in Glasser’s thought and one with very powerful implications for therapy. In a later chapter we will examine these implications but first we need to explain “total behaviour”.

  • The four components are acting, thinking, feeling and physiology.

No matter what I “do” (the verb we generally use in popular language to describe behaviour), I am always changing the four components in some way.

  • I am responsible for all four of these.

Although we tend to think of having control and responsibility over what we “do”, the physical (“acting”) part of our behaviour, Glasser claims that this extends to the totality, to all four components. This means we have a responsibility for our feelings and physiology as well.

  • I tend to describe any particular behaviour by its most salient component.

Playing football is seen as an action, philosophy is seen as thinking, joy as a feeling and sweating as a physiological process. But each of these are behaviours and each has its other three components. Each is a total behaviour.

  • Changing any one component will mean changing all four.

Consider what happens when I jump into a swimming pool. The physical jump is the “acting” component. My thoughts may be “It seems like a good idea” or “I need some exercise”. The feeling could be exhilaration or even panic. Physiologically my pulse and my breathing are likely to change considerably. When I decided to jump I chose the other three components (maybe inadvertently).

  • The easiest components for me to change are acting and thinking.

For the average individual it is the acting and thinking that are most accessible to change and so these are the most useful gateways to changing the total behaviour. These become a major focus of therapeutic change.

Reviewing the overall thrust of Choice Theory it is clear that it emphasises that people are controlled from within. I am responsible for my behaviour and my behaviour is my best attempt to make my pictures happen. They in turn are my personal formulae for satisfying my needs. The chart below attempts to summarise this chain of causality that underlies all human behaviour according to Glasser’s Choice Theory.

Cone chart showing Needs, Pictures and Behaviours

At the root of all human behaviour are the NEEDS. We create a set of PICTURES as our ways to meet these needs and then choose BEHAVIOURS that make the pictures happen. So Glasser will not say, “The reason a person behaves is his past” or “That person behaves as she does because of external stimuli”. The past and external influences have their roles but, in Choice Theory, they are not controlling roles.

Others or the past may indeed have an influence in the development of my pictures but, no matter how those pictures were formed, it is the pictures that govern my behaviours. As we shall see later, this explanation of human behaviour has a direct bearing on the processes of Reality Therapy.

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