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Choice Theory – A supreme way to improve your quality of life


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Dr William Glasser, a psychiatrist and author of Reality Therapy in 1967, developed Choice Theory® to help people take responsibility for their own lives.

Choice Theory is based on the premise that every individual only has power over themselves and limited power over others, but can still control how they react to situations.

The theory allows one person’s decisions not to affect others. This way you avoid conflict with other people who may disagree about important life issues like finances and child-rearing, for example, because both parties are free from feeling pressured into giving up what they want most if it comes down to choosing between two things: something bad happening vs your loved one’s being unhappy (or vice versa).

It also helps strengthen relationships while improving satisfaction levels as it leads to less negative behaviour over time and enhances satisfaction throughout your life. Based on the theory, conflict arises because humans can only control their own behaviour.

What Dr Glasser defends is that everything we do is purposeful and an attempt to meet one or more of our human needs, which are instinctual in nature and have become a part of us through evolution.

An understanding of these needs, as well as the other major components of Choice Theory, can help us build and maintain better relationships with those important people in our lives and to lead happier, more satisfying lives.

But which are the 5 major components of Choice Theory?

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●      Survival

Humans are equipped with a need to survive, so it’s no surprise that this is such an important part of our lives. Food and shelter make up the most basic needs for survival – without them, we’re more susceptible to disease or attack from predators.  

Safety also falls under this category because if there were threats around every corner, life would be unbearable (and not long!). Reproduction plays into survival on two levels – first as individuals in order to carry on our bloodlines; then secondly by continuing humankind overall since reproduction ensures population growth.

●      Love & Belonging

We all need love and belonging. The desire for relationships, social connections, to give and receive affection, as well as the feeling of being part of a group is essential in order to feel fulfilled in our lives. 

●      Power

Power is not a force which can be held, it must be constantly worked on and perfected. It’s about being recognised for one’s achievements and skills; having the power to speak up when necessary or desired, and feeling self-worth from what you’ve done in life. 

Power comes with many attributes – recognition of skill set, capabilities at achieving things that are deemed worthy by society standards (wealth), influence over others through speaking your mind without fear of retribution… All these different aspects help us come closer to our goal: holding power as we know it today.

●      Freedom

The need to be free is the desire for independence, autonomy, and freedom. This means that people want a chance to make choices in their lives; they find empowerment when given control over what happens next.

●      Fun

The need for fun is the necessity of finding pleasure, to play and laugh. Should you doubt that this is as important as any other human needs or instincts such as eating food, breathing air, bonding with your child/parent or spouse? Imagine a life without hope of any joy in it!

Glasser links the desire for leisure activity directly with learning. All animals on earth (dogs; dolphins too) are noted playing daily while they learn the skills needed to survive out there in nature – whether hunting prey down at sea level where predators abound or simply exploring new territory on land when necessary

That’s how we humans work too: It might be true “that ‘play’ is a child’s job.”

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The perceived world represents what we think we HAVE, or what we believe reality to be.

Our sensory organs are our first line of defence in understanding the world around us. Whether it’s through sights, sounds or smells, we rely on these tools to take things at face value and make quick judgments about what is happening.

The intricate system behind how humans perceive reality can be summarised as a simple equation: input-perception=output.

The information that comes into contact with our five senses is filtered by previous knowledge before even being conveyed to our brain for interpretation; this cognitive filter helps us build an idea of whom we are from birth onwards based on everything that has happened up until now.

You might not realise it, but the only “real world” you know is your Perceived World. The truth of something may be a lot different from what we perceive to exist in our own worlds where values and knowledge vary across people because we all come to every situation with different knowledge and experience.

Because they are made up of perceptions, our perceived worlds are:

  • Highly subjective: based on one’s culture, education, experience, gender, age, etc.
  • Unique
  • Subject to constant change (new information, new experiences = new perceptions)
  • Frequently inaccurate. 

Often our perceptions are chosen. We can frequently choose to perceive people, places and situations in several ways.

For example, if you’re late for work – you can react to it by getting angry and agitated, but you also have the opportunity to move on, knowing you’re doing the best you can to arrive on time and accepting that it can happen sometimes – and then, you just relax.

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If the perceived world represents what we think we have, the quality world, on the other hand, represents what we WANT.

The quality world is a personal album of all the people, things, ideas and ideals that we’ve discovered to increase the quality of our lives.

It’s often seen as an extension to your basic human needs because it illustrates how you meet those needs specifically rather than just generally following along with everyone else in society.

The “basic needs” describe what we actually need, while the “quality world” gives detail on how we meet those needs.

The pictures in our Quality World:

  1. Meet one or more of our Basic Human Needs
  2. Are changing and changeable
  3. Are unique
  4. Often conflict with each other
  5. Vary in levels of intensity
  6. Vary in levels of attainability

For a better understanding of your personal quality world, consider your answers to these questions:

  • Who are the most important people in your life?
  • If you become the person you would ideally like to be, what traits or characteristics would you have?
  • What is an accomplishment that you are really proud of?

This theory explains that we always try to make the world conform to our own beliefs and desires in order to get what we want from it.

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As human beings, we are constantly comparing what we want (our Quality World pictures) with what we’ve got (our Perceived World) and this process of continuous comparison happens without any conscious effort from us.

When these two match fairly well (Quality and Perceived world), we feel good. When there is a mismatch, you feel a degree of frustration, depending on how important the Quality World picture is to you.

The frustration signal, as Glasser describes it, is felt as an urge to behave in a way that will help us get more of what we want. Instead, when your scales are in balance, when what you want is what you have, you continue to do what you’ve been doing.

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One of Dr Glasser’s major premises is that “All behaviour is purposeful.” That is, ALL of our behaviours are an attempt at making the real world conform to what we need and expect it should be like.

Another way of putting it, is that all our behaviour is an attempt at making the real world conform to the pictures in our Quality World.

The more we do the same thing, the easier it becomes to find a pattern and create an organised behaviour. But when those patterns don’t work anymore, or we don’t have a pattern to follow, we create new behaviours. He terms this process as “reorganising*”.

This is our creativity flowing, whether we decide to use it or not.

According to Dr Glasser all behaviour is “Total Behaviour”, and it comprises four components that are present all the time:

  1. Acting
  2. Thinking
  3. Feeling
  4. Physiology

All four components are occurring all the time, and they are always connected to each other.

The component we have the most control over is our acting and the next most easily controlled component is our thinking.

Then, if we want to change the way we are feeling emotionally or physically, the most effective thing to do is to change what we are doing.

If, because of the situation, we can’t change what we are doing, we can change what we are thinking. So, it’s like a kind of looping, that by changing one component, we can adjust the others accordingly.

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If you’re looking for a more engaging, creative way to study and understand Choice Theory, then here are ten axioms that will help break it down and can be applied to your personal life

  1. The only person whose behaviour we can control is our own.
  2. All we can give another person is information.
  3. All long-lasting psychological problems are relationship problems.
  4. The problem relationship is always part of our present life.
  5. What happened in the past has everything to do with what we are today, but we can only satisfy our basic needs right now and plan to continue satisfying them in the future.
  6. We can only satisfy our needs by satisfying the pictures in our Quality World.
  7. All we do is behave.
  8. All behaviour is Total Behaviour and is made up of four components: acting, thinking, feeling and physiology
  9. All Total Behaviour is chosen, but we only have direct control over the acting and thinking components. We can only control our feeling and physiology indirectly through how we choose to act and think.
  10. All Total Behaviour is designated by verbs and named by the part that is the most recognisable.

So Dr Glasser concluded that all behaviour is driven from the inside, regardless of external influences. We are in control of our own choices – and all behaviour is a choice – where every action we take is a result of those decisions.

This is called ‘internal control’, but most of us behave via ‘external control’ – the belief that we are not responsible for our own choices and that states of being happen to us rather than being chosen by us and coming from within.

I strongly recommend reading the book by William Glasser and seeing if it opens up any new perspectives or if the world looks any different to you afterwards.

If you’re interested in knowing more about the concepts of Choice Theory, and how to apply them day by day in your life, let me know. I would love to chat about it!