You have listened to me for a year now talking about Choice
Theory but I know I've never really explained what Choice Theory
is. Choice Theory is actually an explanation of all human
behavior developed by Dr. William Glasser.
There are basically five components of this theory--the basic
human needs, the quality world, the perceived world, the
comparing place and total behavior. I'll give a brief overview
of each one, starting with the five basic human needs.
The Basic Human Needs We are born with five basic human
needs--survival, love & belonging, power, freedom and fun. We
are all born with these needs but we experience them to varying
degrees. One person might have a high love & belonging need,
while another person is high in freedom. We are born with these
needs and are biologically driven to get them met in the best
way available to us.
The Quality World This is a place that exists inside all of us
where we store pictures of things that have satisfied one or
more of our basic needs in the past or things we think may
satisfy them in the future. These things do not have to meet
society's definition of quality. Alcohol is in the quality world
of an alcoholic, steeling cars in the quality world of a car
thief, and domestic violence is in the quality world of a
batterer. The only two requirements for entry into the quality
world are that it meets one or more of our needs and it feels
The Perceived World There is much to be said about the perceived
world but for the purposes of this article, all I want to say is
that we each have our own perceptions of the world. Our sensory
system takes in information through sight, touch, sound, taste
and scent, however we all have unique ways of processing that
information based on our life experiences, our culture, and our
The main thing to remember about the perceived world is that if
you encounter others whose perceived world doesn't match yours,
it doesn't mean one of you is wrong. It simply means you are
different. Remembering this simply statement will reduce much of
the disagreements and fighting that occurs in people's lives.
Acceptance of this fact would mean we could give up the need to
convince others of our point of view. We could simply accept the
fact that we see things differently and move on.
The Comparing Place The comparing place is where we weigh what
we want from our quality world against our perceptions of what
we believe we are actually getting. When these two things are a
match, all is well.
However, when our perceptions and quality world don't line up,
in other words we perceive we are not in possession of the
things we want, then we are driven to action to get those things
we are thinking about. People generally don't make a lot of
progress or change the things they are currently doing unless
they are in some degree of discomfort--the greater the pain the
more motivation to try something different.
This is where conventional wisdom tells us that if we want
what's best for other people in our lives, then it is our
responsibility to raise their pain level to get them to do
things differently because we generally know what's best for
Wrong. We can only know what's best for ourselves. Remember, our
perceived worlds are all different. We have unique values and
experiences. How can we possibly know what's best for someone
else when we haven't been in their skin or lived their life? We
can only know what's best for ourselves.
Total Behavior There are two main things about behavior. One is
that all behavior is purposeful and two is that all behavior is
total. Let's begin with the idea that all behavior is total.
There are four inseparable components of behavior--action,
thinking, feeling and physiology. These all exist simultaneously
during any given behavior in which we engage. The first two
components--acting and thinking--are the only components over
which we can have direct control. This means that if we want to
change how we are feeling or something that is happening in our
bodies (physiology), then we must first consciously change what
we are doing or how we are thinking.
As for all behavior being purposeful, all behavior is our best
attempt to get something we want. We are never acting in
response to some external stimulus. We are always acting
proactively to get something we want. This means that when I
would yell at my son to clean his room after asking him nicely
several times, I wasn't yelling because my son "made me mad." I
was yelling because I was still using my best attempt to get him
to do what I wanted, which was to clean his room. This seems
like I'm splitting hairs but it's an important distinction to
make when you are attempting to move from a victim's role to
that of an empowered person.
The Implications Choice Theory pretty much rids us of the idea
that people are "misbehaving." All anyone is doing is their best
attempt to get something they want. Of course in the process,
they may break laws, disregard rules and hurt others but those
are really side effects of doing the best they know how to get
their needs met. We are all doing our best--some of us simply
have better tools, resources and behaviors at our disposal than
If we embrace Choice Theory's concepts, then our function should
be more to educate and help others self-evaluate the
effectiveness of their own behavior. Know that often they will
continue to do things exactly as they have because it's familiar
and/or because what they are doing really is getting them
something they want. It is not our job to stop them, nor is it
our job to rescue them from the consequences of their own
We can only make our best attempt to help others evaluate the
effectiveness of their behavior and to choose a different way
that perhaps is not against the rules or doesn't hurt the person
or someone else. Then, we need to get out of the way and let the
situation play out. This may seem hard to do--like you aren't
doing your job as a parent, teacher, counselor, or supervisor,
however, I ask, what is the alternative?
When you attempt to force or coerce or bribe another person to
do things he or she doesn't want to do, you may be successful.
You may be able to find the right reward or create a painful
enough consequence to get another person to do what you want but
in so doing you are breeding resentment and contempt. Your
relationship will suffer. If you believe, as I do, that
relationship is the root of all influence, then you are losing
your ability to influence another by using external control.
If you have enjoyed this article and want to learn more about
it, you should check out my Choice Theory Special Report. This
report will expand on the information provided in this condensed
article version. To purchase this report go to
www.Coachingforexcellence.biz and click on the "Reports &