Quickstart Guide to Choice Theory

Quickstart Guide to Choice Theory

Understanding and applying Choice Theory concepts can lead to increased satisfaction with life and improved mental well-being.

  1. Basic Needs
  2. Relationship Habits
  3. Quality World
  4. Perceived World
  5. Comparing Place
  6. External vs Internal Control Psychology

Basic Needs

Basic Needs
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According to the concepts of Choice Theory, all behavior is purposeful. Everything you do is your best attempt to get what you want, at that point in time with the information available to you. Getting what you want ultimately satisfies one or more of your five basic needs, which provides the motivation for all you do.

This is a physiological need encompassing everything you need to sustain life, such as health, shelter and nourishment. Reproductive sex includes survival of the species. The psychological component to this need involves feeling safe and secure.

Love & Belonging
The need for Love & Belonging includes the drive to be connected with others, such as friends, family, intimate partners, co-workers, pets and the groups you affiliate with.

This need involves the desire to matter, make a difference, achieve, be competent, recognized and respected. It includes self-esteem and a desire to leave a legacy.

The need for freedom is about having choices, being independent and autonomous. Freedom is about being able to move freely without restriction. Creativity is a part of this need, too.

This need encompasses pleasure, play, humor, relaxation and relevant learning.

Relationship Habits

Reality Therapy and Choice Theory were developed as a way to help people take control of, and be responsible for, their behavior. The basic tenet of Choice Theory is to promote self-control so that individuals can increase their ability to make and act on responsible choices. Choice Theory endorses the adoption of seven Connecting Relationship Habits that can be used in all your relationships. When adopted, practicing the concepts from Choice Theory becomes a way of life.

Connecting Relationships Habits

  1. Supporting
  2. Encouraging
  3. Listening
  4. Accepting
  5. Trusting
  6. Respecting
  7. Negotiating Differences

The opposite of the Connecting Relationship Habits is the seven Disconnecting Habits which are based on external control. These habits lead to the breakdown of relationships. Being disconnected can lead to many of the problems facing human beings. Individuals use the seven Disconnecting Habits to control people. Utilizing these habits usually leads to misunderstandings and resentment.

Relationship Habits
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7 Disconnecting Habits

  1. Criticizing
  2. Blaming
  3. Complaining
  4. Nagging
  5. Threatening
  6. Punishing
  7. Bribing, Rewarding to Control

In order to have a healthy relationship, it is very important to stop trying to control one other and to support, encourage, accept, trust, respect, and listen to each other instead. Just as happiness is a choice, a happy relationship is also a choice. You get to choose whether you utilize Connecting or Disconnecting Habits.

Axioms of Choice Theory

10 Axioms of Choice Theory
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The Ten Axioms of Choice Theory

  1. The only person whose behavior you can control is our own.
  2. All we can give or get from other people is information.
  3. All long-lasting psychological problems are relationship problems.
  4. The problem relationship is always part of our present lives.
  5. What happened in the past that was painful has a great deal to do with what we are today, but revisiting this painful past can contribute little or nothing to what we need to do now: improve an important, present relationship.
  6. We are driven by five genetic needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun.
  7. We can satisfy these needs only by satisfying a picture or pictures in our Quality Worlds.
  8. All we can do from birth to death is behave. All behavior is Total Behavior and is made up of four inseparable components: acting, thinking, feeling and physiology.
  9. All Total Behavior is designated by verbs, usually infinitives and gerunds, and named by the component that is most recognizable.
  10. All Total Behavior is chosen, but we have direct control over only the acting and thinking components.

The Ten Axioms of Choice Theory were taken from Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom by William Glasser, M.D.

Quality World

Your Quality World is a special place in your mind, where you store the mental pictures or representations of everything you want. The people, places, things, values and beliefs that are important to you reside there. The only thing necessary for admittance into the Quality World is that it must feel very good to you and meet at least one or more of your basic needs. It does not necessarily need to meet society’s standards of what quality is. Quality World pictures are unique and specific for each person. It is possible to have conflicting Quality World pictures, which can create a quandary. If you could live in your Quality World, life would be perfect, but unfortunately, you don’t get to live there.

Perceived World

Choice Theory explains that the only way you can experience the real world is through your perceptual system. Information from the real world first comes to you through your five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Next, these sensations pass through your perceptual system, beginning with your Total Knowledge Filter, which represents everything you know or have experienced in life.

When information passes through your Total Knowledge Filter, one of three things happens:

  1. You decide that the information is not meaningful to you and the perception stops there,
  2. You do not immediately recognize the information, but believe it may be meaningful, so you have some incentive to investigate further,
  3. The information is meaningful to you and therefore passes through the next filter, the Valuing Filter.

When information passes through the Valuing Filter, you place one of three values on it.

  1. If the information is pleasurable, you place a positive value on it.
  2. If it is painful, you place a negative value on it.
  3. If it’s neither positive nor negative, then the information remains neutral.

Because you have different information, experiences and values, your perception of the world can be vastly different from someone else’s. It is interesting and curious when that happens. You tend to believe that since you experienced the information, or real world, with your senses, what you perceived must be right and true. It is difficult to understand that someone else may see, hear, taste, smell and feel it differently.

Your Perceived World is your reality. It is:

    • Quite subjective based on your culture, family of origin, education, experience, gender, age, etc.
    • Unique
    • Subject to constant change (new information, new experiences = new perceptions)
    • Frequently inaccurate, but it feels totally accurate to you

Comparing Place

The Comparing Place is where you are constantly comparing what you want (your Quality World pictures) with what you have (your Perceived World). When the two match fairly well, you feel good. When there is a mismatch, you feel some frustration, depending on how important the Quality World picture is to you. That frustration signal is felt as an urge to behave in a way that will help you get more of what you want.

Choice Theory represents this Comparing Place with a set of scales. When your scales are in balance because you have what you want, you tend to continue what you’ve been doing to keep it. When your scales get out of balance because you don’t have what you want, ideally you search for behavior that will work more effectively.

Internal vs. External Control Psychology

One of the major premises of Choice Theory is that “All behavior is purposeful.” That is, all your behavior is your best attempt at the time, given the information at your disposal, to get what you want to more effectively meet your needs. Another way of putting it is all your behavior is an attempt to make the real world look like the pictures you have in your Quality World.

The practice of Choice Theory involves understanding the choices you make to meet your needs and self-evaluating whether those behaviors really are helping you achieve what you want in a way that doesn’t stop others from doing the same.

The practice of Choice Theory in your life involves a transformation in your mindset and behavior from external control psychology, the belief that your experiences and behaviors are determined by outside forces: luck,  circumstances, other people and external factors, to one of internal control psychology: the belief that you are responsible for your choices and their resulting consequences.

Evaluating the difference between what you want in your Quality World and what you have in your Perceived World motivates you to take action. Choice Theory practice provides the knowledge and skills for you to let go of the myth of external control and reduce your use of the Disconnecting Habits, to instead understand and accept internal control, while implementing the Connecting Habits. This moves you closer to what you want in your Quality World: better relationships and a more satisfying life.