Perhaps you have a mental image of the doctor in his chair, sitting behind the patient who is stretched out on a couch. The therapist is writing away in his notebook, and the patient talks…wondering what the therapist is up to. Then the session ends. What happened? Did it work? Is there an end in sight?
As a Reality Therapist, I tell my clients what I’m up to. It’s not a secret.
I’ll tell them I’m teaching them the ins and outs of Choice Theory, which is the engine of the Reality Therapy car.
Now it’s time to really dig into those concepts, so you can put them to work for you.
Why Learn Choice Theory?
William Glasser, PhD is the father of Choice Theory.
Glasser believed, with great passion, that teaching mental health was the best form of counselling out there.
It’s very much like the saying, “Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for one day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a life time.”
Glasser discovered that people would not just “stop there” at finding happiness within their own lives. They would turn around and teach the ideas to others. Spreading the cure.
Choice Theory and the Five Basic Human Needs
All unhappiness stems from unmet needs and ineffective behavior.
Let’s unpack that.
Choice Theory is an explanation of human behavior and happiness, based on the idea that all of our behavior is chosen and serves the purpose of meeting one or more of our five basic humans needs:
- love and belonging
Like I wrote in this blog post:
Every single thing a person does is to satisfy one or more of these needs. Even those strange behaviors that make you scratch your head.
The DSM-V, or Diagnostic Statistical Manual, is a comprehensive dictionary of mental disorders.
Or as Glasser so eloquently put it, it’s an outline of the 1001 creative ways people express their unhappiness at having an unmet need!
The 10 Axioms of Choice Theory
Choice Theory tells us, very simply, that we have choices and if our choice has made us unhappy? Choose differently.
The hard and challenging part is coming to understand that each one of us has choices, and through new behaviors, you can change your perceptions and your reality. Happiness is a choice.
Glasser was a natural at simplifying complex concepts so that regular people like you and me could use them.
Look no further than his 10 axioms of Choice Theory:
- The only person whose behavior we can control is our own.
- All we can give another person is information.
- All long-lasting psychological problems are relationship problems
- The problem relationship is always part of our present life
- 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.
- We can only satisfy our needs by satisfying the pictures in our Quality World.
- All we do is behave.
- All behavior is Total Behavior and is made up of four components, thinking, acting, feeling, and physiology
- All behavior is chosen, but we only have direct control over our thinking and acting component. We can indirectly control our feeling and physiology only by the choices we make in our acting and thinking.
- All total behavior is identified in verb forms and named after the component that it is most recognized by (running, angering, stressing, criticizing, depressing, etc.)
Axiom #1: The Only Behavior We Can Change is Our Own
Most of my clients agree with this point. They agree…but then they leave my office and fall right back into the ABCs of controlling behaviors: Argue, blame, and criticize.
Naturally, their choice to try to control others makes them miserable. It’s completely ineffective.
So, it’s intellectually quite an easy concept to grasp, but extremely hard to put into practice. Kind of like my golf game.
My father is an avid golfer, so I decided to take up the sport so we would have an activity we could enjoy together. And I did want to enjoy it.
I spent countless hours studying the mechanics of the perfect swing. I took lessons, practiced at the range, and watched instructional videos.
So why did I hit countless balls into every single lake on the course?! Through all my study I surely understood exactly how to make that perfect swing. What was I doing wrong?
Simple answer: knowing something and doing something are two entirely different things. Change comes as a result of a lot of practice, even more than I had already put in.
Living the first axiom of Choice Theory takes a lot of practice. The seven disconnecting habits are hard to break.
The same sort of habit that keeps me slicing the ball into the lake is really no different from a client looking at their partner in disgust when they do something my client doesn’t believe is the “right” thing for them to do.
Bad habits are hard to break, but I’m not letting you off the hook. You can do this.
The Ten Axioms of Choice Theory
That was just an overview of Choice Theory and the first axiom. In the next series of blog posts I’ll break the rest of them down, too. They all work together.