Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Choice Theory

If you want a great book to help you get a grip on life and reality, let me suggest Dr. William Glasser's (M.D.) Choice Theory. Yes, this is the same psychiatrist who gave us the iconoclastic Reality Therapy in 1964. Don't expect a book filled with psychiatric jargon and suggestions for mind drugs or years of therapy. Glasser doesn't have much use for either.

He has never prescribed anti-depressants, he believes they can be counter productive. He even goes so far to suggest that the act of depressing may alter brain chemicals rather than vice versa. The answer is to quit depressing--not take drugs.

To me, one of the most fascinating practices Glasser has is to designate what are normally nouns and adjectives into verbs. "I choose to depress" or "I am depressing" instead of "I am suffering depression" or "I am depressed."

Choice Theory is contrasted with typical psychological external control. External Control suggests 1) people do things as a result of some external signal (e.g., answering a phone when it rings), 2) people can be controled, and 3) it is a moral obligation to control other people's behavior through punishment and reward . Choice Theory suggests there is only one person we can control: the self. We can choose our own behavior (we answer a telephone because we choose to, not because we have to). We even have indirect control over our feelings and physiology.

Glasser says the only thing we can really do is behave. When he uses this term he means "total behavior" which includes actions, thoughts, feelings, and physiology. He says:
Although all four components are always operating when you choose a total behavior, you have direct control only over your actions and thoughts. You may argue: "Sometimes I can't seem to control what I am thinking about; I can't get a repetitive thought out of my mind." I contend you keep choosing to think that repetitive thought, miserable as it may be, because it gives you better control over some aspect of your life than any other thought you could choose at the time. This idea, that you always try to make the best choice at the time, is essential to understanding total behavior.
This is not to suggest every behavior chosen is the best option--it just seems to be the best we can think of at that moment.

Here are a few axioms of choice theory:

  • The only person whose behavior we can control is our own. No one can make us do anything we don't want to do. (Even martyrs chose death rather than recant some belief thus proving a person cannot be forced to choose something she doesn't want to choose).

  • All we can give or get from other people is information. How we deal with the information is our choice.

  • All long lasting psychological problems are relationship problems. A partial cause of many other problems, such as pain, fatigue, weakness, and some chronic relationship problems.

  • The problem relationship is always a current one.

  • What happened in the past that was painful has a great deal to do with what we are today, but revisiting the painful past can contribute little or nothing to what we need to do now: improve an important, present relationship. It is good to revisit the parts of our past that are satisfying but leave what was unhappy alone.

  • 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.

  • All total behavior is chosen, but we have direct control only over the thinking and acting components. We can, however control our feelings and physiology indirectly.

These are just a few of the ideas proposed by Glasser. I found the book very easy to read and assimilate. You probably won't agree with everything Glasser says or suggests, but much of what he says makes sense. He also backs his beliefs up by a very effective and successful psychiatric practice of over 40 years.

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