Choice Theory *

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Glasser's Choice Theory

CHOICE THEORY: A New Explanation Of How We Control Our Lives


Wm. Glasser


Basic Needs:

1.       To survive and reproduce (old brain) – breathing, digesting, sweating, regulating blood pressure, immune system

2.       To belong, love, share and co-operate (new brain - i.e. cortex)

3.       For power - can conflict with #2 (marriage), but loss of power can result in loss of #2

4.       For freedom

5.       For fun - may be a basic genetic instruction because it is the way in which we learn, at any age


Pictures in our Heads:

·        An "album" of need satisfiers e.g. preferred foods, love object, alcohol, job (power), - not the same as memory.

·        Old people don't update their 'photos', dwelling more on past satisfiers when they were more effective.

·        ‘Photos’ of a mate may be updated if a new, more satisfying mate is obtained.

·        Anorexics have an ideal model photo which drives them to become ever thinner.

·        Alcoholics see booze as satisfying any and all needs - very difficult to remove this 'photo' - AA can ‘move’ it back in the album, day at a time, but not out.  If they fail to attend and be active in AA, they will slip back.

·        Homosexuals have pictures in their albums of sexual satisfaction with same sex - very difficult to remove.

·        Sex Deviates - pedophiles - have a picture that they only want sex with children - society requires that they either lead sexually frustrated lives or go to prison.

·        It is difficult to change our own pictures - even more difficult to persuade others to change theirs - requires negotiation and compromise.

·        People living together won't have the same pictures.

·        Siblings must have pleasurable shared pictures which can form a base for liking each other's company.


Depression, misery, etc. is generated internally:  a chosen response to external stimuli.    If instead we DO (i.e. ACT) something, we feel better than if we sink into depression and misery or anxiety.  Other responses are anger and forms of illness. The reason that we choose these techniques is to get others to help us, or to control them.



A random stream of minimal but sometimes well-organized new behaviours that come to our consciousness and are available for us to try if 1) we pay attention to them and 2) it appears that they may help us regain control of our lives.  We may continue to depress if our creative systems cannot come up with an effective alternative to our present misery.  It is this constant reorganization that creates a stream of new ways to do, think and feel that makes each of us a unique personality.  Reorganization is an ancient survival technique  - to continuously create-: to stop creating (in a species) is to lose the capacity to compete and survive.  The system itself is not value based - has no knowledge of right from wrong, good/bad, smart/dumb - its only purpose is to create new ideas/coping behaviours (LIKE BRAINSTORMING).  The system cannot have bias, or otherwise gems could be lost. It is essential to develop a  'listening' attitude to the creative 'voice'. This reorganization   creativity comes  from the unconscious  level,  however  we  ourselves  are  responsible for implementing ideas.


Psychosomatic Illness: "Activate the Fighting System"

Coronary artery disease, rheumatoid arthritis, eczema, ileitis, colitis, peptic  ulcers,  migraines, some  back  aches,  multiple sclerosis;   where the immune  system is being  driven by the old brain  to  come  up with re-organizational  processes  beyond the body's capability.  "The system eats itself up".  Voodoo rites an example.  On the other hand are  "miracle cures" where the system heals the body by itself (cancer).



1.    Opiates - Codeine, Percoden. Morphine, and Heroin - mimic the natural opiate secretions of the brain.

2.    Marijuana and LSD - makes the world appear easier and more pleasurable to deal with.   LSD provides new sensory experiences, but can lead to hallucinations.   Society frowns on marijuana because chronic users have little  motivation to pursue the cultural work ethic.

3.    Alcohol   gives a powerful sense of control - users, while actually losing control as consumption increases, act as if they believe that whatever they do will increase the control they falsely believe they have.  Unique action - no other drug acts to increase a SENSE of control that is actually being lost.  (It probably causes the brain to secrete natural pleasure drug used as a control reward).  The alcoholic believes that whatever he does is effective, including violence, and his confidence falsely increases.

4.    Caffeine. Nicotine and Cocaine - also Methedrine, Dexedrine and Benazedrine - energize the behavioural system and may for a short time actually provide increased control (as opposed to alcohol's false control) e.g. Nethedrine – used by the Germans in their blitzkrieg of WWII, or the Andean Indians chewing coca leaf.  Cocaine increasingly ‘drives’ the behavioural system, and the re-organizational component becomes increasingly frantic/crazy.

5.    Common barbiturates, Valium, Quaaludes - mainly prescribed to help tense patients relax; also to sedate the behavioural system.  Valium sedates but also has a pleasure component similar to heroin.


Many drugs inhibit the old brain from secreting natural pleasure drugs, and it may take years for balance to be restored.



If we want to keep control over our lives, we must not only learn to avoid criticizing others, but equally stop criticizing ourselves.

·     “Let's both look at what we are both doing in this situation to see where it is working and where it is not."

·     Praise is a good motivator if it is spontaneous and variable to performance.

·     Reward and punishment are not as good motivators because they inject the idea of external control (e.g. they threaten or interfere with the subject's own control system).

·     Japanese control-theory management involves a lot of communication and feedback and out-performs traditional stimulus - response techniques.


Taking Control:

·     Don't stubbornly hold out for “pictures” that can't be satisfied, using depression, anxiety or psycho-somatic illness and driving our reconstructive creativity to distraction.

·     For relationships to grow experiences must be planned on a regular basis.  Also fall back on proven shared satisfiers.

·     Off the chemical intervention/support.

·     Action techniques are preferable to falling back on depression or anxiety and misery.  “The better choice is always a doing behaviour”.



“Try as hard as possible to teach, show and help your children to gain effective control of THEIR lives.  Never do anything to or for a child that will cause a child to lose control.  All their “irresponsible” behaviours are their attempts to gain control of their lives.  If they blame their parents for loss, even more control is lost.”

·     Take our pictures of what we want children to become, out of our heads - replace them with short-term pictures (help around home, caring for possessions, friendly, being able to talk to us when we differ).  Discipline rather than punish.

·     Tendency with grown children is for parents to continue to do too much to and for their children, since it is increasingly difficult to do things with them.  In turn, the children view what is done for them as an attempt to control them - they then withdraw and stay away.  The parents then may depress to instill guilt on the child, and thereby control it.


“To keep on good terms with adult children, continue to be warm and loving, but do as little as possible for them and to them, as much with them as you both enjoy, and respect them enough to be willing to leave them alone if this is what they want.”


Positive Addiction – running, meditation

Runners not only gain a great deal of physical strength and health, but significantly increase their mental strength through gaining access to the constant creativity that is inside all of us.


Great people play close attention to their innate creativity and give careful consideration to what it offers.   Adds a sma1l but important dimension to their lives.  A meditating runner does not concern self with times, shoes, diet, body-to-fat ratios or even talk about his private running, his source of meditation.   (In Zen this is called satori.)


Glasser’s Concept of ‘Total Behavior’ – Human behavior is an inseparable unity of

·        acting

·        thinking

·        feeling

·        physiology

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Control Theory