Choose Wisely: The Choice Theory

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I would like to propose that we all be in search of our quality self. This evening is one spent at home recuperating after the weekend’s adventure, rather overwhelmed by the rollercoaster ride that the beginning of August has brought. The Strong Mind Fit Body team (our family) has braved ups and downs this week coordinating this weekend’s simultaneous East and West National Day Special! As if perfectly timed, the week drew a close to my latest read, Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom by Dr. William Glasser. In which, he introduces Choice Theory, which states the following:

1 | All we do is behave

2 | Almost all behavior is chosen

3 | We are driven by our genes to satisfy five basic needs (survival, love and belonging, power, freedom and fun)

It suggests that we should frame ourselves as beings in control of every experience in life and implies personal responsibility for our circumstances. Basically, “the only person whose behavior we can control is our own”. He acknowledges the value of our past and of our stimulus but attributes any consequential emotions or our perceived circumstances to our own choice – our choice to depress or to anger, our choice to tell ourselves the story of our being the way we do and our choice to respond accordingly. He applies Choice Theory in numerous contexts, from trusting one’s family to schooling and education, proving its applicability and effectiveness. Utterly convinced about the value of this theory, I am slowly but surely inculcating the takeaways from the read into my every day.

Allow me to illustrate Choice Theory in the context of school:

Dr. Glasser writes that what many American schools are offering is the experience of schooling and not of education. This, he suggests, is the reason why high school dropout rates are soaring and capable students are not performing. He qualifies that schooling “is destructive”. It “is a false belief enforced by low grades and failure”. It involves trying to make students “acquire knowledge or memorize facts that have no value for anyone, including students in the real world”. In contrast, his definition of a ‘quality school’ is one that offers an education, which “is best defined as using knowledge”. Though acknowledging that one must be aware of the knowledge (prized in schooling) before learning to apply it (important in an education), he criticizes schools that stop at just the awareness and emphasize on rote learning. This is a symptom of external control psychology, the opposite of Choice Theory.

We live in a society of external control psychology – where we are constantly blaming others for not being a certain way or complaining about things not going the fashion we hope. We utilize our influence to impose our expectations onto others and coerce one another to do things. We use emotional blackmail or guilt-trip, we incentivize and manipulate. We have been misled to believe that external control is the only way we can achieve our valuable goals of ‘success’, ‘harmony’ or ‘happiness’; but it is more often that in doing so, we obstruct these very same things we hope to achieve. Confused about how our intentions can get so lost in translation, we arrive at what we think is a dead end. There is no agreement or consensus in external control, only oppression and forcefulness. We have grown up this way – “spare the rod, spoil the child” or the positive-negative reinforcement systems are only the tip of the iceberg. The environment of our childhood, though, is no good excuse for abandoning the choice that we can make now – that is, to consciously deconstruct the present rather than the past and then make choices to improve this present.

We each have a quality world – an image in our heads of the world we would like to live in. It is an imagined future that is plausible but never guaranteed. Our everyday actions, thoughts and interpretations of happenings are shaped by this quality world that we are subconsciously (or sometimes, consciously) working towards. It is what shapes our choices. If a person exists within our quality world, we make decisions in hopes of keeping the person in our lives. Indeed for the majority, the quality world would involve important people in our lives and depict strong relationships with these people. The key then, as asserted by Dr. Glasser, is to practice Choice Theory with these people whom we want to keep so much; to constantly remind ourselves that “the only person whose behavior we can control is our own” and then choose. Choose not to force. I would like to propose that we all be in search of our quality self, where we apply Choice Theory and recognize what Dr. Glasser calls “personal freedom”. It seems ironic that in the privileged lives that we lead, we still find ourselves feeling as if we “have no choice”. There are societal norms, peer pressure; you can easily find manipulative information or advertisements and it is tempting to succumb to laziness. Let the environment decide. Choose to allow external factors determine our internal limits. Truly, though, these influencers are but influences. There is nothing more decisive than our personal freedom as individuals. The freedom to choose.

I dream of one day, living in a ‘quality community’ that Dr. Glasser describes. A community where we ask ourselves “Would this be helpful for the community?” before we act upon our thoughts instead of demanding for the reason the community is as such. We will no longer try to control one another to abide by what we believe to be right and instead, model the way with our actions that speak louder than our words. We will prioritize conflict resolution and relationship preservation above choosing to lose our temper. I would love to one day inspire a ‘quality community’, but for a start, I think I would strive to be my quality self.

PS Amongst the many adventures that August has already brought, one has been a reconnection with a friend of 5 years. It is difficult to describe how we met, but I would like to attribute some of the optimism I am having in the quality community I dream of to our recent reconnection. Here’s to hopes and dreams.

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