Today’s blog post is authored by Banning Lary, who I met at the Toronto conference last month. I want to create a page on The Better Plan website at which people can find Choice Theory instructional ideas. This article does just that. The article has previously appeared in The International Journal of Choice Theory and is used with the permission of the author. Thank you, Banning, for sharing this.

Explaining Glasser’s ‘Quality World’
by Banning Lary

During the process of learning about Choice Theory / Reality Therapy (CT/RT) to a level worthy of certification, I found the “How the Brain Works” chart to be intimidating in its complexity. My first instinct was to change the chart and make it more palatable. But, as I began to understand CT/RT the chart began to make more and more sense and I eventually fell in step with the many who have come before me whose minds were positively altered by this sublime and workable model. As certification requires selecting a portion of the chart and preparing a presentation, I wanted to choose an area I wanted to know thoroughly, to the extent that I could explain it to others. I searched Dr. Glasser’s Choice Theory (1998) until I came upon this quote:

“Learning what is in a person’s ‘Quality World’ and trying to support it, will bring us closer to that person than anything else we can do.” (p. 51).

If our work is to help others self-evaluate, learning about their Quality Worlds (QW) seemed not only critically important, but possibly a good place to initiate a dialogue to find out about a person. I thus selected the Quality World portion of the chart as my certification project and developed a PowerPoint presentation, slides of which are incorporated into this article.

As I was setting up my computer to begin my presentation, I passed a white index card to everyone in the class and asked them to read the card and write a one-sentence answer. Every card contained the same set of instructions:

What is a table?

Picture a table you know in your mind. Then
write a one sentence description on this card.

The purpose for this will become clear in a moment.

I started my presentation macroscopically and worked inward. I described the Real World as being made up of phenomena, appearances in time and space that can be apprehended by the senses. The Perceived World was described as being a subset of the Real World, comprised of only what we as individuals see, smell, touch, taste or hear. This was further illustrated using the parable of the blind men and the elephant.

Five blind men approached an elephant for the first time and tried to describe it to others. “It’s flat and floppy,” said the blind mind who came in contact with the elephant’s ear. “No, it’s round and heavy,” said the man with his arms round a leg. “It’s like a tapered tube,” said the man holding the snout. “It’s thin and ropelike,” said the man with its tail. “It’s broad and wide,” the fifth blind man said, his arms outstretched spanning the elephant’s torso.


I then asked my colleagues to read what they had written on their cards. “A table is wooden, rectangular and usually found in a dining room.” “A table is round with a thick glass top.” “A table is made of columns and rows of numbers, like an accountant would use.” “A green felt covered piece of slate housed in a heavy frame with bumpers used for billiards.” And so on.


From one simple word, all these different perceptions. Now what would happen if you asked a group of different people to explain their perception of words like power, love, freedom, physical health or fun: the five basic needs of Choice Theory, their fulfillment ideally represented in a person’s Quality World. Therefore, each person’s Quality World is a subset of their Perceived World which is a subset of the Real World.


According to Glasser, a Quality World is made of pictures (people, places, things, activities, ideas and belief systems) we perceive as being need-fulfilling whether anyone else may regard them as need-fulfilling or not. These pictures relate to our past experiences, future aims and ambitions and relate to our idealized selves. Our personal Quality World pictures direct our efforts to fulfill our vision of our basic needs and thereby direct our behavior. Behavior, as Glasser sees it, is comprised of thinking, doing, feeling and physiology (Total Behavior), but that is another area of the chart outside of this discussion.


Pictures in our Quality Worlds are changing and changeable as we go through life. Pictures in an infant’s Quality World may just be his or her parents as they fulfil the infant’s five basic needs. These pictures can vary in levels of intensity or in the possibility of attainment, such as personal goals of becoming a doctor, having a family, building a vacation home or even winning an Oscar. The composite Quality World of a young adult will be more complex and contain more pictures. A Teenager, for example, may have a composite Quality World that looks like this:


Or like this:


Notice how the size and span of the images can vary, how one picture can fill one or more of our basic needs. Notice also the change in the size of the pictures in the second example from the first example. Assuming these are Quality World composites from the same individual, notice how the importance of athletic achievement diminished as the desire or want to smoke dope and hang out with pals increased. This acknowledges Glasser’s observation that Quality Worlds are not always comprised of pictures we (others) might ethically, legally or morally judge as being right. And that…

“… a lot of people have not found anyone they can trust and enjoy being with. They may have been rejected or abused… to feel good they begin to replace people pictures with nonpeople pleasure pictures – pictures of violence, drugs and unloving sex – in the quality worlds. As they do so they separate themselves further from people and happiness, compounding the urgency of their problem.” (Glasser, Choice Theory, 1998, p. 49).

In other words, people who do not have their needs fulfilled in ways society regards as being healthy and positive, may turn to negative and destructive activities to get their needs met. This is where aberration begins. And, if we can discover these life diminishing behaviors by being allowed into the other person’s Quality World, we can ask the kind of questions necessary to help the person make more life-sustaining choices. These choices will lead to further refinement and replacement of images in the person’s Quality World.


As an exercise, I then put up a blank screen and pass around a placard listing a variety of images I have in a folder that are easily accessible on my computer. At the top of the card it reads:



The card is passed around and I ask participants to select an image that fulfills a need and tell how it does so. The images I have used are: Aerobics Class, Backpacking, Basketball, Basketball Professional, Boating, Burger And Fries, Carribean Cruise, Community Service, Cooking Class, Coworkers Smiling, Daughter And Father, Dental Hygenist, Dentist, Dinner Party, Diploma, Family, Father Or Grandfather, Fiesta Dance, Flying Small Plane, Gambling, Gardening, Grandparents , Gymnastics Girls, Hiking, Horseback Riding, Knitting, Making A Movie, Man Fishing, Man Golfing, Man Job Promotion, Man Losing Weight, Man Skiing , Mother, Public Speaking, Quinceanera, Rap Music, Running, Scuba Diving, Sky Diving, Smoking Marijuana, Surgeon, Teaching, Weight Lifting, Travel To Asia, Travel To Europe, Vacation Home, Volunteering In Hospital, Wedding On Beach, Winning The Oscar, Woman And Cat, Woman And Dog, Women Archery,, Woman Bowling, Woman Helping The Elderly, Woman Job Promotion, Woman Losing Weight, Woman Skiing, Woman Snorkeling, Woman Tennis, Woman Water Skiing, Woman With Baby.

Someone might select the image of the diploma and say it fulfills their basic need for power (self-worth). Another might pick the photo of the mother, grandparents or coworkers smiling and refer to fulfilling the need for love and belonging. For fun, I have had them choose scuba diving, golfing, gymnastics, gardening or having a dinner party, which could also fulfill love and belonging, and so forth. There are, of course, no right or wrong answers, but as they select these images I place them on the page. This provides a dynamic example of how a Quality World is created that is easy to understand.


After we have constructed a sample Quality World and everyone who wants to participates, I conclude with a good thematic quote from Glasser:

“But, ultimately, whether people agree with us or not, we define reality in the way that works best for us.” (Glasser, Choice Theory, 1998, p. 47).

Therein lies the beauty of the Quality World, the visual composite of our ideal need fulfilling images which uniquely frames the mentality of every individual. By understanding and embracing another’s Quality World, we afford ourselves the opportunity to help people self-evaluate and change their lives.

If this exercise appeals to you, feel free to use it or develop a variation for use in your own work with clients or students or to help educate others about the Quality World and its importance to Choice Theory / Reality Therapy.


Glasser, W. (1998). Choice Theory. New York: Harper Collins.

William Glasser Institute: How the Brain Works Chart


Banning K. Lary
344 Madison Place
Lexington, KY 40508



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