I saw this shirt in a shop window at Pismo Beach, California. We chuckle at its message, but there is so much truth hidden behind the humor. For some of us, after the initial laugh, we shake our heads as we once again admit the message’s implications. It’s funny, but for some it’s not a laughing matter.

It is interesting how tied into our feelings we are; and how obsessed we are at having some sort of control over them. We crave this ability to affect our feelings a great deal! And we will go to unbelievable lengths for relief from them! One woman, wanting to change her overall diet, admitted that she had been spending around $100 a week on alcohol; another person describes his constant battle to get his hands on more Oxycontin; while yet another admits an obsession with pornography. Whether it is legal or illegal drugs, coffee or valium, food or sex, gambling or shopping, we identify and practice behaviors that change neurotransmitter levels in our brain, which then provides some sort of short term relief from our pain, frustration, worry, or boredom. Based on the data regarding things like drug sales – both legal and illegal, online viewing, and gambling profits, to name a few, the drive to affect our feelings is compelling and constant.


Wanting to feel better is not bad in itself. In fact, it is a good goal. The problem lies in the shortcuts we choose to achieve feeling good. I heard one person describe how trying to feel right or better through a shortcut is like buying mental health on credit from an unscrupulous and tough loan shark. Sooner, rather than later, you will need to pay up, or you go into even worse debt, which many do.

“One of the great gifts of choice theory
is that it frees people from the tyranny of their feelings.”

One of the great gifts of choice theory is that it frees people from the tyranny of their feelings. Rather than being victims of our feelings, tossed to and fro by their whims, we come to understand their true role in our behavior. Rather than seeing our feelings as all-important, the central point around which other parts of our behavior revolve, we begin to see they are only as important as we make them. And rather than pursuing shortcuts to affect our feelings, shortcuts that may even be destructive to our health and our relationships, we choose behaviors that bring our feelings into line with good mental health.

The tires on a car are used to represent the four parts of total behavior.

The tires on a car are used to represent the four parts of total behavior. (Better to say – All behavior is purposeful.)

To me, this gift of choice theory is one of the most important things we can teach to our children. Really understanding the concepts of Total Behavior and the implications of our feelings being one of the back tires of the Total Behavior car is a permanently life-changing epiphany. We can directly (intentionally) control our thinking and our actions; as we do, our feelings and our physiology will come into agreement with them. Of course, the opposite will be true, too. If we choose to focus on our feelings, which we have no direct control over, then our thinking and our actions will come into agreement with that focus. Some have pointed out that focusing on feelings first is like driving our lives in reverse, not an effective arrangement. Or like a sixth grade student pointed out after learning about Total Behavior – “It’s like a back seat driver, like someone is controlling the car from the back seat.”

The goal is to be in a state of good mental health, but that is difficult when we dance to the tune of our feelings. God certainly desires us to experience good mental health and the purpose, love, power, freedom, and joy that goes with it. The apostle Paul said as much when he wrote –

For God has not given us a spirit of fear,
but of love, power, and a sound mind.

2 Timothy 1:7

Classroom Ideas

+ Put up a large poster of the Total Behavior car and explain what the parts of the car mean.

+ Get a large toy vehicle to display in the classroom, with each of the Total Behavior pieces labeled on the car.

+ When reading about characters in a story – especially during History or Bible class – ask students to consider how the character’s behavior relates to the Total Behavior car. Was he or she, for instance, focusing on the front tires or the back tires when behaving as they did? How did their behavior change during the story?

+ How does a person’s life change when the back tire of feelings is inflated to a bigger size than the rest of the tires? Can you think of a time when a character from the Bible had a “way too big” feeling tire?

+ When problem-solving, practice shifting focus from the feeling tire to the thinking tire. Help students recognize the change in their feelings as their thinking changes.

Elementary level teachers will want to check out a great idea from one of their colleagues regarding the Total Behavior car. You can access that idea by clicking on the following picture –