Posts from the “Jim Roy posts” Category

7 Cardinal Rules for Life

Cardinal

I’ve appreciated the stuff that often is posted by the website at www.lifehack.org, like the 7 Cardinal Rules for Life that follow here. (What cardinals have to do with rules for life, I’m not sure.) Along with the Rules, I share a choice theory response to each of them. (Of note: The Better Plan workshop dates for this summer have been set and are listed at the end of the blog.)

7 Cardinal Rules for Life

Rule #1 – Make peace with your past, so it doesn’t spoil your present. Your past does not define your future – your actions and beliefs do.

It would be hard to come up with a more choice theory statement than this one. I think the phrase “make peace with your past” is important. We’re not trying to run from the past, hide from it, cover it, or deny it. We come to desire our joy in the present and realize our need to see the past for whatever it is and, like it says, make peace with it. I like the statement’s emphasis on thinking and acting, too, which supports the idea of every behavior being a total behavior. It really is pretty amazing that we were created to have direct control over what we think and what we do.

Rule #2 – What others think of you is none of your business. It’s how much you value yourself and how important you think you are.

Choice theory emphasizes that the only person we can control is ourselves, but I like how Rule #2 is worded. It is such a debilitating condition to be worried about what others think of you. It is so freeing to let this particular worry go.

Rule #3 – Time heals almost everything, give time, time. Pain will be less hurting. Scars make us who we are; they explain our life and why we are the way we are. They challenge us and force us to be stronger.

I hesitate to write about #3. The topic of wounds, especially emotional and spiritual wounds, is a sacred space to me and deserves a special respect. That said, it is apparent to me that some people allow healing to take place and continue to want to make the best of life, while others seem to want to nurture the hurt and hold onto it.

Rule #4 – No one is the reason for your own happiness, except you yourself. Waste no time and effort searching for peace and contentment and joy in the world outside.

The world of choice theory is a place of responsibility. A key, though, is that responsibility is something that dawns on a person, rather than it being a message that one person enforces on another. Responsibility functions best when it is like the sun coming up in a person’s life, providing light to see the world in a new way.

Rule #5 – Don’t compare your life with others. You have no idea what their journey is all about. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we would grab ours back as fast as we could.

Comparing our life to that of others traps us in thinking that our happiness depends on our circumstances being different. Or worse, that our happiness depends on our circumstances being better than someone else’s. Choice theory keeps bringing us back to our happiness coming from within, not from without.

Rule #6 – Stop thinking too much. It’s alright not to know the answers. Sometimes there is no answer, not going to be any answer, never has been an answer. That’s the answer! Just accept it, move on, NEXT!

I’ll have to think about this one.

Rule #7 – Smile, you don’t own all the problems in the world. A smile can brighten the darkest day and make life more beautiful. It is a potential curve to turn a life around and set everything straight.

A smile is a choice. Yes, sometimes we laugh as a reflex, but sometimes we just need to choose to smile. And in making that choice, in a small way, the day does get just a little bit better.

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Which of the Life Hack Rules do you relate to? Did any of them get you thinking about choice theory ideas? Let me know.

Reminder – Middle School and High School teachers can share the Rules with students and have them respond to them and evaluate them. They can be a great springboard for talking about choice and responsibility. Tie a writing assignment to them. Discuss them in a life skills class.

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Important Dates

The Better Plan workshop dates for this coming summer at PUC have been set.

The Better Plan 1 –  June 25 – 28

The Better Plan 2 –  July 9 – 12

If you have questions about the workshops get in touch with me at jroy@puc.edu.

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* 7 Cardinal Rules for Life first appeared as a Better Plan post on January 25, 2014. It has proven to be a popular post and I wanted to share it with those of who may not have seen it yet. Remember that the Year At a Glance pages have a lot of choice theory articles that you can easily access at the touch of a link.

Led Zeppelin and Internal Control Psychology

Glasser referred to Choice Theory as an internal control psychology. Gaining an understanding of Choice Theory means coming into an understanding of internal control and that our thoughts and behaviors are from within us, rather than externally imposed on us. What follows are a couple of short stories that highlight this internal control thinking process –

                                                      STORY ONE
A few weeks ago I was sitting in a high school Art classroom, observing one of my student teachers as she did her practice teaching. Her lesson went very well and led to students having time to work on their individual art projects. The mentor teacher asked if he should put some music on as the kids worked and my student teacher said, “Sure.” Soon the tunes of Led Zeppelin were filling the classroom, a pleasant surprise for me, given my own 70s exposure to rock and roll.

I took a short video clip of the classroom, with music pulsating in the background, and sent it to my son, now grown and a lawyer, thinking he would get a kick out of it since he came to appreciate Led Zeppelin, too, during his 90s exposure to the music world.

My text message to him (which accompanied the video clip) said, “I am in the Calistoga High Art classroom, observing one of our candidates doing her student teaching. The Art teacher put on some tunes after the lesson was done, and the kids were working independently. Thought of you.”

Several hours later he replied, “I must have gone to the wrong school! Though I’m not sure I would’ve liked it as much if my teacher had played it.”

What a great example of the internal choice process happening within each of us all the time. My son’s comment reveals that there are many reasons a young person might be drawn to certain kinds of music. The tone and beat of the music itself can appeal, as can the lyrics, as can how edgy the performer or group is. Kids like music for social reasons, including the idea that it gives them a way to assert their independence, much to the chagrin of adults wanting to control that independence.

“I’m not sure I would’ve liked it as much if my teacher had played it.”

All of these reasons are internally based and uniquely unpredictable. Teenagers choose music for reasons that are important to them, including whether or not adults like their particular music, too

                                                   STORY TWO
My wife and I were driving to the Sacramento airport a couple of weeks ago. We went through Napa, which eventually brought us to Hwy 80 toward Sacramento. People drive fast on Hwy 80 (like 80 is more the speed limit than the highway number). We were in the fast lane, but it was raining off and on, and when it rained it was raining quite hard. As a result, I wanted to keep a safe distance between me and the cars ahead.

My wife frequently reminds me about tailgating and will sometimes ask me to slow down if she thinks I am driving too close, although in this case I was already driving slower and keeping a safe distance. At one of these rainy, slow-down moments she said, “Thank you for not tail-gating.” Almost immediately, instead of thinking thoughts like thank you for noticing, I found myself thinking thoughts like I am driving this way because it is safe for these circumstances, not because you want me to drive slower. I am a bit embarrassed to admit this about myself, but it is one more example of the internal thinking process.*

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Consider for a moment the phrase internal locus of control. If we look it up we find that “In personality psychology, locus of control is the degree to which people believe that they have control over the outcome of events in their lives, as opposed to external forces beyond their control.” This definition is helpful because it explains what internal control isn’t, rather than what it is. Choice theory, and the internal control that it describes, isn’t about having control over the outcome of events. Choice theory describes how people can intentionally control their own thinking and behavior and in the process very much affect their emotions. Choice theory describes how our motivation comes from within for reasons that are uniquely personal.

We cannot control events, but we can intentionally affect our
cognitive and emotional response.

Choice theory does not guarantee that we can change the outcome of events in our lives. It does guarantee that we are capable of changing our thinking and our emotions in ways that improve our mental and emotional health.

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Exercise: Begin to identify examples of your own personal internal control psychology. Identify moments in your thinking that are entirely generated by you or that are unique interpretations of events that others most likely see differently. Practice acknowledging your viewpoint as just that, simply your viewpoint. Consider what your viewpoints say about you – Are you an acceptor? A blamer? An encourager? A critic? A risk-taker? A worrier? The viewpoints that we nurture are in some way need-satisfying. Not always helpful to ourselves or others, but need-satisfying none-the-less. When it comes to our mental health and our relationship health, our internal control viewpoints are everything.

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EDUTOPIA and Social-Emotional Learning

Reality: Educational journals and a growing number of school districts are emphasizing the need for social-emotional learning in schools (SEL). Increasingly, educators are realizing that academic success is less about amount of content covered and more about becoming a competent learner. For such learning to occur, schools must be emotionally safe and students must learn to self-manage their own thinking and emotions. These are mandates that if ignored, will only postpone the success of our students, and ultimately our country.

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* Do you have personal examples of internal control thinking? I’d love to hear them!! Share them as a response to this post.

How Emotions Are Made

I love it when research and science confirm Glasser’s beliefs, and Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett’s book, How Emotions Are Made (2017) does just that in a big way!

HowEmotionsAreMade

Glasser wanted people to understand the concept (and reality) of internal control, that is, that they are not controlled by circumstances outside of them nor are they victims of life’s curve balls, but rather they are the architects of their thinking and their behavior.

Glasser created the concepts of total behavior to give people insights into their choices. Using the graphic of a car, he emphasized that thinking and acting are represented by the two front tires, the two tires that a driver can directly steer and control. Glasser’s point was that similarly people can have direct control over their own thinking and acting. The remaining two parts of a total behavior are feelings and physiology, or our emotions and all the ways that our bodies come into alignment with the other parts of our behavior. He believed that we can have only indirect control over our feelings and our physiology. For him, the key was that our total behaviors throughout the day always come into alignment with each other.

Total Behavior Car

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

How Emotions Are Made does nothing to argue that point and, if anything, Feldman Barrett goes farther than Glasser in explaining that not only are we the architects of our thinking and behavior, we are also the architect of our emotions. Check out the TED talk that follows for her brief presentation –

The TED talk is good, but I want to share some quotes from the book that reveal why a Choice theorist would especially be interested in her findings.

Emotions are not reactions to the world. You are not a passive receiver of sensory input but an active constructor of your emotions. From sensory input and past experience, your brain constructs meaning and prescribes action.*

Glasser made a case for our behavior coming from within, rather than being controlled by others, and Feldman Barrett believes the same as it relates to emotions. In this next quote, she reminded me of Glasser and the way he would state the terms he really didn’t want to use – terms like mental illness, schizophrenia, and bi-polar, to name a few. Read her quote that follows and you’ll see what I mean.

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Lisa Feldman Barrett

Likewise, we do not “recognize” or “detect” emotions in others. These terms imply that an emotion category has a fingerprint that exists in nature, independent of any perceiver, waiting to be found. Any scientific question about “detecting” emotion automatically presumes a certain kind of answer. In the construction mindset, I speak of perceiving an instance of emotion. Perception is a complex mental process that does not imply a neural fingerprint behind the emotion, merely that an instance of emotion occurred somehow. I also avoid verbs like “triggering” emotion, and phrases like “emotional reaction” and emotions “happening to you.” Such wording implies that emotions are objective entities. Even when you feel no sense of agency when experiencing emotion, which is most of the time, you are an active participant in that experience.*

If by introducing you to How Emotions Are Made, and sharing these quotes from the book, I have ignited more questions that answers – good. I encourage you to read the book for yourself. I am convinced Glasser would have added it to his book collection, right there on his office shelf alongside other books like Mad in America (2001), by Robert Whitaker.

We’ll end the post today with this last quote, which summarizes her Glasser-like findings –

After conducting hundreds of experiments in my lab, and reviewing thousands more by other researchers, I’ve come to a profoundly unintuitive conclusion shared by a growing number of scientists. Emotions do not shine forth from the face nor from the maelstrom of your body’s inner core. They don’t issue from a specific part of the brain. No scientific innovation will miraculously reveal a biological fingerprint of any emotion. That’s because our emotions aren’t built in, waiting to be revealed. They are made. By us. We don’t recognize emotions or identify emotions: we construct our own emotional experiences, and our perceptions of others’ emotions, on the spot, as needed, through a complex interplay of systems. Human beings are not at the mercy of mythical emotion circuits buried deep within animalistic parts of our highly evolved brain: we are architects of our own experience.*

Feldman Barrett’s work will help anyone trying to better understand human behavior and motivation, and especially those of us interested in the emotional pieces of what Glasser referred to as total behavior.

* Sorry about not having the page numbers. I purchased the book on my iPad, which doesn’t have the same page numbering as the hard copy.

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Human beings are not at the mercy of mythical emotion circuits
buried deep within animalistic parts of our highly evolved brain:
we are architects of our own experience.
Lisa Feldman Barrett

 

 

 

 

Too Big a Deal?

I was recently asked to write a 500-word article on school discipline as a non-coercive process. The short essay appeared in Leading the Journey, a newsletter for SDA school administrators. As a result, a few of you may have already read it; I reprint it here for those who haven’t –

Sometimes I wonder if I make too big a deal out of the Choice Theory thing, or if it is even a thing at all. Doubts and stinkin thinkin seem to lurk. Yet while distracted by these temptations to doubt, I soon come back to what, for me, are unchangeable realities. These realities include –

  • God places an exceptionally high value on love and freedom.
  • He designed and created humans for free will and internally driven choices.
  • He died to redeem us, to restore us, and to preserve our freedom to choose.
  • The sanctified life is about our becoming, through Jesus, loving, powerful, and joyful self-managers.

Regardless of where my thoughts and feelings may want to take me, these truths are not going away. These are the truths that jolt me out of my occasional sulking and doubting.

God Values

Adventist schools have a tremendous opportunity and, indeed, responsibility to teach students what it means and what it looks like to be sanctified self-managers. Whether we’re talking about how learning is organized, or about how classroom Procedures are implemented, or about how discipline is applied when serious infractions occur, students need to be shown how to evaluate their own behavior and make choices for improvement.

For students to gain this important (eternal) life skill, Adventist schools must let go of management strategies based on rewards and retribution and instead pursue strategies based on redemption and restoration. Reward and retribution (punishment) strategies are tools for controlling students from the outside, even though humans were designed for internal control. Attempting to externally control students is like putting regular gasoline into a diesel engine. The sputtering results are predictable.

God Values-3

We tend to like students that comply, even if it places their ability to self-manage at risk. The prodigal son’s brother was compliant and we can see what that led to. And so our challenge is to outline behavioral standards that are realistic and relevant for kids and then to artfully support them toward achieving their learning and living goals. Redemption and restoration don’t have to be words and concepts only associated with the mysteries of Bible class. Instead, they can be concepts that become very real to students as teachers and principals model the spirit of redemption and provide students with a means to on-going restoration. For instance, when we problem-solve with students do we tell them how it is going to be or do we help them effectively self-evaluate; when students get in trouble do we simply apply a punishment or do we ask them how they are going to resolve the problem?

In the book Education, EGW made a very powerful point when she described that “In the highest sense the work of education and the work of redemption are one . . .” (p.30) To this end may we each become fully-equipped self-managers and as we do, may we help our students become the same.

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The Better Plan workshops this summer at PUC are designed to help educators become fully-equipped self-managers, with the hope that you will then be able to share these insights and skills with students.

The Better Plan 1    June 25-28

The Better Plan 2    July 9-12

Contact Jim Roy for more information on the workshops at thebetterplan@gmail.com or at jroy@puc.edu.

Getting Stuck in the Terrible Two’s

The terrible two’s – an iconic rite of passage when a toddler becomes aware of his abilities, his personal preferences, and the discovery that he can disagree and even say no. The terrible two’s are famous for causing parental frustration as children resist being coached toward trust and cooperation. Two year olds can be pretty adamant about their view of things.

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In the last post, Perceptions as Portraits, Not Photographs, we were reminded that reality, for each of us, is not so much like a photograph in its exactness, but instead is a like a portrait that we paint, very much a creation based on our values and preferences. It is a significant thing to realize that reality is your perception of it. One reason for its significance is that we can admit that we don’t have all the information or all the answers, and that new information can therefore affect our view of reality. I can be an on-going learner, open to new facts and experiences.

Your view of reality is like a portrait you paint.

A two-year-old, it turns out, wrestles with reality, too. Some of our insights about two year old behavior we get through our own observations, while other such insights we get from people like Jean Piaget (1896-1980), a Swiss psychologist and researcher who became very interested in children’s cognitive development.

jean-piaget

A young Jean Piaget, probably the age when he worked at the school for boys in Paris.

The book I spoke highly of in the last post, Stumbling on Happiness, describes one of Piaget’s discoveries very well, especially as it relates to the theme of perceptions as portraits, not photographs. Here is a wonderful passage from the book –

In the 1920s, the psychologist Jean Piaget noticed that the young child often fails to distinguish between her perception of an object and the object’s actual properties, hence she tends to believe that things really are as they appear to be—and that others must therefore see them as she does. When a two-year old child sees her playmate leave the room, and then sees an adult remove a cookie from a cookie jar and hide it in a drawer, she expects that her playmate will later look for the cookie in the drawer—despite the fact that her playmate was not in the room when the adult moved the cookie to the drawer from the jar. Why? Because the two-year old child knows the cookie is in the drawer and thus expects that everyone else knows this as well. Without a distinction between things in the world and things in the mind, the child cannot understand how different minds can contain different things. Of course, with increasing maturity, children shift from realism to idealism, coming to realize that perceptions are merely points of view, that what they see is not necessarily what there is, and that two people may thus have different perceptions of or beliefs about the same thing. Piaget concluded that “the child is a realist in its thought” and that “its progress consists in ridding itself of this initial realism.” In other words, like philosophers, ordinary people start out as realists but we get over it soon enough.
Dan Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

But do we? Do we come to see that others may view something differently than us, or do we at times seem to be stuck at the level of . . . well . . . a two year old? The realistic or photographic view is so appealing, especially when it comes to religion or politics or the behavior of our spouse. Things are exactly as we see them, right?

Recognizing that we don’t know everything or that what we know can change doesn’t mean that we can’t have convictions and strong beliefs. Each of us can and will continue to paint a canvas of reality that represents our view of things, of people, of events, and of ideas. It’s important, though, to also recognize that as we paint our reality that we are doing just that, that there is a paint brush in our hand and that we are capturing events and ideas as we see them, and that everything that we have been and are, everything we hold dear and value, is somehow influencing the canvas in our heads, influencing our reality.

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It may sound crazy, but our mental health actually depends on being aware of this truth. When we help students understand concepts like forgiveness and working through disagreements with a classmate, when we mentor them in conflict resolution and teach them about perspective and empathy, seeds for the betterment of students and society are planted. Piaget saw the importance of schools in this matter when he said –

Only education is capable of saving our societies from possible collapse, whether violent, or gradual.

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Fun Facts:

+ Piaget was referred to as “the great pioneer of the constructivist theory of knowing.” I am a constructivist so I think he and I would have gotten along fine here.

+ After graduation Piaget went to work in Paris at a school for boys. The school was run by Alfred Binet, the developer of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test (think IQ test). Piaget got involved marking the tests and while doing so he began to notice that young children consistently gave wrong answers for certain questions. That is what got him started in his life study.

Perceptions as Portraits, not Photographs

I do a lot of my reading on my iPad. Books that I am reading or continuing to re-read I keep on my main iBooks screen. I have created a folder for Finished Fiction and another one for Finished Non-Fiction. Usually when I finish a book I move it to one of those folders. In a few cases, though, even after finishing a book I leave it on my main screen, since I know I will be going back to it again and again. Such is the case with Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness (2006). More than his funny, even irreverent, style of writing, I am drawn to the amazing research studies to which he refers and bases his points. This research points to the incredible complexity of human beings and the processes that affect our thinking and behavior, a complexity ultimately anchored and intertwined in choice.

 

 

According to Choice Theory, people are always in the process of creating and monitoring their view of reality. A person’s view of reality has a great deal to do with how she relates to others and especially how she values her own status. This view affects how events are interpreted. Our personal view of reality is a big deal.

It is on that word personal, at least when it comes to their view of reality, that many stumble and eventually disagree. We see with our eyes what is and we hear with our ears what is – and that means, we figure, that we know what is. Previous posts have commented on the frustrations, and even dangers, of this way of thinking. (e.g. – Three Types of People – Awesome, Dangerous, and Run and Why Are So Many Christians So Un-Christian?) Is it possible that what we see and hear is somehow different than what we see and hear?

A portrait, not a photograph, of John Locke.

Immanuel Kant, showing off the look of the day. What keeps this hair from coming back into vogue?

Given that Solomon was right when he said that “there is nothing new under the sun,” (Eccl. 1:9) Stumbling on Happiness reminds us that the argument over how we perceive reality has been around for some time. John Locke, English philosopher of the Enlightenment and regarded as the Father of Liberalism, described the theory of realism in 1690, which explained that our senses confirm that things exist and that this existence produces an idea that we then perceive. Almost a hundred years later Immanuel Kant threw that way of thinking out the door. His theory of idealism in 1781, instead described a multi-faceted process through which a person’s picture of reality is created. An excerpt from Stumbling on Happiness says it best –

Kant’s new theory of idealism claimed that our perceptions are not the result of a physiological process by which our eyes somehow transmit an image of the world into our brains, but rather, they are the result of a psychological process that combines what our eyes see with what we already think, feel, know, want, and believe, and then uses this combination of sensory information and preexisting knowledge to construct our perception of reality. “The understanding can intuit nothing, the senses can think nothing,” Kant wrote. “Only through their union can knowledge arise.” The historian Will Durant performed the remarkable feat of summarizing Kant’s point in a single sentence: “The world as we know it is a construction, a finished product, almost—one might say—a manufactured article, to which the mind contributes as much by its moulding forms as the thing contributes by its stimuli.”

I think Gilbert summarized the centuries-old argument even better when he wrote that “Perceptions are portraits, not photographs, and their form reveals the artist’s hand every bit as much as it reflects the things portrayed.”

Perceptions are portraits, not photographs.

 

Locke believed the eyes and the mind combined to produce a photograph, a perfect replica of reality, whereas Kant believed the eyes, and all the other senses, combined with the mind to create a painting of reality that represents sometimes our best guess, sometimes a deep need or want, but always a reality that is meaningful to us and that makes sense. The research in Stumbling on Happiness reveals that Kant was right. The ideas of Choice Theory certainly affirm the accuracy of perceptions as portraits.

Whether we view our perceptions as photographs or portraits is a big deal! It’s a big deal when it comes to our mental health, primarily because it’s a big deal in our relationships. Of course, how we perceive reality affects all aspects of our behavior, including how we vote politically, how we drive a car at rush hour, how we manage children and students, how we see gun control, and how we worship, to name just a few. If we believe our senses take in a perfect picture of reality, like a photograph, then there isn’t much to talk about when faced with a person who supposedly sees things differently. The photograph in our head confirms our rightness; there is no need to talk about differences, other than to inform the other person of their being wrong. Such a view, as you might guess, leads to a narrow, locked-in mentality and hurts relationships in the process.

If we believe our senses take in a perfect picture of reality,
like a photograph, then there isn’t much to talk about
when faced with a person who supposedly sees things differently.

Being able to recognize our own role in forming our picture of reality creates a healthy freedom that allows us to learn from changing circumstances, especially when it comes to communicating with those whom we love. We allow that we don’t know everything and that we are open to new information. Because of seeing reality as a portrait we are constantly in the process of painting and modifying, we are more able to accept and respect the knowledge and views of others. This perspective skill set is one of the keys to empathy, which is a powerful piece of mental health and a huge piece in healthy relationships.

We do our children and students a big favor when we teach them about how we each paint a portrait of the world as we see it. Such knowledge allows for growth (mindset) and prepares the way for positive relationships in the future.

If you haven’t already read it, I encourage you to check out Stumbling on Happiness. It is an enjoyable read that is chock full of insight.

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Such as are your habitual thoughts;
such also will be the character of your mind;
for the soul is dyed by the thoughts.

Marcus Aurelius

 

Marriage and Those Pesky Trash Cans

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Sophie Sims-Stapleton turned onto her street and could see them as plain as day. It wasn’t day, of course. It was actually twilight, the evening fast approaching as street lights started to come on, the darkness slowly draping the neighborhood. Her commute had taken a bit longer this evening, which had prompted her to abandon her plans to stop at Safeway on the way home, but even in the twilight she could clearly see them. All three of them, standing in front of her house like sentinels – the brown one, the green one, and the blue one. Except they weren’t sentinels; they were trash cans, standing somewhat askew after the trash truck had emptied them with its robotic arm and unceremoniously dropped them back onto the pavement. And now they were chiding her with a message as clear as their bold colors, that message being, You don’t matter!

As she neared the house she could see her husband’s car already parked in the driveway, which seemed to grind salt in her festering wound. Hadn’t she and Greg, her husband, talked about this at length last week, after the cans had sat in front of the house for three days following trash day, both of them expecting the other to bring the cans to the side yard where they were stored during the week. The two of them had quietly and sullenly dug in, both acting like they hadn’t noticed the cans in front of the house, even though it was difficult to park with them sitting where the trash truck had ditched them.

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“Why can’t you just bring them in?” she pleaded. “You usually get home first.”

“I usually do,” he retorted, “but why can’t you bring them in once in a while? I help around the house, seems like you could help with some of the outdoor stuff now and again.”

Truth be told, she felt that her job was more stressful, and basically more important than his, and that he should pick up more of the chores at home. It bothered her that he could act, through his ignoring of the trash cans, like he was somehow equal to her. He had reminded her of the things weighing on him at work, as well as at church, with all the time he was donating to the needs of the building committee, and she had momentarily relented, even as she harbored a sense of resentment toward his laziness and stubbornness. In the end, they had gone out and brought in the trash cans together, which kind of felt good, like they had solved a problem through communicating and respect.

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Yet now, just a few days later, the trash cans once again were askew in front of the house, with big grins on the front of them (at least as far as she was concerned), driving home the point that her needs didn’t matter. As she navigated around the blue recycle can to park in her usual place, her thoughts were not positive.

I kind of hate him, she thought to herself. Why can’t he just bring in the freaking trash cans? Seeing his car parked in its usual place she got even angrier. He’s been home for how long? A half hour? An hour? That’s plenty of time to bring in a few trash cans. Jeez! Why do I have to nag him? His laziness makes me crazy!

The thought occurred to her to bring in the trash cans herself, but she responded gruffly to such an idea. That would be totally non-supportive of her goal. There are responsibilities for which he needs to step up to the plate, and this is one of them. She laughed at herself for even entertaining the thought of bringing the cans in herself. True, during last week’s discussion on this very point she had agreed that sometimes she could bring in the cans, too, but she pushed this memory aside now. Instead, the thought occurred to her to place one of the cans directly behind his car so that he would have to move it in the morning.

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The front porch was dark, which added to her anger fuel. If he gets home first, can’t he at least turn on the porch lights as a courtesy to others that come home later? How did I marry this jerk? What was I thinking?

She put the finishing touches on her anger and frustration, all of it completely merited and defensible, as she covered the final steps to the front door. Which persona to be she wondered as she unlocked the door – should I go with lashing-out anger or should I go with the silent treatment? Full of appropriate disgust she entered a dark house. What’s going on? she thought.

“Greg,” she called out. “Greg,” she tried again. But only silence in return. What in the world?

And then a memory slipped across her mind. Her brow furrowed as the audio memory tape in her brain wound into position. She almost declined to press the play button, but her brain seemed to have an automatic play option. Faintly, but growing stronger, the tape said, Honey, I will be home late tonight. Roger is picking me up in the morning, as we have a joint meeting in Forrest City tomorrow for work, and then we are both part of the special board meeting this evening at the church. It may be close to 10:00 when I get home. She recalled the look on his face as he explained his schedule, the way he regretted being away from her for the evening, and a pang of awareness began to overtake her.

She turned the kitchen light on and immediately saw the note he had written, after she had left for work.

Just a reminder that I will be home late tonight.
More meetings at the church.
I’ll get the trash cans in when I get home, though.
Love, Greg.

She stared at that simple note for a long time, her eyes growing wet as the recognition regarding her own anger became clearer and clearer. A tear dropped on to the note, quickly blurring the ink of trash and cans. She had created a story and nurtured it into a reality that she had fully embraced. Her reality had led her to think terrible things about her husband, but she was beginning to see that she had made it all up. All of it. For some reason, she realized, her version of reality applied the worst interpretation to Greg’s behavior, while applying the best interpretation to her own behavior. Another tear dropped onto the note, this time obliterating the word Love.

That can’t happen she thought to herself. Our love can’t be so easily blurred. And with that she returned to the entryway, turned on the porch light, and headed into the night air to get the trash cans and put them away.

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It is true that reality influences our perceptions. Our circumstances can affect any part of our total behavior – our thinking, our acting, our feelings, or our physiology. Information and events external to us may or may not matter. A ringing telephone, as Glasser used to say, lets us know that someone wants to talk with us, but it can’t force us to answer it. An angry, threatening person may convince us to comply with his demand, or it may not. We decide. In fact, we make a ton of these decisions every day. Circumstances constantly hit us with data; we process the data and decide how to respond.

It is just as true that our perceptions create our reality. In fact, this may be one of the most important of the elements of choice theory. It is probably more accurate to say that our embraced perceptions create our reality. When we settle on a value or belief, everything we experience passes through our values filter. The result of this filtering is our version of reality. Our actions are always based on our view of reality, so the importance of this process cannot be overstated.

It can be hard for some to come to grips with the idea that people create their own version of reality. Reality is reality, some say; it isn’t a matter of opinion. For each of us, though, reality is formed in the frontal cortex of our brains, which continuously takes in millions of bits of information and turns it into pictures and sounds and smells. A danger lurks in the belief that our personal pictures and sounds and smells represent total, all-knowing, crystal-clear reality. Such a view cannot tolerate new information and limits itself to shrunken interpretations. Sophie had embraced faulty pictures of Greg, but she was able to admit this when new information corrected her version of reality. This is not always easy to do – Has anyone’s mind been changed, for instance, because of all the political information and articles being shared on Facebook? Exactly, we choose to ignore some articles, even as we consciously click on links to other articles we consider more trustworthy or accurate. Having values is fine, even preferable, but staying open to new information is a healthier state of mind.

Just remember not to jump to conclusions when you round the corner and see those pesky trash cans still sitting out by the road.

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** This post first appeared on The Better Plan page on October 29, 2016. Trash cans still need to be brought in, though.

A Gun and Winter Survival

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With so much attention being centered on guns, my mind recalled a group exercise in which I participated years ago. I was completing a degree in Educational Leadership and the exercise was meant to “compare the effectiveness of five different methods of group decision-making.”* The exercise, which placed group members in a hypothetical survival scenario, revealed the communication habits of not only groups, but also specific members within the group. Our focus today, though, will be less on the communication patterns and more on the survival scenario on which the exercise was based.

This post first appeared in October, 2015, and is being re-printed today
because of the on-going effects of guns in our lives.

After organizing the groups (and each group is given a unique set of instructions) the following scenario is distributed –

You have just crash-landed in the woods of northern Minnesota and southern Manitoba. It is 11:32 am in mid-January. The light plane in which you were traveling crashed on a lake. The pilot and copilot were killed. Shortly after the crash the plane sank completely into the lake with pilot’s and copilot’s bodies inside. None of you is seriously injured and you are all dry.

The crash came suddenly, before the pilot had time to radio for help or inform anyone of your position. Since your pilot was trying to avoid a storm, you know the plane was considerably off course. The pilot announced shortly before the crash that you were twenty miles northwest of a small town that is the nearest known habitation.

You are in a wilderness area made up of thick woods broken by many lakes and streams. The snow depth varies from above the ankles in windswept areas to knee-deep where it has drifted. The weather report indicated that the temperature would reach minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit in the daytime and minus 40 at night. There is plenty of dead wood and twigs in the immediate area. You are dressed in winter clothing appropriate for city wear – suits, pantsuits, street shoes, and overcoats.

While escaping from the plane, several members of your group salvaged twelve items. Your task is to rank these items according to their importance to your survival, starting with 1 for the most important item and ending with 12 for the least important one.

You may assume that the number of passengers is the same as the number of persons in your group and that the group has agreed to stick together.

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The items to be prioritized are as follows:

______ ball of steel wool
______ newspapers (one per person)
______ compass
______ hand ax
______ cigarette lighter (without fluid)
______ loaded .45-caliber pistol
______ sectional air map made of plastic
______ 20-ft by 20-ft piece of heavy-duty canvas
______ extra shirt and pants for each survivor
______ can of shortening
______ quart of 100-proof whiskey
______ family-size chocolate bar (one per person)

Ok, so your task is to rank these from 1-12, from most important to least important. Think, too, about how you would defend your rankings to your fellow group members. (One way to do the activity is to have individuals complete the ranking and then have the group complete a group ranking. The group score needs to be the same for each group member. Each member then compares his individual ranking and group ranking to the answer sheet, noting the numerical difference between their scores and the right score. For example, if Joe lists the compass as #1, and it turns out to be ranked #12, that would be a difference of 11. If the group ranks the compass at #9, the difference then would be 3. Like golf you want the lowest score possible. When the score sheets are all completed, with the differences noted, you can begin to see how well the group functioned.)

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Welcome back. You’ve finished your ranking scores, right?

Fortunately, a small expert panel weighed in on how to prioritize the items, along with a rationale for their ranking. There are surprises, but that is part of the fun of the exercise.

For instance, the top three items in order of their importance are –

+ the cigarette lighter
+ the ball of steel wool
+ and the extra shirt and pants for each survivor

The gravest danger to the group is exposure to the cold; therefore the greatest need is creating a source of warmth. The lighter, even without fluid, is essential in that it can still create sparks. The steel wool is the best substance to catch a spark and support a flame. The second greatest need is for signaling devices. According to survival experts, the importance of the rest of the items on the list would be in the following order –

+ the can of shortening (the lid would be an excellent reflector)
+ the large piece of canvas
+ the hand ax
+ the chocolate bars
+ the newspapers
+ the loaded pistol
+ the bottle of whiskey
+ the sectional map
+ the compass

It is interesting to me that the loaded gun appears toward the bottom of the list. It has some value as a signaling device, and the gunpowder from the shells could help in starting a fire, but these advantages are significantly outweighed by the danger a loaded gun contributes to the dynamics of the group.

Surviving a plane crash in a life-threatening environment, especially with two people killed in the crash, is traumatic. With people in shock, clear-headedness and reasoning may be all that stands between life or death. The gun represents quick access to power and control, not good when the group needs to work together to survive. As the group waits to be rescued, members will need to deal with fear, anger, irritability, and even lapses in rationality. The presence of the gun brings a substantial danger to the group under these circumstances.

It seems to me that guns bring a similar level of danger to the everyday situations across the country in which fear, anger, or irritability are present. As I think of it, fear, anger, and irritability are present a lot.

++++++++++++++++++

The Winter Survival Exercise is an excellent activity from which individuals and groups can learn to communicate more effectively. Why do some people try to force their wrong answers on others? Why do others with the correct answers silently sit in the background? On what basis do we allow some to influence us, while we ignore others? These are important questions that can be addressed within the choice theory classroom. There are many such exercises. Others include Stranded in the Desert, Lost on the Moon, and Lost at Sea. Each of them are based on the same group format.

* All quotes in this post, as well as all of the specific material related to the Winter Survival Exercise, have been taken from David and Roger Johnson’s classic book, Joining Together: Group Theory and Group Skills (1994).

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The Illusion of Control

It is number four on the list.

The list is actually a good set of questions at the beginning of Positive Discipline for Teenagers: Empowering Your Teen and Yourself Through Kind and Firm Parenting, which was written by Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott and that was published in 2000. (When did 2000 start sounding like it was a long time ago?)

The questions are meant to set the tone for the focus of the book and provide an outline for the book’s content. Today’s blog, though, is not meant to be a review of the book, rather it is overarching Question #4 that gets our attention.

4. Do you have the illusion that control is effective with teens?

The authors admit that “control sometimes provides the illusion of success on a short-term basis,” but that sooner or later kids being controlled will go “underground” in search of simple freedoms and power. Going underground means that kids will comply on the surface when they are in the presence of a parent or teacher, but then will behave differently when alone or with friends. This is why the phrase “illusion of control” is so important.

Developmentally, the importance of the teen years cannot be overstated. It is an intense decade of insecurity, fear, and angst, but it also brings the discovery of personal identity and values, a process that begins to form an overall view of the world. Teens, rather than going underground to elude adult control, need caring adults in their lives to help them navigate the pressures and complexities. It is developmentally appropriate for teens to want to separate from parents and teachers, though. Just like baby eaglets high up in a nest, each of them will need to at some point step out into the unknown and fly on her/his own.

Because teens are no different than other members of the human race (no, they are not from a different planet) and are internally-controlled just like the rest of us, external control will lead to two possible outcomes –

1) Adult efforts to control teen thinking and behavior will cause them to go underground where they can attempt to live their lives on their own terms.

2) Adult efforts to control teen thinking and behavior will cause them to give up on discovering their own identity and values and lead them to be dependent on others for their thinking and their direction.

I assume that we are in agreement that neither of these options is appealing.

Glasser believed that the most important thing when it comes to parents, teachers, and teens is to get and stay connected. Getting and staying connected means that we will not attempt to force our Quality World pictures into the heads of the important teens in our lives. As Glasser said repeatedly, as long as we are connected we have influence. When we attempt to externally control a teen we threaten and often sever that influence. And we unwittingly do this at a time when teens most need our influence.

As long as we are connected, we have influence.

Positive relationships, connection, and influence are the result of our learning to use the Caring Habits, rather than the Deadly Habits. It always comes back to this.

 

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Here is the complete list of overarching questions at the start of the book, Positive Discipline for Teenagers.

Are you building appropriate bridges for your teen?

Do you understand the developmental growth process?

Have you lost your perspective and your sense of humor?

Do you have the illusion that control is effective with teens?

How will your teen react to your new parenting skills?

Have you forgotten that you count, too?

Does your teen have the same needs as other teens?

Are you working with your teen?

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Two courses on Choice Theory beliefs and strategies are scheduled for this summer (2018) at Pacific Union College. They are –

The Better Plan 1     June 25-28

The Better Plan 2     July 9-12

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Glasser’s Beliefs Continue to Influence

It has been four years since William Glasser passed away on August 23, 2013, but not a week goes by, or even a day, that I don’t think about him or one of his ideas. It is interesting just how important his ideas have become to me. For instance, when it comes to wanting to be in a better place psychologically and emotionally, I continue to look through a Choice Theory lens. The principles of Choice Theory are a wonderful mirror from which to self-evaluate.

Choice Theory ideas seem to be important to other people as well, or maybe I should say the principles of Choice Theory, since I continue to see articles and books that point in the same direction he pointed to throughout his career. Whether you want better schools, better parenting, better relationships, or just a better psychology to guide your life, Glasser continues to be a lighthouse guiding the way.

The article links that follow will show you what I mean, plus they are good articles in their own right. Click on the article titles to read for yourself.

1) A New Kind of Classroom: No Grades, No Failing, No Hurry

The article describes a grass-roots movement in which 40 schools in New York City have adopted a program that has students focusing on achieving grade-level skills rather than receiving traditional letter grades. And rather than being mandated to make this shift, all 40 of the schools have adopted the program voluntarily.

A student stays after school to keep working on her own.

“Mastery-based learning, also known as proficiency-based or competency-based learning, is taking hold across the country,” the article informs, with Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Illinois, and Idaho also phasing in the new approach.

It is impossible for me to see phrases like competency-based learning and getting rid of grades without thinking of my mentor and visionary friend, Bill Glasser. Since his early days with Bea Dolan at the Ventura School for Girls and his first books, including Reality Therapy (1965) and Schools Without Failure (1969), Glasser recognized how learning needed to be organized. Throughout his career he was driven to help schools make this shift.

And of course, his clearest statements regarding competency-based learning can be found in his book, Every Student Can Succeed (2000), where he emphasized the need for students to achieve competence, and the strategies schools can employ to support them in the process.

“The real world asks for competence
and usually gets it when what they ask the worker to do
is useful and they treat the worker well.”
William Glasser

2) When Schools Forgo Grades: An Experiment in Internal Motivation

The article describes the efforts of teachers and students at the Integrated Global Studies School in NYC to move away from traditional grading and instead implement narrative feedback on work in which students want to be involved. IGSS is a small school (160 students) within a much larger high school (over 4,000 students) in which administrators, teachers, and parents wanted to see if grading differently would make a difference in learning. It turns out it makes a huge difference!

Escaping from the cage

Kirby Engelman, a junior at the school, describes how “It felt totally different. It opened my mind to education as something more of, rather than learning content, you were learning how to learn. It opened my mind to my potential as well as the potential of humans and the world.”

It’s about “learning how to learn.”

Engelman admits she was hesitant to give up the traditional model at first. It was all she knew. And while at first she opted to receive traditional feedback, too, she explained that “Grades or no grades you get a written narrative about every assignment and how you are as a student, which showed me how unnecessary grades were,” she said. She also found the system more motivating. “Rather than just learning information and learning specific facts, we were learning how to learn and that felt a lot more meaningful.”

Glasser began describing this very process in Schools Without Failure (1969), his first book on schools specifically, and stuck with this message his entire career.

3) Good Genes Are Nice, But Joy Is Better

Harvard researchers began tracking the health of 268 sophomores in 1938, hoping the longitudinal study would reveal clues to leading healthy and happy lives. While 19 of the original 268 are still alive, many more subjects have been added over the years, and altogether a lot of impressive data have been collected. So what matters when it comes to leading a satisfying and happy life?

“The surprising finding,” began Robert Waldinger, the director of the study, “is that our relationships have a powerful influence on our health. Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care, too. That, I think, is the revelation.”

This finding would come as no surprise to William Glasser or anyone else into the ideas of Choice Theory, as he believed that all significant psychological problems were based in relationship problems.

 

“Close relationships,” the study continued, “more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives. Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives that social class, IQ, or even genes.”

4) Loneliness Epidemic Growing Into Biggest Threat to Public Health

Also commenting on the topic of happiness, or lack thereof, this short article points out the importance of being socially connected. Examples from the article include –

+ Being connected to others is a fundamental human need.

+ According to an AARP Loneliness Study, over 42 million Americans suffer from chronic loneliness.

+ Another study showed that greater social connection is associated with a 50% reduced risk of early death.

+ There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality.

+ Greater emphasis should be placed on social skills training for children in schools.

+ Doctors should be encouraged to include social connectedness when medical screening.

+ People should be preparing for retirement socially, as well as financially.

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Like a lighthouse alerting ships to navigational information, Glasser alerted me, and many others, to information that contributes to health and well being. Four years after his passing he is still missed, especially by those closest to him, yet his ideas continue on. Ideas that matter as much as his tend to do that.

 

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