Posts tagged “all behavior is purposeful

Feelings Are Weather

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller, the author of Blue Like Jazz (2003), A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (2009), and many other books, recently tweeted –

I think the love we build is much more reliable than the love we feel. Feelings are weather.

The tweet immediately got me to thinking, especially that concise little sentence: “Feelings are weather.” To what extent, I wondered, is the tweet choice theory friendly or choice theory accurate. My mind tends to go there when I read a tweet or a blog or a story or an article or even when I watch a movie. Feelings are weather. Hmm . . .

Let’s see how far we can take the weather metaphor.

+ Weather can be mild or it can be extremely powerful. Choice theorists would agree that feelings are sometimes mild and sometimes overwhelmingly – at least it feels overwhelming – powerful.


+ Weather can quickly change, while at other times we can anticipate changes days in advance. Our feelings can be the same way.

+ Weather can’t be controlled, although I can choose my response to it. I can’t stop the rain, but I can grab an umbrella. I can’t cool the sun, but I can wear a hat. Choice theory teaches us that we cannot directly control our feelings, but that we can control our thinking and our acting. Because the four parts of our behavior – thinking, acting, feeling, and body physiology – always come into alignment, our feelings and our physiology will ultimately come into alignment with the part of our behavior we can control, that being our thinking and our acting.

(As I write this on Sabbath morning, October 3, 2015, at 9:00 am, the weather in Angwin is warm and calm, a beautiful morning actually, yet reports are indicating a fire advisory this evening into tomorrow morning with high winds and gusts up to 50 mph. As you can tell, I am interested in the weather.)


+ We are aware of and monitor the weather constantly. If you are having an outdoor wedding and it’s taking place next week you will be especially interested in weather forecasts. Similarly, we monitor our feelings constantly.

There is no question that feelings, our emotions, play a big role in our moment-to-moment, day-to-day lives. The real question has to do with the level of importance we assign to our feelings and the extent to which we let them hold sway over our picture of our reality. Given the number of people caught up in self-medicating behaviors, including the pursuit of drugs to artificially modify emotions, it appears that a lot of us are believing whatever our feelings are telling us. Some of us, it appears, place so much importance on our feelings that we let them have far too much influence on our sense of wellbeing.

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.

One of Glasser’s most important contributions, and one of his unique contributions, is the concept of total behavior. As much as any of his ideas, the concept of total behavior describes the role of feelings in our lives and helps us understand the ways in which we can influence them or on the other hand be a victim of them.

Total behavior proposes the following key ideas –

+ All we (human beings) do is behave.

+ All behavior is purposeful.

+ All (or each) behavior is made of four parts – Thinking, Acting, Feeling, and Physiology.

+ We have direct control over our thinking and our acting.

+ We have indirect control over our feelings and our physiology.

Every behavior is made up of these four parts, and more importantly, the four parts, based on our focus, will come into alignment with each other. We all experience this alignment process throughout every day –

+ I THINK a bike ride will be good for me; I ACT by getting on the bike and heading down the hill; I begin to FEEL freer and empowered; and my PHYSIOLOGY (heart rate, perspiration, breathing, etc.) matches the demands placed on my body in the process.

+ I FEEL tense and anxious; my PHYSIOLOGY includes a clenched stomach and a tight chest (two of a number of body responses); my THINKING focuses on reasons to be afraid or angry; and I ACT by going home, grabbing high fat/high sugar foods, and distracting myself in front of the TV.

+ I FEEL frustrated and resentful; I acknowledge the feeling, but THINK it is time for me to talk with the person with whom I am frustrated; I ACT by using the caring habits of Accepting and Negotiating Differences; and my PHYSIOLOGY, momentarily heading toward high blood pressure and muscular tightness, remains at reasonable levels.

Keep in mind that we don’t have direct control over our feelings (or the weather). We can intensify our feelings by (through our thinking) affirming them and even nurturing them, but why not head in a better direction. Since we can directly control our thinking and our actions, why not focus on the best versions of ourselves we can be.

I think Donald Miller was right – feelings are weather.


For insights into how to navigate life, including the continual debate over gun control, check out Glasser’s biography.

The book that connects the dots of William Glasser's ideas and his career.

The book that connects the dots of William Glasser’s ideas and his career.

The Payback, Pride, and Pleasure of Choosing to be Miserable

"So let me get this straight. You're saying I choose to be unhappy?"

“So let me get this straight. You’re saying I choose to be unhappy?”

Some people get frustrated and even angry at the suggestion that misery and depression are a personal choice, yet evidence gently pushes toward this conclusion. “Why would I choose to be this unhappy?” a miserable person might ask. Good question.

A study* recently published in the journal Psychological Science indicates that “even when depressed people have the opportunity to decrease their sadness, they don’t necessarily try to do so.”

Logic pushes us in the opposite direction, that being when people are unhappy they would naturally make decisions that would lead them back to happiness. The study, though, reveals that people sometimes choose to behave in a manner that increases their sadness, rather than decreasing it.


The chief author of the study, Dr. Yail Millgram of Hebrew University, wrote that the study “is important because it suggests that depressed individuals may sometimes be unsuccessful in decreasing their sadness in daily life because, in some sense, they hold on to it.”

Participants in the study were first screened for symptoms of depression and then asked to complete an image selection task from among pictures categorized as happy, neutral, or sad. The depressed participants chose to view the sad images more often than the undepressed participants. A second study based on selecting music clips confirmed the first study. Sixty-two percent of the depressed participants chose the sad music over the neutral or happy music. Not surprisingly, researchers discovered that the more participants chose the sad pictures the more their sadness increased.

“The most urgent task for us,” Millgram concluded, “is to try to understand why depressed people regulate their emotions in a manner that increases rather than decreases sadness.”

I think we all agree with Dr. Millgram’s concluding statement. Fortunately, when it comes to the urgent task he describes, choice theory is ready to help.

Woe is me and don't try to talk me out of it.

Woe is me and don’t try to talk me out of it.

Choice theory explains that all behavior is purposeful, including the misery we feel. We behave in a certain way because that behavior meets a need. When a circumstance isn’t as we want it to be, usually because we want another person to act differently, we choose a behavior that we hope will bring this change about. We can choose from behaviors known as caring habits (these behaviors maintain our relationship with others since they don’t seek to manipulate or coerce), or we can choose from behaviors known as deadly habits (these behaviors harm relationships since they try to force or manipulate the other person into the behavior of our liking). Choosing unhappiness or misery in response to someone else’s behavior is an example of a deadly habit. Misery is often a form of withdrawal and therefore a kind of punishment.

Remember we are not talking about a little unhappiness when something doesn’t go our way. That’s natural and a common part of life. Instead we are talking about a deeper, more strategic sadness that is meant to convey a message and ultimately to control a situation. People can stay strategically sad for a long time.

What are some reasons (since Dr. Millgram asked) that people choose unhappiness and misery? Here’s three reasons that come to mind –

When we choose to miserable (Glasser liked turning words like this into verbs, which emphasized our actively choosing it rather than passively being infected by it.) we get something out of it. It’s possible that other people bow to our manipulation, which makes the behavior seem even more need-satisfying, but even if others don’t respond as we want them to, at least we get a feeling of control out of it.

Maybe this is just a personal admission for me, but when I really think about my own use of a deadly habit, like withdrawing for instance, it is pride that I let keep me from choosing a better behavior. I could choose to behave in the very way I want to be treated, but pride can derail such thoughts.

Let’s admit it, misery can feel pretty good. When we feel wronged we figure we deserve to be upset and we look for details that will affirm our disgust and anger. We can be like a gifted sculptor as we craft our interpretation of the story. Like a child tightly clutching a favorite toy we hug our misery ever closer, not wanting anyone else to mess with it.

A little misery is to be expected. Life is difficult. We negotiate it as best we can, but things don’t always go our way. Rather than choosing to stay miserable, though, we can choose a happier path, even if only small steps toward optimism and gratefulness. It might feel “right” to be miserable, but staying in that emotional state is a bit like playing with fire. Glasser used to say that it is impossible to be unhappy and miserable for more than six weeks without manifesting symptoms, either psychologically or physically. Our misery starts out as small choices, but it can morph into something that feels much bigger.

* I was alerted to this study in an article posted on You can access that article here.


Learn more about Glasser’s beliefs regarding unhappiness and misery in his biography, Champion of Choice.

I can now sell for lower than Amazon. Get the book from me, anywhere in the U.S., shipping included for $25.

I can now sell for lower than Amazon. Get the book from me, anywhere in the U.S., shipping included for $25.

Chris Borland and The Choice

Chris Borland, taken during the Nov. 27, 2014, game against the Seattle Seahawks.

Chris Borland, taken during the Nov. 27, 2014, game against the Seattle Seahawks.

Sports media, and news media in general, was abuzz this week over the decision of a young man to retire from football . . . at the age of 24. Chris Borland, a linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers, announced that he is hanging up his cleats and heading another direction. He explained that he had looked carefully at the data regarding head impact and trauma, and that the numbers regarding CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), early dementia, memory loss, and depression are pretty alarming. For him the risk wasn’t worth the reward.

Borland, focused and ready to attack just prior to the snap.

Borland, focused and ready to attack just prior to the snap.

Borland was scheduled to make $504,000 this coming season, not that much by NFL standards, but he most certainly was headed toward making much more than that in the near future. Drafted in the third round out of Wisconsin last year, he caught the notice of the football world when he filled in for an injured Patrick Willis and played like a human missile, consistently unleashing havoc on opponents throughout the second half of last season. In fact, even with less than a full season of playing he led the 49ers in tackles. With Willis recently retiring because of his physical status, 49er fans were comforted by the fact that they had Borland to step in and fill that void. Borland’s announcement to the contrary hit SF Bay Area fans particularly hard.

Talking heads of the sports world went nuts with Borland’s announcement. ESPN covered it as one of their major news stories. On a personal level, most commentators felt that Borland had the right to choose as he saw fit regarding his football career, although they were incredulous at his ability to walk away from the money and the fame he was in the process of receiving. The real story, though, was Borland’s decision and its effect on the NFL. Would Borland, for instance, be the first of many to walk away from the violent sport? Some commentators felt that the answer to that question was yes, and that Borland’s decision literally marked the beginning of the end for football as we know it. Not immediately, but eventually. The following Sports Illustrated headline reflects the concern.

With Chris Borland deciding risk not worth reward, questions linger for NFL

Chris Borland’s choice took the sports world by surprise, yet it is completely consistent with the principles of choice theory. Given that choice theory’s contention is that 1) all behavior is purposeful and need-satisfying, and that 2) people behave in a way that best meets their needs at any given moment, Borland’s decision is understandable and, many would say, sensible.

On the January 22, 2013, blog I posted – Give Me Victory or Give Me Death – I wrote about athletes who are willing to risk injury and death in the pursuit of fame. Elite athletes from many different sports must contend with the temptation to enhance their performance through unfair or illegal means. The post especially looked at the sport of cycling and the way in which serious sanctions and penalties did not dissuade elite cyclists (the most famous being Lance Armstrong) from using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). From a choice theory perspective, the post argued that while their decision to use PEDs was wrong according to the rules, it was explainable based on the basic needs and quality world of the cyclists within the context of how the sport was then governed.

If I am going to comment on a low-point in sports – the PED cycling dilemma – and the out-of-control athletes seeking to gain and maintain a winning advantage as an example of choice theory’s explanation of human behavior, I figure I should also be on the lookout for what I believe to be a high-point in sports – that being Chris Borland’s thoughtful decision to retire from football – and a completely in-control athlete as an example of choice theory as well.

The sports world doesn’t know what to do with the Borland decision. Most don’t get it at all – “he’s a quitter” or “ wuss” some Twittered. (Anyone who saw him play could not intelligently use his name and wuss in the same sentence.) Some get it, but shake their heads none-the-less, unable to fully get how a young man could walk away from fame and fortune. For Borland it wasn’t all that complicated. (Choice theory has a way of making things less complicated.) In his own words, “I just honestly want to do what’s best for my health. From what I’ve researched and what I’ve experienced, I don’t think it’s worth the risk.”

Borland during team activities without helmet and pads.

Borland during team activities without helmet and pads.

We are “inside-out” creatures. “Outside-in” punishments didn’t keep cyclists from cheating, nor did “outside-in” fortune and fame keep Borland on the playing field.


“Everything we do – good or bad, effective or ineffective, painful or pleasurable, crazy or sane, sick or well, drunk or sober – is to satisfy powerful forces within ourselves.”   William Glasser

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