Posts tagged “choice theory

Throwing Any Fish?

Behaviorism didn’t become an ism for nothing.

We are influenced by circumstantial stimuli, to events in the world around us, and there is no getting around it. Behaviorism responds to this point by saying, “Well said.” Choice Theory responds by saying, “Not so fast.”

Behaviorism, wanting more than just influence, though, goes on to claim the ability to predict behavior. In other words, certain stimuli will lead to certain behavior. Do A and you will get B. Animal trainers at Marine World, for instance, explain how the strategic use of food, like tossing a fish to a dolphin, will condition the dolphin to perform specific behaviors and tricks.

The strategies of Behaviorism have been less reliable when used on humans. Some level of success seems apparent, yet at the same time something seems not quite right.

Speaking of fish, Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird (1994), shared an interaction she had with her son when he was small.

I was teaching Sam peace chants for a long time, when he was only two. It was during the war in the Persian Gulf; I was a little angry.
“What do we want?” I’d call to Sam.
“Peace,” he’d shout dutifully.
“And when do we want it?” I’d ask.
“Now!” he’d say, and I’d smile and toss him a fish.

This story, an admission really, invites us to answer the question, How then do we teach others, especially children, what needs to be learned? How can we make sure this important learning happens? How can we, in the words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, make it so? Anne Lamott went on to suggest that fish tossing may have more to do with the fish tosser than the fish catcher, or even the desired behavior –

The words were utterly meaningless to him, of course. I might as well have taught him to reply “Spoos!” instead of “Peace” and “August” instead of “Now.” My friends loved it, though; all three of his grandparents loved it. Now, how much does this say about me and my longings? I think something like this would tell a reader more about a character than would three pages of description. It would tell is about her current politics and the political tradition from which she sprang, her people-pleasing, her longing for peace and her longing to belong, her way of diluting rage and frustration with humor, while also using her child as a prop, a little live Charlie McCarthy. The latter is horrifying, but it’s also sort of poignant. Maybe thirty five years ago this woman had to perform for her parents’ friends. Maybe she was their little Charlie McCarthy. Maybe she and her therapist can discuss it for the next few months. And did this woman stop using her kid, once she realized what she was doing? No, she didn’t, and this tells us even more. She kept at it, long after the war was over, until one day she called to her three-and-a-half-year-old son, “Hey—what do we want?” And he said plaintively, “Lunch.”

A live, little Charlie McCarthy. You would have to be rather old (or be a whiz at Trivial Pursuit) to understand the significance of her referring to Charlie McCarthy in this way. Through much of the 1940s and 50s, Charlie was a radio and television personality. Debonair and quick-witted, he had a real following. He was known to sit a lot, though, given that he was the ventriloquist doll of the comedian, Edgar Bergen (the father of actress Candice Bergen). Charlie may have appeared like he had a mind (and mouth) of his own, however he truly was the parrot of his talented handler. Such an arrangement with a doll made from a block of wood is fine, certainly entertaining, but Anne Lamott recoiled in horror at the thought of her little boy becoming her own little Charlie McCarthy, mouthing her words and acting her behaviors on command.

Charlie McCarthy (on the left) and Edgar Bergen.

Where is the line between teaching and indoctrinating, between learning and brainwashing, between the pursuit of ideas and the pressuring of ideas? Are some ideas so important that they require indoctrination?

Such questions bring another McCarthy to mind, that being Joseph McCarthy of the 1950s Communist witch hunt. As a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, McCarthy claimed to have a list of Communist sympathizers and spies who had infiltrated the highest levels of government, the armed forces, and even the entertainment industry. He made unsubstantiated claims and attempted to smear the reputation of people he thought soft on communism and socialism. His tactics added to the already growing fears about Russia and communism and indeed swept the country. Fear, threats and force were his preferred tools and many people were unfairly affected by his attacks.

Joseph McCarthy

Two McCarthy’s – one a puppet that mirrored his owner and the other a politician who bludgeoned others with his ideology. The little-block-of-wood Charlie McCarthy reminds us of our temptation to craft our children into little blocks of our own making, while the-Senator McCarthy reminds us of the temptation to force others, maybe especially our children, to think and act in the way we deem best. The latter seems just as horrifying as the former.

Behaviorism and stimulus-response cannot with any level of certainty predict human behavior because humans are so .  . well .  .  unpredictable. Oh, we might be predictable now and again, but that isn’t really being predictable, is it? Some caved to Senator McCarthy’s attacks, while others stood up to him; and Anne Lamott’s son eventually said he was ready for lunch, rather than continuing to parrot about peace.

Choice Theory explains that we behave to satisfy a need, which may or may not jibe with the behaviors the fish-tossers in our life want. Better to focus on the needs of our children and then to teach them how to appropriately meet their needs. Besides helping children become self-managers, rather than parrots, getting rid of fish can improve the overall smell of things in general.

Snookered by the Russians?

Of all the questions being asked regarding Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, the most important question is being overlooked. Instead of directing questions to Trump or the Russians, voters in America need to be looking in the mirror and asking  – Was I personally snookered by the Russians or by someone who wanted me to vote a certain way? And if so – What is it about me that is susceptible to being snookered?

Consider: the Russians, to my knowledge, are not being accused of stuffing ballot boxes or electronically screwing with our voting devices (not that they didn’t want to). Instead, if I understand correctly, they are being accused of flooding social media like Face Book with untruths and misstatements that would raise concerns and lead to a Trump victory. They didn’t mess with hardware or actual votes; they messed with our minds. Shouldn’t we be asking how it is that our minds are so easily messed with?

Easily messed with minds were around before the 2016 election. Jesus himself talked about screwed up thinking when He explained how it is possible to believe your thinking is filled with light, when in fact the light you think you have is actually darkness (Matt. 6:23). Dark thinking such as this, Jesus further points out, can even lead people to kill others and then claim they are doing it in the name of God (John 16:2). The apostle Paul wrote about people being capable of having an enthusiasm for God, but this enthusiasm being based on “misdirected zeal” (Rom. 10:2).

Easily messed with, screwed up, misdirected. Whatever you want to call it, the question remains – How do we achieve such confusion? And is it possible to break free of the psychological/spiritual fog and climb into clearer air?

Your Lying Mind, a recent article in The Atlantic (Sept. 2018), considers the phenomena of bias and the ways in which it influences, and even seems to commandeer, our choices. Ben Yagoda, the article’s author, refers to several biases, some of them significant, some less so. Examples include – Hyperbolic Discounting Bias: choosing to take $150 today rather than wait for $180 in a month (although when offered $150 in a year or $180 in 13 months, people consistently choose the $180); Actor-Observer Bias – the tendency for explanations of other individual’s behaviors to overemphasize the influence of their personality and underemphasize the influence of their situation, while explaining our own behavior in just the opposite); or the Zeignarik Effect – uncompleted tasks are remembered better than completed ones. And let’s not forget the IKEA Effect – where people place a disproportionate value on objects they assemble themselves.

Soon, though, Yagoda gets to a key point of the article when he writes, “If I had to single out a particular bias as the most pervasive and damaging, it would probably be confirmation bias. That’s the effect that leads us to look for evidence confirming what we already think or suspect, to view facts and ideas we encounter as further confirmation, and to discount or ignore any piece of evidence that seems to support an alternate view.” As I share this passage with you, my country – the United States – is anything but united and instead is wracked by political and social division; and my church – Seventh-day Adventist – isn’t doing a whole lot better. In both cases, I see confirmation bias as playing a key role in the problem.

Choice Theory offers that if we have a high need for power we may find fulfillment in dominating others; or that if we have a high need for purpose we may find it need-satisfying to embrace a rigid set of beliefs, even if these beliefs are racist and hateful. Of course, people can also have their need for power met through relating to and effectively cooperating with others, and the need for purpose can be met by clarifying one’s own beliefs without forcing them onto others. There is nothing that says we have to be one way or another. We do, though, place ourselves in a position of growth, that is being open to learning and change, or in a position of inertia, that is being firm in your course and unopen to change.

This post has me really thinking about the purpose of bias, and whether or not it has an important function. I can think of a lot of damaging biases, but I am hard-pressed to think of helpful biases. Can you think of a helpful bias?

I think fear is a big part of bias. A 2013 post – Why Are So Many Christians So Un-Christian? – referred to the phenomena of rationalization or what is known as motivated reasoning, where we choose what to believe and then go about finding information to support it. “We push threatening information away,” the author explains, “and we pull friendly information close. Our faculties are usually put to the task of trying to defend what we already believe, not towards developing a better understanding of the world.” A TED talk to which I referred in this same 2013 post described the difference between a warrior mindset and a scout mindset. The warrior is driven toward one goal, to survive through defending or attacking, while the scout is driven to understand and to gain a complete and accurate picture of the facts. Defending and attacking, again, are fear words.

I don’t like it when people, whether or not they are from another country, try to mess with us through social media, and I think steps should be taken to keep that from happening, but I’d like it even better if we as individuals became less .  . .  well .  .  .  easily messed with.  Fear, worry, and anxiety contribute to this kind of vulnerability.  The poet Hafiz (14thcentury) once said that “Fear is the cheapest room in the house; I’d like to see you in better living conditions.” His view echoed that of the Apostle Paul, who centuries earlier had penned, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, power, and a sound mind.” (2 Tim. 1:7) Our power of choice gives us the ability to discern, to weigh the evidence, and to not simply look for information that supports our beliefs.

Fear is the cheapest room in the house;
I’d like to see you in better living conditions.

The Atlantic article asks whether or not it is possible for an individual to change or eliminate a bias. Experts were quoted that came down on both sides of the argument. From my perspective, Choice Theory lands firmly on the side that biases can indeed be changed. Hope for our planet now hinges on this belief.

 

Impossible to Love and Control at Same Time

Terry Crews, actor, author, and former NFL player, recently appeared on The Daily Show and spoke about #MeToo, toxic masculinity and domestic abuse. In the short video clip included here, he describes how he used to believe in the male stereotype of being in control, but that he came to realize that the important people in his life were distancing themselves from him. Now he realizes that love is the answer and that –

“it is impossible to love someone and control them at the same time.”

Click on the video link below and be touched and inspired and reminded – reminded that hope is still all around us.

 

It seems that wherever and whenever good things are happening the principles of Choice Theory are close at hand. Terry said so much when he stated –

“You telling other people what to do does not make you the boss;
you doing what you told yourself to do makes you the boss.”

========================

Schedule update – I have decided to cancel The Better Plan classes for this summer (2018) at Pacific Union College. Stay tuned next summer.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

* 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.*

=============

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.

==============

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.

=============

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.

===============

* 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.

images

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.

=========================

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

 

 

 

 

Marriage and Those Pesky Trash Cans

img_1310

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.

img_1305

“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.

img_1307

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.

img_1309

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.

============================

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.

=======================

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

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.

 

=============================

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?

=============================

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

=============================

 

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.

===============

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.

 

What Do Women Most Desire?

What do women most desire? Some would say the answer to this question is elusive, even though we have known for almost 600 years. Indeed, the answer was clearly shared within the 15th century romance tale – The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle. Few are aware of this important tale, but through unique advantages that I possess as a professor in a teacher credential program I have learned the secret.

One of my roles involves the supervision of student teachers. I set up student teaching placements in local schools, and then coach and mentor students toward mastering the essentials of teaching. One of the benefits of being a supervisor is that I get to be in classrooms. I get to observe classrooms in action. From the elegance of Math problems to the English class challenge of writing an impactful paper on the book The Chocolate War; from the fun of learning to hit a forehand on a tennis court in Physical Education to a Social Studies debate on the issue of building a wall along the U.S. / Mexican boarder, these are the kinds of rich learning experiences I get to observe. It is common for me, actually, immediately after leaving a classroom in which I have been observing, to get out my iPhone and order a book I just saw the classroom discussing. Their dialogue inspired me so much that I had to read it, too. Such was the source of my learning of The Wedding and, more importantly, the secret of what women most desire. For it was a high school English class that was studying the tale I am about to share with you. As a result of learning the secret, whether you are man or woman, your life may never be the same again.

=================

The tale tells of an adventure during the time of King Arthur, a time when “chivalry was paramount.” It begins with King Arthur on a hunting trip. Separated from his knights while chasing a particular deer, he comes upon a knight not of his group, a knight of great might and fully armed. The knight intends to kill King Arthur for a wrong done many years before. Arthur delays the knight’s intention by talking with him and trying to convince him that it is no great thing to kill him when he isn’t in armor or armed really at all. So the knight agrees to let Arthur go for exactly one year, with the agreement that Arthur would return at the end of the year and tell the knight “what women everywhere love best.” If Arthur returned with the answer, he would live, otherwise he would die.

This Arthur agreed to, including that he wasn’t to tell anyone of their deal. But when he went back home many people could tell that he wasn’t himself. Finally, one of his most noble knights, Sir Gawain, approached him and asked what was wrong. Arthur ended up telling him about the unfortunate incident in the forest and the need for him to come up with what women truly desire most.

Gawain quickly came up with a plan. He would get on a horse and ride in one direction and Arthur would get on a horse and ride in the other direction, whereupon, as they rode far and near, they would ask people what their answer would be to this question. Surely, the answer would eventually come out of all this wisdom. The king liked the idea and they each set upon a journey of many months seeking the answer to this important, yet puzzling, question.

While on his journey Arthur met a lady that was as loathsome a creature as he had ever met. “Her face was red, and her nose dripped snot; her mouth was wide; her teeth were completely yellowed, and she had bleary eyes larger than a ball. Her mouth was overly large; her teeth hung over her lips.” There were many more details describing her foulness, but you get the picture.

Quite quickly the lady hailed the king and confidently explained that she knew the answer to his plight. She knew the secret; she knew what women most desire. “Grant me, sir, just one thing, and I guarantee you will live.” The king was not pleased with this lady, but he inquired as to what she wanted. In reply, she said “You must grant me a knight to marry. And his name is Sir Gawain.”

The king said he couldn’t do this and that it wasn’t for him to decide who Gawain would marry. But the lady was adamant, stating again that she could save his life. So the king reluctantly agreed to see what he could do.

When the king met Gawain he was discouraged, certain that he would die. Soon he shared with Gawain the offer of the foul lady and the deal she wanted in trade for her wisdom. As noble a knight as ever was, Gawain quickly agreed to marry her. “I shall marry her and marry her again. Even is she were a fiend. Even if she was as foul as Beelzebub. I will wed her, or could I really be your friend?

And so the king met again with the foul lady, whose name was Dame Ragnelle, and let her know that Gawain would indeed marry her. “Now,” said Arthur, “tell me your answer at once and save my life.” Ragnelle reviewed aloud many of the things that men thought women wanted – to be beautiful, to be in friendship with many wonderful men, to have pleasure in bed, to wed often, to be young, etc. “But there is one thing,” she said, “that we all fantasize about. Above all other things we desire from men to have sovereignty.” By this she meant that women want the ability to choose, whatever the situation may be. Sovereignty.

So the king went on his way and at the appointed time, exactly one year after first meeting the awful knight, met him where they had met before. Arthur told the knight what women most desire and the knight had to agree that it was a right and good answer. Arthur’s life was spared.

Gawain, though, believing in chivalry as he did, had to go ahead and marry Ragnelle. In spite of her ugliness, Gawain pledged his fidelity to her. People cried at the wedding for Gawain, but he married her nonetheless. During the reception banquet, true to her loathsome ways, Ragnelle ate more than any other guests. She probably ate more than any three guests put together.

Later that night, Gawain and Ragnelle were in their chamber when Gawain turned to her and instead of seeing an ugly, loathsome woman, he saw the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He rejoiced at her beauty, and embraced her, but she interrupted him.

“Sir,” she said, “thus shall you have me.
Choose one—may God save me,
My beauty will not be permanent—
Whether you will have me fair at night
And ugly by day to all men’s sight,
Or else to have me fair by day
And at night one of the foulest women.
One of these you must have.
Choose one or the other.
Choose one, Sir Knight, whichever pleases you more.”

“Alas,” said Gawain, “the choice is hard.” And he thought about which choice would be best, the advantages and disadvantages to each. In the end, though, he said –

“My beautiful Lady, do as you please.
I put the choice in your hands.
Just as you wish—I give you control.
Free me when you choose, for I am constrained.
I give you the choice.”

And because he honored her in this way, the sorcery placed on her by her stepmother was broken. For until the best man in England had truly wedded her, she would appear as the exact opposite of what she was. So courteous, chivalrous Gawain came to her rescue. Out of love for his king and a willingness to keep his promise he came to be with the beautiful Ragnelle.

====================

The tale, thought to be written around 1450, reveals a great, enduring truth – the human race was built for freedom. We function best, whether man, woman, or child, when we have autonomy and the ability to weigh our choices.

The tale is also a good example of curriculum content that can serve as a springboard to teach the elements of Choice Theory. In this case, the tale could be used to –

+ emphasize the basic need for freedom.

+ identify the Caring Habits and Deadly Habits of characters in the story.

+ examine the role of gender through the centuries since the tale was written.

+ discuss the factors that can contribute to unhappy marriages.

+ consider the concept of chivalry and its relationship to the basic need of freedom.

These are just a few classroom applications from the story. I would love it if you would respond and suggest additional teaching applications. If you have stories that you are already using in this way, it would be great if you could share them with us as well.

=====================

The month of June is just around the corner and with it comes The Better Plan classes that I teach at Pacific Union College as a part of the summer school schedule. Those dates are –

The Better Plan 1   June 26-29

The Better Plan 2   July 5-7

=====================

The Better Plan workshops can also be scheduled at your school, conference, or district. Let me know if you are interested.

%d bloggers like this: