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 –
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
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.
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.