Posts tagged “self-control

7 Cardinal Rules for Life


I’ve appreciated the stuff that often is posted by the website at, 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


* 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.

Religion and The Only Person I Can Control

Purpose of religion

Have you ever heard the phrase, God hates the sin, but He loves the sinner? I have heard it quite a bit over the last several years, usually in connection with points that religious people want to make regarding sexual identity issues. I haven’t been totally comfortable with the phrase, but couldn’t put my finger on what exactly was causing my discomfort. I had forgotten where the phrase comes from, but was recently reminded that it appears in the little book, Steps to Christ, one of my favorites and a choice theory classic.

So how did this phrase, the one about God hating the sin but loving the sinner, get into one of the best choice theory books I have read? Well, that’s the thing. The way it is written in Steps to Christ is different than how people recite it during their sexual identity debates. The Steps to Christ version leaves the first “the” out and to me this is a noteworthy difference. Instead it reads –

He hates sin, but He loves the sinner.
Steps to Christ, p. 54

Without that first “the” I actually like this phrase. Why is the “the” that significant? For me the answer to that goes like this –

When people quote this phrase by saying, God hates THE sin, it sounds like they have sat in judgment, decided which behavior God hates, and are now proclaiming this “truth” to others. It comes across as critical, blaming, and even coercive, in that they portray God as backing them up in their spirit of “I’ll tolerate you, but nothing more than that.”

The truth seems to be that “God hates sin,” all of it, because it separates us from Him and hurts us in every way throughout our daily lives. He hates that we have to deal with fear and insecurity and coveting and lust and power struggles and self-medicating and addiction and vulgarity and dishonesty and . . . you get the picture. He hates anything and everything that screws us up and causes us pain and distress. He hasn’t given us the responsibility of convicting others of their sin (thank you for that, Father). The Holy Spirit takes care of that and He is really, really good at it. (John 16:8) It is amazing how gently and lovingly the Spirit can bring us into an accurate picture of ourselves. The important thing is (since the only person I can control is me) that we each respond to the promptings of the Spirit and, through Him, bring our thinking and our behavior more and more into alignment with His.

This is why I resonate so much with how the Dalai Lama says it –
The purpose of religion is to control yourself, not to criticize others.

There are some important choice theory takeaways from today’s post, including –

The only person I can control is myself. This is a key internal control element of choice theory and it is especially important when it comes to our spiritual journey.

Self-control is a noble goal for everyone, whether they are into religion or not. Since self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians, it is definitely important to a Christian.

Our need for love and belonging is met as we are in good relationships with others. Being judgmental and critical toward others hurts these relationships. As much as anything Jesus emphasized that we love one another.

Our view of reality is based, to a great extent, on the quality world pictures we believe and value. We see the world differently as our values shift. People that travel to poverty-stricken areas of the world are often changed by what they see and hear and smell and touch. They no longer see their own abundance in the same way ever again.


Sticking It In Their Ear

Newspaper article from 1962

Newspaper article from 1962

Early in Glasser’s career he emphasized the idea of being responsible. Reality Therapy (1965) echoed this theme a lot. Taken as part of the overall elements of reality therapy – elements like involvement, no punishment, and never give up – responsibility could be kept in perspective. However, Glasser soon discovered that teachers were taking the idea of responsibility and using it as a hammer to whip kids into shape. Seeing that people were misusing the idea he began to pull back from it.

Early on he was also known as an expert on classroom discipline and his “get tough” approach was advertised in national magazines. He let this happen for a while, but realized that such a message didn’t accurately capture what he was trying to do. Once again, he began to pull back from what people thought he was saying.

We still face this challenge today. We love the sound of choice theory and are drawn to its application, yet when we have marinated for so long in external control (reward/punishment) it is easy to go back to what we know. Teachers chuckle in agreement when I suggest that it is possible to use internal control strategies in an externally controlling way. As Glasser used to say, “It’s easy to believe in choice theory, but it’s hard to do.”

I thought about this during our recent Choice Theory Study Group as we focused on the concept of total behavior. Key pieces of total behavior include that 1) all behavior is purposeful and that 2) all behavior is made up of four parts – thinking, acting, feeling, and physiology. A key piece of total behavior is that two of the four parts – our thinking and our acting – are under our direct control.

And this is where a potential problem lurks. In the same way that teachers back in the 60s and 70s misunderstood and misapplied the idea of responsibility as Glasser intended, teachers today might be tempted to tell students that they are responsible for their own thinking and acting. If something is under our direct control, like how we act, then it may seem reasonable to emphasize this to students, even to bombard them with it.


This is the thing, though. Gaining insight into total behavior and understanding how it applies to you personally doesn’t come from someone else telling you about it, especially during a tense moment when they may be telling you to get your act together. Such insight comes from being gently led toward the concept and being asked the right questions at the right moments.

One of my mentors, a man who taught me so much about supervising teachers, shared that

“It is better to get something out of someone’s mouth,
than it is to put it into their ear.”

As teachers and parents this can be our goal, too. Total behavior is correct, in my opinion, and our having direct control over our thinking and behavior is correct, too. Helping our children and students realize that, without damaging our relationship with them, is our challenge. Somehow we need to help them talk about what the idea of total behavior means to them, rather than just sticking the concept in one of their ears.


A recent Wall Street Journal headline caught my eye and got me to thinking in all kinds of creative ways. The headline read, “Want to Stop Arguing and Change Spouse’s Behavior? Start With Mirror.” The article then opened with –

Ever want to change something about your partner? Get him or her to eat better or work less? Exercise more? Stop nagging or yelling? Start with a mirror.

Your best chance of transforming someone else—and the dynamic in your relationship—is to demonstrate your willingness to alter your own actions, experts say.

The article went on to cite studies and give good examples that supported this theme, however I was captivated by the reference to the item that each of us uses every day – that being a mirror. It struck me that a mirror, more than any other thing or item, may be the best mascot for representing the choice theory approach to life. The total behavior car is a graphic or thing that has entered the pantheon of choice theory tools, but the simple mirror may capture the essence of choice theory in ways the car cannot.

One teacher tapped into this truth beautifully when she hung a mirror in the back of her classroom, with the following captions prominently displayed underneath.

Whose behavior can I control?

How can I behave in a way that might change this situation for the better?

She referred to the mirror as she taught about the concepts of choice theory, especially at the beginning of the year. It wasn’t unusual for her to see a student standing in front of the mirror, studying themselves in the frame before them, quietly reviewing the questions underneath.

Toward the close of the school year one fifth-grader shared, “That mirror got to me. There was some other choice theory stuff I liked, but that mirror .  .  . it just sat there, day after day reminding me about how I’m the only person I can control. It’s true.” The teacher learned just how much of an impact the mirror in the classroom had on this student when the child’s mother informed the teacher that her son had written out these questions and taped them to the bathroom mirror at home? The teacher recalled how the mother became emotional as she described the effect that bathroom mirror was having on their home, especially on the conversations she and her husband were starting to have.


A mirror – a simple, common mirror – needs to be a part of my choice theory workshops from now on. I need to think of mini-lessons or activities that will tap into the power of this everyday item. Your help on this would be appreciated. Any ideas?

Still a classic, no matter how many times I see it.

Ezekiel, yes, dry bones Ezekiel “got” this important principle – the principle of the mirror – when he wrote in Ezekiel 3:10 –

Then he added, “Son of man, let all my words sink into your own heart first. Listen to them carefully for yourself.”


A Michael Jackson song proclaims the truth about the mirror, too. The chorus of his famous song says –

I’m Starting With The Man In The Mirror

I’m Asking Him To Change His Ways

And No Message Could’ve Been Any Clearer

If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place

Take A Look At Yourself And

Then Make That . . .



The Choice Theory Study Group this month meets on January 25.

Real Freedom


The topic of control is a big deal!

Many of us commit a lot of energy to trying to control others. This is a discouraging process that drains us emotionally and physically. Most importantly, trying to control others, usually the people we want to be the closest to, hurts our relationship with them. I feel there is a good chance that this “control” process is almost single-handedly responsible for the ridiculously high divorce rates.

We also commit a lot of energy and effort into trying to control ourselves. If we believe in a reward and punishment approach to life, and if we are using reward and punishment to try to control others, we will use those same tactics on ourselves. And, as you may have learned from experience, with pretty much the same ineffective results. In the same way that external control negatively affects our relationship with others, an external control approach negatively affects the relationship we have with ourselves, too. As self-control seems to elude us, we come to resent and even loathe ourselves.

With today being a Sabbath[1], a day of rest, our blog today will focus on some of the spiritual implications of control.

One of the most powerful themes of Jesus, at least for me, was the message that He came to set the captives free. Some took offense to this offer. When Jesus said “the truth will set you free,” the religious leaders of His day protested that they were descendants of Abraham and had never been slaves to anyone. “What do you mean,” they accusingly inquired, that “You will be set free?” (John 8:32, 33) A lot of us, though, know exactly what Jesus was talking about. Those who sin are slaves of sin. (John 8:34) We get caught in the sticky webs of our own behavior and like Paul, who admitted that he couldn’t seem to do right, even when he really wanted to do right, can only cry out in desperation, “Oh, what a miserable person I am. Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin?”[2] (Romans 7:24)

Peter agreed that  “you are a slave to whatever controls you.” (2 Peter 2:19) And a little book called Steps to Christ[3] explains that “What we do not overcome will overcome us.”  (p.33) Regardless of our culture, nationality, or religious background, this is what human beings are up against. Either we are becoming more trapped within our own physical and psychological appetites, feeling almost like we are in chains to silly or destructive habits, or we are becoming more free, more in control of our thinking and our acting.

I think that God appreciates choice theory. He created us with free will and He died to preserve our power to choose. He doesn’t want us to stop with just choice theory, though. Choice theory can help to explain our behavior, but it can’t change our hearts. That kind of change requires Holy Spirit help, which He offers freely and immediately. Amazing! The Bible writer, Titus, partly captured this truth when he wrote that “He [Jesus] gave His life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us His very own people.” (Titus 2:14)

It is draining to constantly be involved in controlling others and ourselves. The whole control thing can be distressing to say the least. Jesus offers us something different, though. “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28) Don’t worry about things. Don’t worry about what you wear, don’t worry about food, don’t worry about tomorrow, don’t worry about the behavior of others. “Seek the kingdom of God, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matt. 6:25-7:5)

The adversary, Satan, wants to trap, enslave, chain, and addict. But Jesus’ promise is as real today as when He first proclaimed it – “I have come to set the captives free!”

[1] The seventh-day Sabbath is known for being a Jewish custom, but this is not entirely correct. Jewish people do observe Saturday Sabbath, however I am not Jewish, yet still observe this weekly gift of rest. The Sabbath was instituted at the creation of the world, before there were any nationalities or cultures. The Sabbath was included in the Ten Commandments many hundreds of years after creation, but the wording is significant. “Remember the Sabbath day,” the fourth commandment reminds. It wasn’t something new for the Hebrews after leaving captivity. The Sabbath was a day that God gave to all creation as His special gift. Even in the perfect world He originally created He must have known it would be good for us to truly rest one day out of seven. With the entrance of sin into the world and the pressures it brought to bear on us, His gift is all the more important. “Take it easy,” He gently encourages us. “Come apart from your busyness, your worries, and your to-do lists. Let’s hang out together during this special day.” After all, the earth is God’s coffee shop.

[2] The answer is Jesus! Romans 7:25

[3] Steps to Christ, by Ellen White, is an incredible book on spirituality and the power of choice.

We WANT to Feel Good, Pt. 2

Refund check

In this post we will cover the WANT part of the phrase – We Want to Feel Good.

The income tax refund sat on the kitchen counter dwarfing the rest of the mail and beckoning for someone to come up with a way to spend it. Jack and Jill Hill, marriage partners for 12 years and the recipients of said check, are each beginning to lock in on a vision for its use. Jack, ever the romantic, envisions a get-away vacation to an exotic location; Jill, on the other hand, envisions something closer to home, like say, a new couch. As they tinkered in the kitchen, part putting groceries away and part putting something together for supper, Jack found himself assuming that Jill’s lack of excitement regarding a trip meant that time together wasn’t important to Jill – in fact, he wasn’t important to her.  At the same time, Jill found herself assuming that Jack didn’t understand that her home was an important reflection of herself.  She wanted it to be beautiful and was embarrassed by the stained, sagging couch they had had since they got married.  Not only does Jack not care about my feelings, he doesn’t really care about me.

One of the ingenious elements of choice theory is a place in our brains called the quality world. Not only ingenious, it may be the most important element of all the pieces that make up the choice theory model. Its genius lies in the simple way it describes the complex process of why we do what we do. Understanding the concept of the quality world, especially our own personal quality worlds, leads to understanding what motivates us.

Ted Miller, who teaches Math at a high school near you, is frustrated that only a few of his 2nd period students seem to care about doing well in his class. Hector is one of those students. It’s like it satisfies a need inside of him when he does well in class. Gavin, on the other hand, is almost the exact opposite. He cuts up and clowns around in class constantly. It’s like .  .  . (a light bulb is about to go on in Ted Miller’s head), it’s like it satisfies a need inside of him when he gets attention for being the clown.

As said before, every person is born with a unique set of basic needs, but unlike many animals, humans do not arrive with a set of instructions as to how to meet those needs. From birth, human beings begin to learn how to meet their need for purpose and meaning, love and belonging, power and achievement, freedom and autonomy, joy and fun, and survival and safety. A behavior that results in a need being met is then stored as a picture in our personal quality world. This picture book is like a scrapbook in our heads in which we store the people, places, activities, beliefs, and things that help us meet one or more of the needs or that brings us a greater feeling of control. We put these behavioral pictures into our mental scrapbooks; we can also take pictures out of our scrapbooks. In other words, this process is purposeful.

Karina just about slams the plastic mixing bowl into a sink already cluttered with other mixing bowls from the supper she has created. She got the idea for a special meal this evening as everyone was headed out the door, scattershot, to school, to work, quick yells of good-by thrown over shoulders, earlier that morning. She planned the menu throughout the day. They needed to be together more as a family she thought. Now, as her husband finished mowing the lawn and her kids lingered in their rooms upstairs, the food was getting cold on a beautifully set table. A dish towel clenched in one hand, a serving spoon clenched in the other, Karina fumed as she pondered how to convey her anger.

It is important to understand that putting and keeping a behavioral picture in our quality world creates a target that we want the events in our lives to hit, or put more accurately, that we want the significant people in our lives to hit on our behalf. Putting a behavioral picture in our quality world is like setting a thermostat for a certain temperature. The thermostat monitors whether or not the desired temperature is present. If it isn’t it sends a signal to a heater or an air conditioner to do their thing. The temperature is the focus; that preset level of cool or warm becomes the target to achieve and maintain. Similarly, by putting a picture in our quality world we have formed a picture of the expected behavior of others, we have formed, at least in our mind, the way events or circumstances must go. Like the thermostat, when our quality world pictures aren’t fulfilled we send a signal to another place in our brain, the behavioral center, to do something about it. This moment, the moment when we are urged to do something often involves us trying to change the behavior of another person so that he or she will show up in a way that matches our preset picture. The behavioral center, though, we will save for another time.

For now, just think about the quality world pictures you have in your own brain. Some of those pictures are wonderful, like a relationship with a grandchild or an accomplishment at work, and lead to personal needs being satisfied. Other of our pictures, though, like expectations we have of a spouse or the way we want other drivers to navigate the road around us, are the cause of a lot of frustration and even anger. When an unmet need is important enough, given time, it can lead to emotional and physical distress. It is easy to get in the habit of thinking that these quality world pictures, these expectations, just arrived in our head somehow, almost like we are the victim of an expectation. Choice theory explains that rather than being a victim, we intentionally place certain pictures in our head for a reason. Understanding the quality world process can go a long way toward releasing the pressure within us and putting a smile back on our face.


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Keep in mind that the Soul Shapers workshops at Pacific Union College will take place next month.

Soul Shapers 1   June 17-20

Soul Shapers 2   June 24-27

Sign up for summer courses at PUC at:

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