Posts tagged “TED talk

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!


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.


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





What You Feel Can Change What You See

One of the great insights that we gain from choice theory is the realization that we are constantly in the process of creating our reality. It is difficult to overstate the importance of this concept, since all of our views, our fears, our responses, and our plans are based on our perception of reality.

In a sharp, concise TED talk, Issac Lidsky explains “how what we see is a unique, personal, virtual reality that is masterfully constructed by our brain.” He acknowledges that what we see can change how we feel, but he goes further by also explaining that “what you feel can change what you see.” Citing fascinating studies he points out how subjects’ estimates as to how fast a man was walking was influenced by whether or not they were shown a picture of a cheetah or a turtle; or that subjects believed that a hill was steeper if they had just exercised; or that a landmark appeared farther away when subjects were wearing a heavy backpack. His 11 minute talk follows –

Coming from his own amazingly unique perspective, Lidsky makes a strong case for the way in which “we create our own reality.” Because of this he urged his audience to “hold themselves accountable for every moment and every thought.” This view is one of choice theory’s most important contributions. William Glasser didn’t invent the way in which we create our own reality, but he was one of the early “recognizers” of it. Isaac Lidsky is one of the many who are also recognizing this feature of our human design.

The only thing worse than being blind
is having sight with no vision.
Helen Keller

Consider showing this TED talk to your middle school or high school students. Afterward viewing it, you might consider processing some of the following questions with them –

+ Helen Keller once said that “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight with no vision.” Does Isaac Lidsky have vision and if so, provide examples.
+ What did Lidsky mean when he said that we create our own unique, virtual reality?
+ To what extent do you agree with Lidsky that what we feel can change what we see?
+ What does it mean to hold ourselves accountable for every thought?
+ At one point during his early life, Lidsky referred to his view of his life being “a fiction of his fears.” Is his story just one more feel-good yarn, or is he on to something? To what extent do you relate to the possibility that your view of things is a fiction born of your fears?

Hold yourself accountable for every thought.
Isaac Lidsky


Another excellent video that demonstrates reality being a product of our own creative interpretation is the Season 1: Episode 1 edition of Brain Games, entitled Watch This. Very well done. Your students will be impressed. Lots of material to talk about afterward, as well as a lot of activities to try in your own classroom. You can easily access the episode on Netflix.



On a personal note –

Ok, so I have recently been diagnosed with a non-Hodgkins form of lymphoma, a cancer known as Waldenstroms, named after a Swedish physician who discovered the disease in 1944. Waldenstroms (WM) is rare, affecting approximately 1,500 people a year in the US (which represents 1/10 of 1% of the 1.6 million people who are diagnosed with cancer in the US each year). It is incurable, but treatable. It affects the body’s ability to create mature, healthy blood cells. In my case, due to a bone marrow biopsy, they know that 70% of my cells are affected by the lymphoma. One of the results of this condition is a lower amount of energy, which I have been experiencing for some time.

I have kept on the run this summer, though – teaching summer school classes, and giving choice theory in-services in Oregon, North Dakota, and Indiana, as well as presenting at a choice theory conference in Japan – and I plan on that to continue. My energy is lower, but not gone. Over the coming weeks I will be considering treatment approaches and schedules. Because we are looking at an immunotherapy approach, rather than a chemotherapy approach, I hope not to miss work or other appointments.

The reality of the situation is still sinking in, but I have incredible support from family and close friends. My faith is strong, which is the most important thing, however I know that my choice theory beliefs will also contribute to my working through this, wherever it may lead.
Like Jesus says –

Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.   John 16:33

Don’t Rescue Kids! Really?

Parenting isn’t for the faint of heart. As parents, we struggle to find the path of appropriate support. Kids need our protection, especially early in their lives, and our guidance as they get older. It’s easy, though, to become convinced that as adults, we know what is best for our children, including what ranks as acceptable goals and performances in school, and ultimately even the career path our child should choose. We can become so convinced about the path our children should follow that we create a life map for them and force them to follow it.


Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford University and author of How to Raise an Adult, recently gave a TED talk entitled How to Raise Successful Kids – Without Over-Parenting. It has already been viewed over a half million times.

Lythcott-Haims, with insight and humor, describes parents who are desperate for their kid to get into one of a handful of colleges and universities that routinely deny almost every applicant that seeks entrance into their hallowed grounds. Desperate parents, anxious to Bask in the Reflected Glory (BIRG) of their kid, create desperate students who are withering under high rates of anxiety and depression. Such kids are absolved from chores and even sleep as they try to attain the impossible. The purpose of childhood, she emphasizes, should not be about grades, scores, awards, and accolades, which are based on a super narrow definition of success, a process, whether successful or not, that comes with a long term cost to children’ sense of self. With eloquence and her own conviction, which is all the more impressive given her role at Stanford, she concludes by urging parents to be less concerned about elite colleges and more concerned about their children having the habits of mind to be successful wherever they go, to be less concerned about grades and more concerned about success built on love and chores. Yes, chores.


“I gotta get this lawn mowed.”

I first wrote about the BIRG acronym in Vexed in California (January 9, 2013), and then described it more fully in Why Fulfill Your Own Dreams, When Your Kids Can Do It For You? (February 28, 2013). Click on these titles for a quick review. BIRG parents seek to have their Basic Need for Power and Success met through the achievements of their children. BIRG parents are much less concerned, if at all, with their children discovering and establishing their own identity, and the schools classes and career path that ultimately come out of that identity, and more concerned about their child performing in a way that makes them as parents look good – not just good grades, but great grades in honors classes; not just sports involvement, but starting roles on multiple varsity sports; not just being involved in a club, but being president of the club. You get the picture. Hiding behind the guise of simply wanting what is best for my child, parents exploit their children’s efforts and even health for their own gain. Should parents, instead then, let their children flounder as they go about “discovering” themselves. As Lythcott-Haims forcefully replies, “Hell, no!” Loving support that honors the interests of our children does not have to morph into BIRGing. It’s just that we don’t do our children any favors when we prevent them from finding their own sense of self.

I wonder if Julie Lythcott-Haims is aware of the work of Denise Clark Pope, a fellow Stanford professor and author of the book, Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students. I really recommend Doing School for high school teachers and parents of high school students. It is very readable, partly because it is based on five case studies – real students Pope shadowed at a top high school in the Bay Area. Wanting to discover what engaged students in the process of learning, she discovered instead that students are committed less to real learning and more to creating an impressive resume. Students, she found out, are simply “doing school,” which, unfortunately, is another way of saying they are trying to win the game by playing according to the rules we, as adults, have created. A really interesting and important read.


Finally, Glasser talked about the importance of not rescuing kids. Over-parenting prevents kids from leading their own lives, including solving problems of their own creation. We establish our identity as we are given chances to experience success, all the while keeping track of what we did well, and failure, which then can include fixing what we messed up and then making a better plan for a future attempt. A story from scripture comes to mind, the one where John the Baptist is trying to explain his role to his disciples, who are concerned about a new preacher, someone named Jesus, who was taking attention away from John. To this John explained, “He must increase and I must decrease.” This phrase might be good to keep in mind when it comes to parents (and teachers) having specific pictures in their head of what their child’s success and future look like. “My pictures need to lessen as I help my child nurture the pictures that are important to him,” a parent can decide. Our love and support are never removed during this shift toward their freedom and responsibility. Unconditional love is always the key!


It was so good to meet and work with the staff at Indiana Academy last week in Cicero, Indiana. Steve Baughman, the principal, is leading a young, committed team toward a school culture that is based on the concepts of choice theory.


Partners discussing how schools may use the Deadly Habits without intending to.


Head deans at the academy during one of the partner activities.


Partners squaring off during the “You’ve Got to Be Kidding” activity.



How Can I Be Wrong when I Think I’m Right?

An 11 minute TED talk provides insights into how people can get to the point of being so wrong, all the while thinking they are so right. It turns out motivated reasoning is to blame.

I first wrote about motivated reasoning in November of 2013 in a blog post titled Why Are So Many Christians So Un-Christian? One of the key points of the post is that people choose what to believe. Choice Theory proposes that we are always involved in the process of creating and maintaining a reality that works for us. Check out that post below –

Why Are So Many Christians So Un-Christian?


Two other blog posts also commented on our being “right” and our having a direct pipeline to Truth.

Three Types of People – Awesome, Dangerous, and Run

Melting Self-Justification

Three Types of People

Julia Galef, the TED talk speaker, explained 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. The book I recently completed, The Anatomy of Peace, explained the difference between a heart at war and a heart at peace. As choice theorists we can be thankful that more and more people are coming into an awareness of the human ability to create our perception of reality, and more importantly, our ability to choose a more effective reality.


%d bloggers like this: