Posts tagged “the anatomy of peace

What Makes Choice Theory So Hard To Do?

It has been said that Choice Theory is easy to understand, but hard to do. What do you think? And if this is true, what makes it so hard?

There’s good news in Choice Theory, like the fact that it means –

+ I no longer have to control everyone around me.

+ I can talk to people in a way that helps us work through a problem and stay connected in the process.

+ I can self-evaluate my own behavior and make a new plan for the future.

So what makes these three “good news” pieces of Choice Theory hard to do? Consider the following –

+ I no longer have to control everyone around me.
This Choice Theory truism should come as a relief, and when you first hear it in a workshop setting or read it in a book, it does feel like a relief. Then you drive home after the workshop or head to your classroom the following day and suddenly it feels more like a restriction than a relief. Control, we come to realize, isn’t something from which we really want to be relieved. Of course, it’s more about the feeling of control, since Choice Theory reminds us the only person we can control is ourselves. This feeling of control is more than alluring, though; it can become a part of our identity.
It is hard to let go of something that means as much to us as being in control, even if it is pseudo-control. It is hard, too, if we don’t yet feel skilled in how to live without controlling others. The skill lies in identifying our own needs and boundaries and then living a caring, connecting life within them.

+ I can talk to people in a way that helps us work through a problem and stay connected in the process.
It is easy for us to agree that using the Caring Habits (accepting, trusting, listening, encouraging, supporting, respecting, and negotiating differences) is better than using the Deadly Habits (criticizing, blaming, complaining, nagging, threatening, punishing, and rewarding to manipulate) when it comes to how we relate to others, but it is still hard to do. One of the things that is hard is to really listen, to really focus on understanding what your child, your student, your spouse, or your colleague is saying. We listen to reply, rather than listening to understand. As a result, we are quick to tell a child or student what to do, rather than helping them arrive at and verbalize a plan. Maybe a desire for expediency urges us to tell and direct her/his behavior; maybe it is a way to meet our own need for influence and power. Whatever the case, it is hard to focus on asking good questions, rather than telling what we think are good answers.

+ I can self-evaluate my own behavior and make a new plan for the future.
For me, this is one of Glasser’s most important contributions to the field of mental health, that being that people can learn to monitor their own psychological health and make choices to maintain or improve it. It is hard, though, to escape the gravitational pull of stimulus-response thinking. Stimulus-response is an outside-in world. In other words, we are what the circumstances around us make us. There is a strong appeal to this way of thinking because somehow we are drawn to being the victim. Somehow there is something need-satisfying in victimhood.
Choice Theory is about an inside-out world in which people choose their course of action and choose their responses to circumstances, whatever they may be. Living in an inside-out world means recognizing our own responsibility for our thinking and our actions. This, you may have noticed, is hard to do.
It is easy to blame and to criticize, especially when we do it silently and resentfully, all the while building a case for our rightness. It is harder to look into our own psychological mirror and admit that we are criticizing or blaming to try and get what we want. It is harder to choose to be positive and caring, regardless of what people do in return.

It is hard to escape
the gravitational pull
of stimulus-response thinking.

It is hard to switch from a stimulus-response approach to a Choice Theory approach to life. Glasser felt that it took him two years to make the switch. I think it is taking longer for me. In fact, I think I think I will always need to stay intentional about this switch. More and more I come into an awareness of the ways in which I choose irresponsible misery, rather than responsible joy, and I want to change that. If a Choice Theory approach is taking longer for you, I want to encourage you to stay on the journey. Insights will continue to dawn in your thinking; breakthroughs will emerge in your experience. Resist the pull of stimulus-response.


I finished the Anatomy of Peace book, by The Arbinger Institute. I can very much recommend it. It describes a Choice Theory approach to life from a unique angle that even experienced choice theorists will benefit from. Again, I want to thank my friends at Livingstone Adventist Academy for sharing the book with me.



I’ve recently been alerted to the message of Michele Borba and her work surrounding the topic of empathy. Have you heard of her? Looks very good to me so far. More on her work later.

Takeaways from Oregon

Livingstone Adventist Academy in Salem, Oregon, asked me to return this past week and lead out in a follow-up Choice Theory in-service, this time with a desire to focus on application of the ideas. The staff from McMinnville Adventist School joined us as well for the two-day in-service. As I reflect on the topics we covered, the activities we experienced, and the interactions I had with these talented and committed educators, these are the takeaways I have identified so far –

Choice Theory Principles Are Powerful
This may seem to obvious to mention, but I am going to say it anyway. The ideas and principles of Choice Theory really are life-changing. I can see it in the way participants are affected at certain moments during the in-service; I can hear it in their comments as they process how their own relationships are going or how their classrooms are functioning. There is truth in the ideas of Choice Theory and people relate to the ideas at a very deep personal level.

Chris Sequeira, David Davies, and Sharon Cutz, role play a parent who overhears her teenager talk with friends about cheating.

Chris Sequeira, David Davies, and Sharon Cutz, role play a parent who overhears her teenager talk with friends about cheating.

Role Play Reveals the Challenge of Applying Choice Theory
Glasser used to say that Choice Theory is easy to understand, but hard to do. Most of the difficulty, I think, in applying Choice Theory has to do with the length of time we have been marinating in external control, either with external control being used on us or with us using external control on others. Being involved in role play, where participants work through common personal or classroom challenges, shows how challenging it can be to come up with the right question at the right moment. Learning about problem-solving conferencing is about learning to help another person effectively self-evaluate; it’s about helping another person identify insights and make a success plan. Rather than telling and giving advice, it’s about listening and asking the “artful question.” Oh, and by the way, as nice as this may sound, it is hard to do. For some reason we tend to be “better” at telling and giving advice. Fortunately, role play is fun, which keeps us wading back in for more insight and experience.


Groups spread out for a role play about a student who disrupts the classroom as the class clown. (Pictured: Katrina Koch, Bev Laabs, and Elizabeth Fish)

Students Need To Be Taught Choice Theory, Not Just To Have Choice Theory Used On Them
As teachers (and parents) we can’t delay on this. Few of us feel like Choice Theory experts, but remember that “He who does the teaching does the learning.” We give our students and children a great gift when we teach them about the Basic Needs or about their Quality World. Sonya Reaves recent post about how she taught her students about Total Behavior really underscores this point. Remember to review past Better Plan posts for more ideas. Here are some quick links to get you going.

Desks as Cars. I DID IT!

27 Intrinsic Motivation Ideas

Glasser’s Big 3 Quality School Pieces

Teaching the Quality World


Parent Night Was a Success
The in-service took place on Wednesday and Thursday, with a Choice Theory for Parents scheduled on Wednesday evening. The goal going in was to introduce Choice Theory to parents who may be interested in the direction the school was headed. School board members were also invited. The outline for the evening was simple. I talked about the idea of external control and the way it shows up in our lives, personally, professionally, and politically. I talked about how external control is very much a part of traditional schooling strategies, where teachers are very much focused on control and compliance. We then shifted to the idea that people were created for internal control and free will, not to be controlled by someone else. As the outline reminds us, we each behave for reasons that are entirely personal. The goal of schools, then, is to come into alignment with this internal control design and tap into the power that comes out of internal motivation. The Basic Needs provide an excellent springboard from which to consider student needs and the ways in which schools can intentionally become need-satisfying places. (If you have forgotten what BIRG stands for check out this link – Why Fulfill Your Own Dreams, When Your Kids Can Do It For You? )

The simple outline followed during the Parent Night orientation.

The simple outline followed during the Parent Night orientation.

Follow-Up Is Needed
This is true whenever systemic change is the goal. This follow-up is really about on-going support. Choice Theory ideas are strong, but we live in an external control world and without some kind of on-going support we tend to revert to what we know, what we have experienced the most. The follow-up doesn’t necessarily have to include me. The key is that there needs to be a local “keeper of the flame,” a local person who keeps the Choice Theory dialogue going and who provides moments for practice and reflection. Positive change is enhanced when there is a plan. I believe these factors are coming into place at Livingstone. I am excited for their future!


Parallel Truth
I was touched when, at the close of the in-service, the group presented me with the book, The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict, by The Arbinger Instutute. Several of them explained how the message of the book is so complimentary to the message of Choice Theory, and that they thought I might like it. I am almost halfway through the book and I can already say how obvious the connection is between the two. I can very much recommend it to my Choice Theory colleagues spread around the world. It is striking how effective practices can be arrived at by different people or groups working independently of one another. As you may recall, I felt that way after reading Drive, by Daniel Pink. I am thankful whenever I see others proclaiming the message of internal control. (And for the personal messages that were written on the inside cover of the book from each of the in-service participants – Thank You! I treasure what you shared.)

I become an agent of change only to the degree that I begin to live
to help things go right
 rather than simply to
correct things that are going wrong.

from the The Anatomy of Peace

In the quiet of Thursday morning before participants begin arriving.

In the quiet of Thursday morning before participants begin arriving.

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