Posts tagged “total behavior

Marriage and Those Pesky Trash Cans


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.


“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.


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.


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.

I Have Mixed Drinks About Feelings


I saw this shirt in a shop window at Pismo Beach, California. We chuckle at its message, but there is so much truth hidden behind the humor. For some of us, after the initial laugh, we shake our heads as we once again admit the message’s implications. It’s funny, but for some it’s not a laughing matter.

It is interesting how tied into our feelings we are; and how obsessed we are at having some sort of control over them. We crave this ability to affect our feelings a great deal! And we will go to unbelievable lengths for relief from them! One woman, wanting to change her overall diet, admitted that she had been spending around $100 a week on alcohol; another person describes his constant battle to get his hands on more Oxycontin; while yet another admits an obsession with pornography. Whether it is legal or illegal drugs, coffee or valium, food or sex, gambling or shopping, we identify and practice behaviors that change neurotransmitter levels in our brain, which then provides some sort of short term relief from our pain, frustration, worry, or boredom. Based on the data regarding things like drug sales – both legal and illegal, online viewing, and gambling profits, to name a few, the drive to affect our feelings is compelling and constant.


Wanting to feel better is not bad in itself. In fact, it is a good goal. The problem lies in the shortcuts we choose to achieve feeling good. I heard one person describe how trying to feel right or better through a shortcut is like buying mental health on credit from an unscrupulous and tough loan shark. Sooner, rather than later, you will need to pay up, or you go into even worse debt, which many do.

“One of the great gifts of choice theory
is that it frees people from the tyranny of their feelings.”

One of the great gifts of choice theory is that it frees people from the tyranny of their feelings. Rather than being victims of our feelings, tossed to and fro by their whims, we come to understand their true role in our behavior. Rather than seeing our feelings as all-important, the central point around which other parts of our behavior revolve, we begin to see they are only as important as we make them. And rather than pursuing shortcuts to affect our feelings, shortcuts that may even be destructive to our health and our relationships, we choose behaviors that bring our feelings into line with good mental health.

The tires on a car are used to represent the four parts of total behavior.

The tires on a car are used to represent the four parts of total behavior. (Better to say – All behavior is purposeful.)

To me, this gift of choice theory is one of the most important things we can teach to our children. Really understanding the concepts of Total Behavior and the implications of our feelings being one of the back tires of the Total Behavior car is a permanently life-changing epiphany. We can directly (intentionally) control our thinking and our actions; as we do, our feelings and our physiology will come into agreement with them. Of course, the opposite will be true, too. If we choose to focus on our feelings, which we have no direct control over, then our thinking and our actions will come into agreement with that focus. Some have pointed out that focusing on feelings first is like driving our lives in reverse, not an effective arrangement. Or like a sixth grade student pointed out after learning about Total Behavior – “It’s like a back seat driver, like someone is controlling the car from the back seat.”

The goal is to be in a state of good mental health, but that is difficult when we dance to the tune of our feelings. God certainly desires us to experience good mental health and the purpose, love, power, freedom, and joy that goes with it. The apostle Paul said as much when he wrote –

For God has not given us a spirit of fear,
but of love, power, and a sound mind.

2 Timothy 1:7

Classroom Ideas

+ Put up a large poster of the Total Behavior car and explain what the parts of the car mean.

+ Get a large toy vehicle to display in the classroom, with each of the Total Behavior pieces labeled on the car.

+ When reading about characters in a story – especially during History or Bible class – ask students to consider how the character’s behavior relates to the Total Behavior car. Was he or she, for instance, focusing on the front tires or the back tires when behaving as they did? How did their behavior change during the story?

+ How does a person’s life change when the back tire of feelings is inflated to a bigger size than the rest of the tires? Can you think of a time when a character from the Bible had a “way too big” feeling tire?

+ When problem-solving, practice shifting focus from the feeling tire to the thinking tire. Help students recognize the change in their feelings as their thinking changes.

Elementary level teachers will want to check out a great idea from one of their colleagues regarding the Total Behavior car. You can access that idea by clicking on the following picture –





Desks as Cars. I DID IT!!

A recent email described a great way to share choice theory with children!


I DID IT!!!!

I finally got enough courage and taught my students the Total Behavior Car!! I thought I’d share with you the how and why 🙂

Since I am leaving my position of K-2 teacher/principal this year I had been thinking a lot about making sure my students were equipped and prepared for change in their life. At our Spring Education Council meeting one of the principal breakouts had been about children and crisis. The main thing we can do to help prepare our children for crisis, they said, is to teach them how to handle, understand and express their emotions. I agreed with all of this since I have been a big fan of choice theory and seen how it has helped me personally over the last 3 years. So now it was time to help prepare my students to express themselves.

I tried on Monday to teach the concept of the Total Behavior Car. It went terribly. It was all on the board and they weren’t engaged. I think I left more frustrated than they were. So back to the drawing board. I didn’t want to make toilet paper cars like I did way back during The Better Plan workshop (too much tiny work and I didn’t have the supplies on hand) and suddenly about an hour before class it came to me! Turn the desks into cars!


We moved all the desks into their own parking spaces. What kid doesn’t like a mid-day desk move! Then I got out the wheels (big paper plates) and the steering wheel (small paper plates) and we reviewed the car model. On the board I drew the desk and labeled it according to the chart. We talked about how to choose to be happy, smile, think about happy things and then how our body will feel happy and our feelings will follow. They were understanding it! Hurrah! So while they were labeling their wheels I was taping the parking spaces. Then I became a mechanic and taped all their wheels to their desks. I kept them high so they will be constant reminders to them. As they were finishing the wheels I gave them their steering wheels to decorate (making sure they wrote Wants on it, had I more time or resources I might have them cut out pictures of things that are in their quality world?). Then they even got to make their own license plates. They LOVED it. We reviewed at the end how to make our car go where we want it to and how sometimes people can drive it backwards.


Tomorrow I’ll be going over more emotions and why they come based on wants, actions and thoughts. I plan on ending this unit with the movie Inside Out where we will talk about the emotions and who has control and what she could have done during different parts to change her emotions.

What do you think? Anything I should add? I was just so excited to finally figure out a way to teach it and to no longer be intimidated by it. Yes, I wish I would have taught this in August, but better late than never, right? I’m sticking some pictures in this so you can see what it all looked like.



I am really glad that Sonya decided to go for it and venture into the land of Choice Theory implementation. The implementation step is difficult for some reason, yet her story reminds us that implementation is not as hard as we make it out to be and the rewards are worth our becoming vulnerable. We don’t have to be perfect choice theorists to share the ideas with our students. In some ways, our imperfection makes our sharing even more compelling. Students often latch onto to a topic or idea in which they become co-learners with their teacher.

Students often latch onto to a topic or idea in which they become co-learners with their teacher.

When I contacted Sonya to ask if I could share her story on The Better Plan blog, she wrote back –

The students still have their cars and we refer back to the wheels all the time! I can’t believe it took me so long to use. It’s also helping me to reevaluate how I drive my car. Man I love Choice Theory 🙂 Share away!

There is something very powerful about the concept of Total Behavior. It is transformative, for instance, to learn about the relationship between our thinking and our feelings, and to further learn that we can choose what we will think about. Such realities are life-changing.

The tires on a car are used to represent the four parts of total behavior.

The tires on a car are used to represent the four parts of total behavior.

Much is currently being written in educational journals about the importance of social-emotional learning and the value of positive relationships in classrooms. From the very beginning of his career William Glasser was motivated to unlock the mysteries of psychology for everyone on the planet! The concepts of Choice Theory, with Total Behavior being one of its most important concepts, are such an effective way to introduce and nurture the psychological and emotional health of students. Don’t hold this information back. Don’t worry about not being wise enough to teach the concepts. Go for it!


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Feelings Are Weather

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller, the author of Blue Like Jazz (2003), A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (2009), and many other books, recently tweeted –

I think the love we build is much more reliable than the love we feel. Feelings are weather.

The tweet immediately got me to thinking, especially that concise little sentence: “Feelings are weather.” To what extent, I wondered, is the tweet choice theory friendly or choice theory accurate. My mind tends to go there when I read a tweet or a blog or a story or an article or even when I watch a movie. Feelings are weather. Hmm . . .

Let’s see how far we can take the weather metaphor.

+ Weather can be mild or it can be extremely powerful. Choice theorists would agree that feelings are sometimes mild and sometimes overwhelmingly – at least it feels overwhelming – powerful.


+ Weather can quickly change, while at other times we can anticipate changes days in advance. Our feelings can be the same way.

+ Weather can’t be controlled, although I can choose my response to it. I can’t stop the rain, but I can grab an umbrella. I can’t cool the sun, but I can wear a hat. Choice theory teaches us that we cannot directly control our feelings, but that we can control our thinking and our acting. Because the four parts of our behavior – thinking, acting, feeling, and body physiology – always come into alignment, our feelings and our physiology will ultimately come into alignment with the part of our behavior we can control, that being our thinking and our acting.

(As I write this on Sabbath morning, October 3, 2015, at 9:00 am, the weather in Angwin is warm and calm, a beautiful morning actually, yet reports are indicating a fire advisory this evening into tomorrow morning with high winds and gusts up to 50 mph. As you can tell, I am interested in the weather.)


+ We are aware of and monitor the weather constantly. If you are having an outdoor wedding and it’s taking place next week you will be especially interested in weather forecasts. Similarly, we monitor our feelings constantly.

There is no question that feelings, our emotions, play a big role in our moment-to-moment, day-to-day lives. The real question has to do with the level of importance we assign to our feelings and the extent to which we let them hold sway over our picture of our reality. Given the number of people caught up in self-medicating behaviors, including the pursuit of drugs to artificially modify emotions, it appears that a lot of us are believing whatever our feelings are telling us. Some of us, it appears, place so much importance on our feelings that we let them have far too much influence on our sense of wellbeing.

The tires on a car are used to represent the four parts of total behavior.

The tires on a car are used to represent the four parts of total behavior.

One of Glasser’s most important contributions, and one of his unique contributions, is the concept of total behavior. As much as any of his ideas, the concept of total behavior describes the role of feelings in our lives and helps us understand the ways in which we can influence them or on the other hand be a victim of them.

Total behavior proposes the following key ideas –

+ All we (human beings) do is behave.

+ All behavior is purposeful.

+ All (or each) behavior is made of four parts – Thinking, Acting, Feeling, and Physiology.

+ We have direct control over our thinking and our acting.

+ We have indirect control over our feelings and our physiology.

Every behavior is made up of these four parts, and more importantly, the four parts, based on our focus, will come into alignment with each other. We all experience this alignment process throughout every day –

+ I THINK a bike ride will be good for me; I ACT by getting on the bike and heading down the hill; I begin to FEEL freer and empowered; and my PHYSIOLOGY (heart rate, perspiration, breathing, etc.) matches the demands placed on my body in the process.

+ I FEEL tense and anxious; my PHYSIOLOGY includes a clenched stomach and a tight chest (two of a number of body responses); my THINKING focuses on reasons to be afraid or angry; and I ACT by going home, grabbing high fat/high sugar foods, and distracting myself in front of the TV.

+ I FEEL frustrated and resentful; I acknowledge the feeling, but THINK it is time for me to talk with the person with whom I am frustrated; I ACT by using the caring habits of Accepting and Negotiating Differences; and my PHYSIOLOGY, momentarily heading toward high blood pressure and muscular tightness, remains at reasonable levels.

Keep in mind that we don’t have direct control over our feelings (or the weather). We can intensify our feelings by (through our thinking) affirming them and even nurturing them, but why not head in a better direction. Since we can directly control our thinking and our actions, why not focus on the best versions of ourselves we can be.

I think Donald Miller was right – feelings are weather.


For insights into how to navigate life, including the continual debate over gun control, check out Glasser’s biography.

The book that connects the dots of William Glasser's ideas and his career.

The book that connects the dots of William Glasser’s ideas and his career.

I’ll Have Some Grateful

It’s interesting how when we become interested in a new product, say a certain model of car, that we seem to continually notice that specific car whenever and wherever we go. Thinking about getting an eco-friendly Prius? Suddenly you’re seeing a lot of Prius cars.


This is how it has been for me and the idea of gratefulness. This is a topic I have been giving attention to in my own life, and in a similar fashion I am seeing a lot of articles and books on this topic, whether on the Internet, in magazines and journals, or in bookstores. Gratefulness, the articles are saying, can go a long way towards being happy and ultimately being mentally healthy.


Scripture affirms the benefits of gratefulness and, along with the concept of Total Behavior, reminds us that gratefulness and being thankful is something we choose and consciously nurture. It’s wonderful to feel gratefulness, to experience a wave of gratitude that brings with it a sense of peace and contentment, but feelings can be fickle, a momentary rush that quickly passes. Gratefulness, it would appear, is more about a decision we make than a feeling we experience.


This is where Scripture and Total Behavior can really help us.

Total Behavior (to quickly review) is based on the idea that all our behavior is purposeful, that we are constantly behaving to meet our needs, and that every behavior is always made up of four parts – the action part, the thinking part, the feeling part, and the physiology part. Glasser states that while every behavior is made up of the four parts, only two of the parts – our thinking and our acting – are under our direct control. Our feelings (emotions) and our physiology (i.e. – heart rate, eye dilation, breathing, etc.) reflect and/or come into line with our thinking and acting, but we cannot control them directly. Total Behavior is often compared to a diagram of a car, with the front wheels (those that we directly steer) representing thinking and acting, and the back wheels representing feelings and physiology. Because of this reality, choice theory reminds us to focus on the front two tires – thinking and acting – as much as possible. It is empowering to realize that you can directly control or influence your thought patterns.

The tires on a car are used to represent the four parts of total behavior.

The tires on a car are used to represent the four parts of total behavior.

It is tempting, and maybe even appealing, to choose misery. (Misery might be the exact opposite of being grateful.) Our thought patterns become scripts of how someone else has mistreated us, which then prompt us to “write” imaginary conversations that defend our hurt and direct the blame toward someone else. We wallow in our resentment and become ever more convinced that we deserve to feel unhappy. It’s like we are in a cocoon of our own making, wrapping the blankets around us more thickly and tightly with each passing moment. It can be hard to believe that we choose our misery, but, if we think that feeling miserable is our least painful option at that moment, we do.

Bible writers like David and Paul want us to choose gratefulness, to nurture its presence in our lives, and to recognize it as a decision more than an emotion.

This is the day the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.   Ps. 118:24

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again – rejoice!
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.   Philippians 4:4,6,7

Some make the mistake of waiting to feel grateful – part of the total behavior we don’t directly control – rather than choosing to be grateful. We wait for gratefulness to come to us, instead of intentionally claiming it. Life on a free will planet is so much about choices. I think God wants us to use our choice power to freely choose Him, to choose to have faith, to claim thankfulness, to forgive others, and to love liberally. Choice theory acknowledges our need for love, power, freedom, joy, and purpose, which are needs that God not only acknowledges, He created us with these needs in the first place. I encourage you to choose gratefulness today!


Thinking of Martin Luther King today and the principles for which he stood. His courage was pretty incredible! Click on the I Have a Dream link to listen to or read the famous speech he gave in 1963.

I Have a Dream



Now priced at $18.49 on Amazon.

Now priced at $18.49 on Amazon.

Reflections on Toronto


Jim Roy and Bob Wubbolding. (Bob is wearing the Bengals hat he got for my son. Thank you, Bob.)

My emotions were truly mixed as I left Toronto yesterday afternoon, after good-byes to fellow choice theorists, some of them having traveled from the other side of the world to attend the conference. In total behavior language, my back tire of feeling, and even my physiology, was experiencing the reality of saying farewell to people who I may not see again for quite a while. I had been looking forward to seeing them as the conference approached, but now the conference had ended and we were all heading home. I intentionally decided to get back on the front tire of thinking and tried to embrace thoughts like – I’ll stay in better touch, or I’ll see people again at the next conference in Korea (summer, 2016), or We can stay connected through The Better Plan blog – but no sooner had I got on the front tires when that huge back feeling tire reminded me that the conference was over and the wonderful time I had spent with dear friends was soon to be a moment in the past. Maybe there is a kind of appropriate grief at the end of a Glasser conference.

The board members of William Glasser International.

The board members of William Glasser International.

The conference was such an international event! I can’t provide a complete list of the countries represented at the conference, however I spoke to people from Canada, Ireland, Australia, Croatia, New Zealand, South Africa, Iran, Columbia, Argentina, Japan, Korea, and Malaysia. Pretty amazing! And several of these countries have fostered an incredible choice theory presence in their respective cultures. An example of this international success was seen during the conference when representatives from Japan stood and indicated that the Achievement Corporation, the company in Japan that promotes the Glasser ideas through publishing and training, was giving $100,000 to the newly established William Glasser International endowment fund. They are doing something right to be able to donate that kind of money! Very cool!


The support for and affirmation of the Glasser biography was very special for me personally, especially from those who were actually a part of Glasser’s life. My hope is that, as a result of my speaking at the conference, more people now know about the book, and that they will pass the word along to others in their communities that Glasser’s story is available. Throughout his life Glasser wanted to make mental health understandable to anyone interested in learning about how our brains work. I wanted his biography to do the same, and I attempted to write it in a way that would capture any reader’s attention. Time will tell the extent to which the biography does that.

thebetterplan PP redo

A big WELCOME to those of you just joining The Better Plan blog as a result of the recent Glasser conference! I think you will find a lot of choice theory support here. Previous posts are listed on the left hand side of the page, and you can quickly and easily access all of the blogs from last year by clicking on the 2013 – Year At A Glance link. Take a moment to enter your email address and click on the FOLLOW link. It’s great to have you join The Better Plan community.


Remember to write a review on Amazon for Champion of Choice. Your review will alert others to the value of the book. Take a quick moment and spread the word about reality therapy and choice theory.



It’s OK, as long as I am not harming others. Right?



Any pleasure that does no harm to other people is to be valued.   Bertrand Russell

This statement caused me to immediately pause and consider the extent to which it is true. Since choice theory is in my quality world, the statement was filtered through my concepts of choice theory. How about you? Is Russell’s view accurate?

Unlike most psychiatrists of his day, Glasser did see importance in moral behavior, although his definition of moral is significant. To him, moral behavior occurred when a person met his own needs without keeping someone else from meeting theirs. He frequently referred to the Golden Rule in the Bible as a good maxim by which to live.

If we stopped here, Glasser would probably support Russell’s statement about personal pleasure. However, Glasser didn’t stop with just his definition of moral. He went on to describe the difference between pleasure and happiness, at least as he came to define them.

He came to see happiness as a key human need and goal. He viewed the terms happiness, choice theory, and mental health, as synonyms. He felt that it could be said that “mental health is choice theory is happiness.” Happiness comes from being close and knowing how to stay close to the important people in our lives; it comes from engaging in activities that add strength to our lives; and recognizing our basic needs and our power to make choices, more and more we come closer to being in self-control. Happiness has much to do with our relationships with other people.

Glasser came to see pleasure as something people pursued to temporarily change a feeling. His concept of total behavior has feeling as one of the back tires on the total behavior car, a part of our behavior that we cannot directly control.

Total Behavior Car

The concept of total behavior reminds us that our mental health and happiness depends on our ability to choose to live in the realm of the front tires – that being our thinking and our acting. Our feelings can be very strong, though, even what “feels” like overwhelming. Many people attempt to address the feeling, rather than staying on the front tires. A desire to feel good, or at least to not feel bad, can lead to many behaviors. Some seemingly innocuous ways we attempt to feel good or numb our pain include eating, shopping, traveling, watching movies, and playing video games; less innocuous ways of feeling good include alcohol, various drugs, sex, including pornography, and gambling. The ways in which we attempt to feel good are in fact the ways in which we self-medicate. Self-medicating behaviors do not address the root of our unhappiness; they just attempt to change a feeling, even for just a little while. This self-medicating pursuit of pleasure leads to two things – 1) you need to up the dose of whatever your medication of choice is, and 2) addiction. Rather than coming into a place of greater personal strength, we arrive at feeling powerless in the presence of our “pleasure.” And rather than bringing us closer to others, especially the important people in our lives, our pursuit of pleasure erodes our personal connections.

This is such a dark picture, yet it captures a process in which we might find ourselves.

This is such a dark picture, yet it captures a process in which we might find ourselves.

This additional definition of pleasure vs. happiness adds an important element to how we might process Russell’s statement. Now, when we read . . .

Any pleasure that does no harm to other people is to be valued.

. . . we realize that pleasure that does no harm to others may still be harming me. And it brings up a really important question – Is it possible to be in the process of harming myself and not, ultimately, to be harming my relationship with the important people in my life?


The Glasser International Conference is coming up next week in Toronto, Canada, and I am looking forward to seeing all of you who  are a part of that. For me, it will be a bit of a homecoming, as I began my teaching career in 1978 in Oshawa, Ontario, just 1/2 hour from Toronto.

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.


The Glasser Four

Glasser giving a talk in Ventura, California, in 2006.

Glasser giving a talk in Ventura, California, in 2006.

William Glasser was well-known for being able to speak to large audiences for hours without a script or even notes. And it wasn’t just that he could speak to an audience; he could teach and entertain in a way that people seemed to become unaware of the time. It was common for the stage or platform from which he was going to speak to have a few simple items – a chair or stool, a small table with a glass or pitcher of water, and a microphone. That was it. No lectern, no screen, and no media to help him get his points across. And yet, people listened, by the thousands, and by the hour.

I asked him during one of our interviews if he had an outline in his head of what he wanted to cover and he said that he did. Basically, he wanted to cover what he saw as the four essentials –

1. Basic needs

2. The quality world

3. Creativity

4. Total behavior

Other than this simple outline there was no script or set presentation. To some extent, each time he presented he wondered himself what he was going to come up with. If the talk was shorter, then he had to make his points quickly; if it was longer, then he could explain more deeply and share more anecdotes. Either way the success of his talks was dependent on his own creativity. He also described how much the audience’s interest and energy promoted or hindered his creativity. He tried to put into words how his creativity could almost be on fire when an audience was supportive.

This short outline gave him what he needed to share informative and impressive presentations. Chances are, though, an outline this short wouldn’t be enough for the rest of us. For the rest of us it would help if these essential areas were filled out a bit. So, let’s do that. Let’s fill them out and add some detail. I will start the process, however I would like a lot of you to send me additional bullet points that I can add to each of them.

In other words, for each of the Four Essentials think of a word or phrase that defines or describes that Essential in a way that helps to make it more clear. For instance –

Basic Needs
+ A unique set of urges / needs that constantly exert pressure on us to be met
+ Genetically passed on to us
+ Do not change over time
+ Are comprised of five psychological needs – purpose and meaning, love and belonging, power and success, freedom and autonomy, joy and fun – and one physiological need – survival and safety. (Glasser believed there are four psychological needs – love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun.)

Quality World
+ A place in our head where we store pictures of anyone or anything that helps us to satisfy one or more of the basic needs.
+ QW pictures can be of people, places, objects, activities, and beliefs
+ The QW is an amoral picture book. In other words, we may collect pictures that help us to temporarily feel good, but that may not be good for us.

+ Our brain is always creating potential behaviors in response to the changing circumstances around us.
+ Some behaviors become “old stand-by” behaviors for us and we store these for use as needed.
+ It is much preferable to depend on the Caring Habits as our go-to, “old stand-by’ behavior. The Caring Habits include supporting, encouraging, listening, accepting, trusting, respecting, negotiating differences.
+ It is common, though, to use one or more of the Deadly Habits when our circumstances change in a way that we don’t like. Deadly Habits include criticizing, blaming, complaining, nagging, threatening, punishing, and rewarding to manipulate.
+ We create behaviors that we think will satisfy our needs at the moment. A behavior we choose might not bring a lot of satisfaction, but it doesn’t take much for us to make this choice. For instance, we might choose one of the Deadly Habits because it gives us a very small feeling of control.

Total Behavior Car

Total Behavior
+ All behavior is purposeful.
+ Every behavior is made up of four parts that are best described by the words thinking, acting, feeling, and physiology.
+ We have direct control over two of the parts – thinking and acting.
+ We only have indirect control over the other two parts – feeling and physiology.

Help me improve these bulleted lists by adding things I have left out or by correcting any mistakes I may have made. Maybe some of them could be worded better. Let me know.


One of the things we’ll be talking about during the Choice Theory Study Group tomorrow afternoon, March 15, is the concept of total behavior. We start in the PUC Education Building at 2:00 pm. I hope you can be there.


Being honest may not get you a lot of friends,
but it will get you the right ones.
John Lennon

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