Posts tagged “total behavior

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

We Want TO FEEL Good, Pt. 3

Candy Vacuum

Whatever you say about feelings, it won’t do them justice.
Invisible wave
Recurring ripple
Overwhelming tsunami
Like a bulldozer
Like a summer breeze
Like an ax
Like a scalpel
Like sunshine
Pushed and pulled
Propped up and tripped
Luring and deflecting
Sucked in and spit out
Like a surfer can I choose the feeling I will ride?
Or am I the victim of an off-shore emotional earthquake?
Can I control or
Am I a thing with which to be toyed?
Say what you will about feelings.
Let me know when you’ve got it figured out.
I just want to drive my car where I want to drive it.
Bobbi S.

It would be difficult to overstate the power of our feelings. Our emotions can add a great deal of quality to our lives, yet they can also steer us in self-serving, destructive directions and seemingly drain us of self-control. This is because we place a lot of value on feeling good. We constantly monitor how we feel about everything from the temperature of the air around us, to the quality of the food set before us, to the way we are being treated by a colleague or loved one, to the image we see when we look in the mirror. Evaluating our feelings seems endless.

I believe that feeling good is so important that many people will go to almost any length to achieve it, even if it involves using artificial means as a prop. There are healthy ways to feel good. Glasser described how some activities could add creativity and power to our lives in his book, Positive Addiction (1976). When our needs are satisfied in way that adds value to our lives and that doesn’t erode our personal freedom the end result is a healthy feeling of accomplishment and happiness.

Unfortunately, there are also unhealthy ways to feel good. This can happen when we settle for a feeling of fleeting pleasure, rather than working for longer-lasting happiness. Achieving the moment of pleasure can also give us a temporary feeling of being in control. The many different ways we self-medicate are all testament to this pursuit of a feeling of pleasure. The illegal drug “industry” and to an extent, the legal drug industry are a huge part of this pursuit, however there are hundreds of other ways we self-medicate, too. Food, sex, gambling, shopping, and escaping into books and movies can each be part of this pursuit.

Something in choice theory that helps us understand the role of feelings in our lives is the concept of total behavior. Total behavior is based on several key beliefs –
1. Human beings are constantly behaving.
2. All behavior is purposeful.
3. All behavior is a total behavior.

Total behavior describes how each of our behaviors—whether making coffee in the morning, driving in morning rush hour, relaxing with a good book, arguing with an irate customer, or vigorously exercising at the local club—is made up of four parts. The total behavior is the result of a mixture of four distinct parts—one part representing our thinking, one part representing our acting, one part representing our feelings, and one part representing our physiology. The metaphor of a car is often used to graphically describe how total behavior works. Each of the tires represents one of the four behavior parts. Our thinking and our acting are represented by the front two tires, because in the same way we have direct control over the front two tires when we drive, we also have direct control over the thinking and acting parts of our behavior. Our feeling and our physiology are represented by the two back tires, because in the same way we don’t have direct control over the direction of the back tires, neither do we have direct control over our feelings or physiology.

To begin to understand how total behavior describes behavior, let’s take one of the behaviors mentioned above—making coffee in the morning—and attempt to define each of its parts.
Thinking – I’m thinking about the process; do I have the right amount of water and coffee? I may be thinking about the coming day, too.
Acting     – I’m actually making the coffee, installing the paper filter, turning the maker on.
Feeling    – The house is still quiet, yet I may be feeling tense due to everything that faces me that day.
Physiology – My eyes are still waking up, heart rate is starting to pick up a bit, breathing normal.
These four parts make up the behavior of making coffee in the morning.

The total behavior of riding my bike up the hill to Angwin would be much different (approx. 6 miles with an elevation gain of close to 1,700 feet):
Thinking – I think about the route, the road in front of me, especially going down the hill at 40 mph. Going up the hill I am often thinking about ideas, like what to write in this blog.
Acting – I am pedaling and steering and keeping my balance.
Feeling – Sometimes exhilarating; occasionally discouraged, but it is hard to stay discouraged while riding a bike up a hill. I often feel satisfied (even as others pass me) as I ride.
Physiology – pupils dilated at just the right amount; heart working fairly hard; breathing increased; sweat glands usually active; digestion facilitated, etc.
These four parts make up the behavior of riding a bike up a hill.

Total Behavior Car

This way of looking at our feelings helps us to understand their roles in our lives. They are an important part of our behavior, even though we don’t have direct control over them. For some of us, the feeling tire can become extremely oversized. (Picture the total behavior graphic with a feeling tire ten times bigger than the other three tires.) A car with one huge back tire would find it difficult to operate. In the same way, when our feelings get too big we can find it difficult to operate, too.

When feelings threaten to hijack us through their size and intensity, it helps to keep two things in mind –

1. Feelings are only feelings. They are our emotional response to our perception of reality. They do not have control over us, unless we give them that power. They give us feedback as we experience life, but they are just one part of our behavior.

2. We don’t have direct control over our feelings, but we do have indirect control over them through the front tire behaviors of our thinking and our acting. For instance, I admitted that a life circumstance may have me feeling a little discouraged as I start my bike ride, but that it is hard to stay discouraged as I zoom down the hill or struggle back up it. By deciding (thinking) to ride (acting), I ultimately affect my feelings and my physiology.

Just remember what a sixth grader learning about total behavior said –

“When your feelings get too big it’s like the driver of a car, while it’s like, going, letting go of the steering wheel and climbing into the back seat. That’s not too smart.”

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