There is something fascinating about icebergs – the way they fall into the sea from their glacial upbringing, their massive size and heft, and the mysteries and stories that surround them. The fateful sinking of the unsinkable Titantic in 1912 is a famous example of iceberg lore.

Partly because the fresh water from which icebergs are formed is less dense that the salt water in which they float, only about 10% of the iceberg is visible above the water line. This is where the phrase “tip of the iceberg” comes from. The part of the iceberg you can see may look huge, but it is only a small fraction of its total size. It’s the 90% underneath the water that really forms the mass of the iceberg.


The science of an iceberg has actually helped me to understand some elements of choice theory a little better. Two of choice theory’s key elements include 1) the basic needs, and 2) the quality world. For me, the basic needs include –

Purpose and Meaning
Love and Belonging
Power and Achievement
Freedom and Autonomy
Fun and Joy
Survival and Safety

As a review –

Every human being has a unique set of basic needs that were passed on from his/her biological parents.
While every person arrives with a set of basic needs, no one arrives with instructions on how to meet them. From birth to death we are involved with learning to effectively meet our needs.
Our basic needs vary. A person can have a low need for fun and a high need for power. Many different combinations of need strengths can exist.
The needs want to be met. The stronger the need, the greater the urgency to fulfill it.
The need strengths do not change over time.

Glasser described the quality world as a special picture book in our head in which we collect pictures of the people, things, places, ideas, and activities that help us meet one or more of our basic needs. We begin to create this picture album from the moment we are born. We place people and things in our personal picture album; no one can force their way in uninvited. We can also take people and things out of our quality world, although that can be a very painful process. Our quality world represents the people, things, and ideas that are the most need-satisfying to us. As a result we put a lot of energy and effort into creating circumstances that match the pictures we have created. Problems can arise when we try to force others to match the pictures in our quality world. Choice theory reminds us, though, that the only person we can control is ourselves.

Screenshot 2014-11-05 21.11.15

The iceberg represents a helpful picture at this point. The part of the iceberg that is under the water, the huge 90% part of the iceberg, is similar to the basic needs. The basic needs are of huge importance in our lives. They exert an influence that is hard to overstate. Yet, like the invisible underwater portion of the iceberg, our basic needs are not easily seen or identified. There is no blood test, no x-ray, no brain scan that reveals what our need strengths are.


We get good clues about our basic needs, though, from the part of the iceberg we can see, that 10% above the water line that is comparable to our quality world picture books. How we behave in different life settings – with our families, at work, at play, when we have spare time, when things are going well, and when things are going not so well – provides us with good clues as to our basic need strengths. Understanding our personal basic needs and being aware of our own quality world pictures that help us meet those needs will go a long way toward us achieving happiness and mental health.


I mentioned Dr. Brene Brown, the author of Daring Greatly, in the last blog and I want to close with a couple of things she said that reminded me of the iceberg principle. She writes –

When we feel shame, we are most likely to protect ourselves by blaming something or someone, rationalizing our lapse, offering a disingenuous apology, or hiding out.

Shame seems to come from that invisible, immense underwater region of the iceberg that we can’t see and probably don’t want to see. She goes on to write –

When we apologize for something we’ve done, make amends, or change a behavior that doesn’t align with our values, guilt—not shame—is most often the driving force.

Guilt isn’t something that I want or feel comfortable with, but it is a part of the iceberg I can see, and therefore I can deal with it and make things right.


Now priced at $18.51 on Amazon; 21 reviews have been submitted.

Now priced at $18.51 on Amazon; 21 reviews have been submitted.

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