Posts tagged “William Glasser

The Power of a Friend

In a recent blog (3C’s – Connection, Community, Companions) I shared a quote written by Adam Smith in 1759 in which he stated that “The mind is rarely so disturbed, but that the company of a friend will restore it to some degree of tranquility and sedateness.” There is a lot of truth in this insight and the story you are about to read will underscore the impressive power of simple friendship.

As part of my research for writing the Glasser biography, I became familiar with the work and writings of Dr. Peter Breggin, the author of Toxic Psychiatry (1991), an important book on the dangerous realities of psychotropic drugs. At the beginning of the book, though, Breggin shares a story of an experience he had as a young, undergraduate future psychiatrist, a story, it turns out, that I have never forgotten.

Dr. Peter Breggin

Early in college Breggin got involved with a student-led program that focused on volunteering at nearby psychiatric hospitals. This was in 1954, the same year that thorazine came onto the mental illness scene and also the same year that Glasser began his psychiatric residency in the neuro-psychiatric veterans’ hospital in Southern California. Breggin quickly observed the inhumanity and even horrors within mental hospitals of the day – intimidating and abusive staff overseeing patients who were treated more like animals, more like hopeless cases of permanent dysfunction, housed in cold, colorless cement. He questioned that these hospitals needed to function this way and that patients were viewed as hopeless vegetables.

Breggin rose to a position of leadership within the volunteer program. His questions about how patients were treated — why were patients forced to endure freezing cold temperatures in the winter and stiflingly hot temperatures in the summer; and why were insulin comas and electric shocks forced on patients – were answered unsatisfactorily. The volunteer program grew, though, and as it did it began to have its own effect on hospital’s atmosphere. There were fewer cases of staff abuse and the hallways began to take on color and life.

Feeling like more could be done, as a sophomore Breggin came up with an idea and approached the hospital superintendent. “Let a dozen or more of us,” he began, “have one patient each, assigned for the duration of the year. We would work with the patient one afternoon a week,” he continued, “and meet as a group with a social worker.”

Instead of responding with interest and support, the superintendent responded with outrage. How could untrained undergraduates in college even entertain the idea that they could work with back ward schizophrenics? The president of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society also protested the idea and warned that the patients could be harmed as a result. Breggin explained that he could take the volunteer program to another hospital if they preferred and their ire turned calmer, given that the volunteer program was one of the hospital’s only bright spots.

And so began a simple, but powerful arrangement. Fourteen students were begrudgingly given a patient – all older, chronically ill, and hopeless – with whom to work. Hospital staff felt they were beyond harm or help. Breggin was one of the 14 students. Instead of me trying to describe his remarkable story I will let him describe it in his own words –

My own particular patient, an elderly man I’ll call Mr. Liebowitz, was diagnosed as psychotically depressed, overcome with feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. It was impossible to motivate him to do anything. He was afraid of people and phobic about having a heart attack. When I introduced myself to him, he tried to shoo me away like some vastly annoying fly. I thought to myself, “He’ll never even talk to me!”

After a time he began to trust that I actually would show up each week and that I would be a friend to him. Like most inmates, he was absolutely friendless, and my attempts to establish a relationship must have seemed strange and inexplicable to him. Gradually he let me help him get better clothes from the dispensary and encourage him to work on some simple projects in the hospital carpentry shop. Soon he became willing to chat with me about what he might do to get out of the hospital.

Fearful at first about a heart attack, Mr. Liebowitz gradually allowed me to help him walk outdoors around the hospital, and then eventually around the hospital grounds. We became more able to talk about his actual physical condition, which was excellent, and to contrast his fears to reality. We chatted about his concerns about old age and put them in a more hopeful perspective. I am sure that the interest of a young college student did much to convince him that he still possessed some human worth.

Then I helped him select a home for older and retired people in town, where he was able to take advantage of going outdoors, shopping, and visiting in the community. It was more than a decent place to live and he was very pleased to be free of the hospital.

Other students in the program had more extraordinary accomplishments. Some worked with more grossly “psychotic” patients, those suffering from hallucinations and delusions, and helped them return to their families. While Mr. Liebowitz didn’t talk much, many of the other patients became quite involved in expressing their feelings and discussing their lives with their student aides. For many of the students, this once-a-week supervision with the social worker became as intense as graduate training in psychotherapy. Nor did medication play any role in the outcome. Our patients were not yet receiving the new “miracle drugs.”

Breggin’s story thus far is interesting and even touching, and the story could end there and still be worth every moment you have taken to read this far, but it is the next paragraph, the one that talks about The Results of this simple program that is truly informative and inspiring. Continuing on, Breggin writes –

By the end of the year, eleven of the fourteen patients had been released from the hospital. Only three of those eleven would return in the follow-up, which lasted one to two years.

This story strikes me as incredibly profound. Men viewed as hopeless psychotics, tucked away in a back ward of an institution and tended to as some tend to vegetables, and sometimes worse than that, became sane enough to leave their confines and return to life with their families or venture out on their own. Both – the effects of loneliness and the effects of a supportive friendship – are powerful. Society tends to overlook or misunderstand these effects, though. May this story serve as a gentle reminder of the importance of positive relationships and connection, and further serve as a nudge toward being a friend to others.

The Difference between Pain and Misery

“The difference between pain and misery?
Pain is what we walk through; misery is what we sit in.”

I hesitate to write about a quote that says, “misery is what we sit in,” because I don’t want to come across as flippant when it comes to misery and sadness. I can write about these two approaches, though, because I have experienced them both – I have walked through pain and I have sat in misery. For me, I see now that I have a choice as to which course I will pursue.

Looking back I can see times that I chose to sit in misery. At first glance, it may seem strange to consider this as a chosen behavior, but I have talked to many others who admit to this choice as well. The thing to keep in mind is that all behavior is purposeful. In other words, we behave for a reason; we behave to satisfy a need. More simply, with a behavior comes a payback.

All behavior is purposeful.

This is where it gets interesting. Why, for instance, would someone choose to be miserable? What is the payback for misery? I can remember being miserable when work felt overwhelming or when my wife wasn’t reading my mind like I needed her to. Instead of taking a step at a time and seeking other’s assistance at work, or instead of talking to my wife about a frustration or perceived unfairness, I would go into a dark tunnel and distance and separate and withdraw. And to a degree, even though I felt miserable, I also felt kind of good. I clutched my misery and nurtured it, like Gollum talking to himself about his Precious. If my wife wasn’t treating me like I wanted, then I wouldn’t treat her like she probably wanted. Fair is fair. I deserve fairness, I defended, even as I shrunk further away from the very thing, the very person whose intimacy I sought.

Glasser alerted me to this kind of thinking in his book Control Theory* (1985). In fact, he listed four reasons for people to choose misery.

1. It keeps angering under control

Rather than expressing our anger outward, and maybe even threatening and hurting other people, we turn it inward. We don’t know how to deal with our anger in the public arena, so we direct it to a private location. (Besides this kind of behavior hurting our relationships, it also can harm our physical bodies, as anger triggers the release of adrenaline and cortisol into our systems. Over time misery can lead to organs and joints being affected.)

2. It gets others to help us

When we show up as miserable or depressed it can serve as a cry for help, which can be especially appealing for men, who often don’t like to just come out and ask for help.

3. It excuses our unwillingness to do something more effective

The more miserable or depressed we become, the more helpless we become, too. We convey that we are not capable of doing much when we are overcome with misery.

4. It helps us regain control

When we feel out of control because of how someone else is treating us or because of the difficulty of a circumstance, choosing to be miserable or to depress can very much increase our sense of control. No one can challenge us when we are helpless.

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Any of these behaviors can make sense at the moment. We are desperate for a behavior that will help us feel better and we rummage around in our behavior system for something that will give us even a smidgeon of control. Being miserable doesn’t feel that great, but it feels better than the alternative, whatever we perceive the alternative to be. Somehow, misery is need-satisfying.

Of course, it is not usually a good idea to tell a person who is in the midst of being depressed or miserable that he/she is choosing it. A miserable person can become quite defensive of their misery. But there will come a time, when things are better or when the pressure is off a bit, when he/she will be more open to considering their role in the misery process.

And what a special moment it is when you first realize that misery isn’t something that just happens to you. An awareness begins to dawn in your thinking, an empowering awareness that maybe, just maybe, you can literally choose your state of mind. As you grow in your understanding of choice theory, it’s like you become immunized against misery and even depression. Yes, it can be scary to realize how much power and responsibility you have for your own mental health, but the trade from victim to empowerment is well worth it.

 

Yeh, heck yeh. For me it was #1, the one about keeping anger under control. I had never understood it in that way. But it made perfect sense to me as I thought about it. It actually inspired me to get a little help  .  .  .  with the anger thing, you know.   TJ

Mine was a combination of #2 and #3. I really did want others to view me as helpless, and to come to my aid. I see now that it was kind of manipulative, but I didn’t think that at the moment I was being miserable.   BD

I think there should be a #5 on the list, since my being miserable had more to do with punishing others, especially my wife. #5 should be about punishment, about getting back at another person.  HR

Habits To – and Away From – Loneliness

Loneliness does not come from having no people around you, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to you.     Carl Jung

Carl Jung (1875-1961)

It is true that loneliness often has nothing to do with not being in proximity to other people. We can be in the midst of a crowd and still feel lonely. Just being around people isn’t the answer to loneliness; rather it’s being connected to others and feeling understood and appreciated that melts our aloneness.

This aloneness is one of the profound conditions of life on this planet. We battle it from birth until we die. We cry for our needs to be met when we are tiny, even just physical contact may be enough to comfort us, and we continue this reaching out for connection, and at times crying for our needs to be met, throughout our lives. When positive relationships are lacking or when we experience a good relationship taking a turn for the worse, our mental health is very much affected. According to Choice Theory our level of mental health is all about relationships. So important is the element of connection and relationship that Glasser felt a person couldn’t achieve decent mental health without having at least one positive relationship with another human being. We are social beings, created from the beginning for social connection. When our connections to others are lacking, we get frustrated and hurt.

William Glasser (1925-2013)

I think Jung is on to something when he suggests that our loneliness comes out of our inability to communicate the things that seem important to us. Glasser agreed with this so much that he came up with a list of Caring Habits to remind us of the kind of behaviors that will get us close to others, and keep us close as time goes on. The Caring Habits list includes –

Listening
Encouraging
Accepting
Trusting
Respecting
Supporting
Negotiating Differences

Each of the Caring Habits is important, although one stands out when it comes to our ability to communicate, that habit being the one on Negotiating Differences. Being open with a spouse or significant other and trying to find common ground and agreeable compromises can make all the difference in the world. It is a skill, though, that for some comes with practice. And besides, what is the alternative to negotiating a difference? Usually it is frustration that morphs into blame, resentment, and yes, loneliness. Too many go into the silent treatment mode (a behavior meant to punish) when a spouse or someone important to us isn’t treating us the way we want.

What we need is connection through effective communicating;
what we get is loneliness through withdrawing.

The opposite of the Caring Habits are the Deadly Habits. So while the Caring Habits bring us closer to others, the Deadly Habits take us farther apart and maybe even sever a relationship. Glasser referred to the Deadly Habits as The 7 Habits of Highly Ineffective People, playing off of the title of Steven Covey’s bestseller. The Deadly Habits include –

Criticizing
Blaming
Complaining
Nagging
Threatening
Punishing
Rewarding to Manipulate

Whenever we rely on these ways of being we hurt the important relationships in our lives and as a result, we create or add to our loneliness.

We have a choice as to which set of habits we will use. Just remember that one set leads to connection and peace, while the other leads to resentment and loneliness.

 

Led Zeppelin and Internal Control Psychology

Glasser referred to Choice Theory as an internal control psychology. Gaining an understanding of Choice Theory means coming into an understanding of internal control and that our thoughts and behaviors are from within us, rather than externally imposed on us. What follows are a couple of short stories that highlight this internal control thinking process –

                                                      STORY ONE
A few weeks ago I was sitting in a high school Art classroom, observing one of my student teachers as she did her practice teaching. Her lesson went very well and led to students having time to work on their individual art projects. The mentor teacher asked if he should put some music on as the kids worked and my student teacher said, “Sure.” Soon the tunes of Led Zeppelin were filling the classroom, a pleasant surprise for me, given my own 70s exposure to rock and roll.

I took a short video clip of the classroom, with music pulsating in the background, and sent it to my son, now grown and a lawyer, thinking he would get a kick out of it since he came to appreciate Led Zeppelin, too, during his 90s exposure to the music world.

My text message to him (which accompanied the video clip) said, “I am in the Calistoga High Art classroom, observing one of our candidates doing her student teaching. The Art teacher put on some tunes after the lesson was done, and the kids were working independently. Thought of you.”

Several hours later he replied, “I must have gone to the wrong school! Though I’m not sure I would’ve liked it as much if my teacher had played it.”

What a great example of the internal choice process happening within each of us all the time. My son’s comment reveals that there are many reasons a young person might be drawn to certain kinds of music. The tone and beat of the music itself can appeal, as can the lyrics, as can how edgy the performer or group is. Kids like music for social reasons, including the idea that it gives them a way to assert their independence, much to the chagrin of adults wanting to control that independence.

“I’m not sure I would’ve liked it as much if my teacher had played it.”

All of these reasons are internally based and uniquely unpredictable. Teenagers choose music for reasons that are important to them, including whether or not adults like their particular music, too

                                                   STORY TWO
My wife and I were driving to the Sacramento airport a couple of weeks ago. We went through Napa, which eventually brought us to Hwy 80 toward Sacramento. People drive fast on Hwy 80 (like 80 is more the speed limit than the highway number). We were in the fast lane, but it was raining off and on, and when it rained it was raining quite hard. As a result, I wanted to keep a safe distance between me and the cars ahead.

My wife frequently reminds me about tailgating and will sometimes ask me to slow down if she thinks I am driving too close, although in this case I was already driving slower and keeping a safe distance. At one of these rainy, slow-down moments she said, “Thank you for not tail-gating.” Almost immediately, instead of thinking thoughts like thank you for noticing, I found myself thinking thoughts like I am driving this way because it is safe for these circumstances, not because you want me to drive slower. I am a bit embarrassed to admit this about myself, but it is one more example of the internal thinking process.*

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Consider for a moment the phrase internal locus of control. If we look it up we find that “In personality psychology, locus of control is the degree to which people believe that they have control over the outcome of events in their lives, as opposed to external forces beyond their control.” This definition is helpful because it explains what internal control isn’t, rather than what it is. Choice theory, and the internal control that it describes, isn’t about having control over the outcome of events. Choice theory describes how people can intentionally control their own thinking and behavior and in the process very much affect their emotions. Choice theory describes how our motivation comes from within for reasons that are uniquely personal.

We cannot control events, but we can intentionally affect our
cognitive and emotional response.

Choice theory does not guarantee that we can change the outcome of events in our lives. It does guarantee that we are capable of changing our thinking and our emotions in ways that improve our mental and emotional health.

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Exercise: Begin to identify examples of your own personal internal control psychology. Identify moments in your thinking that are entirely generated by you or that are unique interpretations of events that others most likely see differently. Practice acknowledging your viewpoint as just that, simply your viewpoint. Consider what your viewpoints say about you – Are you an acceptor? A blamer? An encourager? A critic? A risk-taker? A worrier? The viewpoints that we nurture are in some way need-satisfying. Not always helpful to ourselves or others, but need-satisfying none-the-less. When it comes to our mental health and our relationship health, our internal control viewpoints are everything.

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EDUTOPIA and Social-Emotional Learning

Reality: Educational journals and a growing number of school districts are emphasizing the need for social-emotional learning in schools (SEL). Increasingly, educators are realizing that academic success is less about amount of content covered and more about becoming a competent learner. For such learning to occur, schools must be emotionally safe and students must learn to self-manage their own thinking and emotions. These are mandates that if ignored, will only postpone the success of our students, and ultimately our country.

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* Do you have personal examples of internal control thinking? I’d love to hear them!! Share them as a response to this post.

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!

HowEmotionsAreMade

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.

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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.

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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

 

 

 

 

Glasser’s Beliefs Continue to Influence

It has been four years since William Glasser passed away on August 23, 2013, but not a week goes by, or even a day, that I don’t think about him or one of his ideas. It is interesting just how important his ideas have become to me. For instance, when it comes to wanting to be in a better place psychologically and emotionally, I continue to look through a Choice Theory lens. The principles of Choice Theory are a wonderful mirror from which to self-evaluate.

Choice Theory ideas seem to be important to other people as well, or maybe I should say the principles of Choice Theory, since I continue to see articles and books that point in the same direction he pointed to throughout his career. Whether you want better schools, better parenting, better relationships, or just a better psychology to guide your life, Glasser continues to be a lighthouse guiding the way.

The article links that follow will show you what I mean, plus they are good articles in their own right. Click on the article titles to read for yourself.

1) A New Kind of Classroom: No Grades, No Failing, No Hurry

The article describes a grass-roots movement in which 40 schools in New York City have adopted a program that has students focusing on achieving grade-level skills rather than receiving traditional letter grades. And rather than being mandated to make this shift, all 40 of the schools have adopted the program voluntarily.

A student stays after school to keep working on her own.

“Mastery-based learning, also known as proficiency-based or competency-based learning, is taking hold across the country,” the article informs, with Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Illinois, and Idaho also phasing in the new approach.

It is impossible for me to see phrases like competency-based learning and getting rid of grades without thinking of my mentor and visionary friend, Bill Glasser. Since his early days with Bea Dolan at the Ventura School for Girls and his first books, including Reality Therapy (1965) and Schools Without Failure (1969), Glasser recognized how learning needed to be organized. Throughout his career he was driven to help schools make this shift.

And of course, his clearest statements regarding competency-based learning can be found in his book, Every Student Can Succeed (2000), where he emphasized the need for students to achieve competence, and the strategies schools can employ to support them in the process.

“The real world asks for competence
and usually gets it when what they ask the worker to do
is useful and they treat the worker well.”
William Glasser

2) When Schools Forgo Grades: An Experiment in Internal Motivation

The article describes the efforts of teachers and students at the Integrated Global Studies School in NYC to move away from traditional grading and instead implement narrative feedback on work in which students want to be involved. IGSS is a small school (160 students) within a much larger high school (over 4,000 students) in which administrators, teachers, and parents wanted to see if grading differently would make a difference in learning. It turns out it makes a huge difference!

Escaping from the cage

Kirby Engelman, a junior at the school, describes how “It felt totally different. It opened my mind to education as something more of, rather than learning content, you were learning how to learn. It opened my mind to my potential as well as the potential of humans and the world.”

It’s about “learning how to learn.”

Engelman admits she was hesitant to give up the traditional model at first. It was all she knew. And while at first she opted to receive traditional feedback, too, she explained that “Grades or no grades you get a written narrative about every assignment and how you are as a student, which showed me how unnecessary grades were,” she said. She also found the system more motivating. “Rather than just learning information and learning specific facts, we were learning how to learn and that felt a lot more meaningful.”

Glasser began describing this very process in Schools Without Failure (1969), his first book on schools specifically, and stuck with this message his entire career.

3) Good Genes Are Nice, But Joy Is Better

Harvard researchers began tracking the health of 268 sophomores in 1938, hoping the longitudinal study would reveal clues to leading healthy and happy lives. While 19 of the original 268 are still alive, many more subjects have been added over the years, and altogether a lot of impressive data have been collected. So what matters when it comes to leading a satisfying and happy life?

“The surprising finding,” began Robert Waldinger, the director of the study, “is that our relationships have a powerful influence on our health. Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care, too. That, I think, is the revelation.”

This finding would come as no surprise to William Glasser or anyone else into the ideas of Choice Theory, as he believed that all significant psychological problems were based in relationship problems.

 

“Close relationships,” the study continued, “more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives. Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives that social class, IQ, or even genes.”

4) Loneliness Epidemic Growing Into Biggest Threat to Public Health

Also commenting on the topic of happiness, or lack thereof, this short article points out the importance of being socially connected. Examples from the article include –

+ Being connected to others is a fundamental human need.

+ According to an AARP Loneliness Study, over 42 million Americans suffer from chronic loneliness.

+ Another study showed that greater social connection is associated with a 50% reduced risk of early death.

+ There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality.

+ Greater emphasis should be placed on social skills training for children in schools.

+ Doctors should be encouraged to include social connectedness when medical screening.

+ People should be preparing for retirement socially, as well as financially.

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Like a lighthouse alerting ships to navigational information, Glasser alerted me, and many others, to information that contributes to health and well being. Four years after his passing he is still missed, especially by those closest to him, yet his ideas continue on. Ideas that matter as much as his tend to do that.

 

Assume that People Do Their Best? Is that Possible?

Some thoughts from Mark Landry’s (not so) completely. miserable. blog. His latest post, titled Some (painful-for-me) Thoughts on Letting People Off the Hook, began like this –

I’ve learned something recently, something that I know will change my life if I can get my head around it, something I wish I would have realized 20 years ago, but nobody was talking about things like this when I was 30.  If I could fax my younger self I’d say without hesitation – master this.

Brene Brown, in one of her recent books “Rising Strong,” relates some powerful advise from a friend:

Steve said, “I don’t know. I really don’t. All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.” His answer felt like truth to me. Not an easy truth, but truth.

This sounded great, so I tried it.  Massive fail.  I don’t have it in me.  I’ve built an entire world around judging others, comparing myself to others, using the “laziness” of others to make myself feel good, labeling people based on what they have or haven’t accomplished in their lives.

It feels good to tear someone down.  It makes us feel valuable, ironically, when we take someone’s value away.   But ultimately I have to put myself under the same microscope, which is especially hard these days.  I”m a washed up, has-been pastor, now a stay at home dad.  Not much in my life to tout.  All the judgments, all the “can you believe that guy” thoughts that I’ve used to create my little accomplishment-based caste system have come back to haunt me.  In spades.  Over and again I come up just as short as everyone else.

“It makes us feel valuable, ironically, when we take someone’s value away.”

Along with Mark Landry, I have been thinking a lot recently about the damage of criticism. Glasser rated criticism as the most damaging of the Deadly Habits, the most disconnecting of the “disconnectors.” Passages I am reading in a little book called Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing has reinforced Glasser’s concern regarding the effects of criticism. The people of Jesus’ day, the little book points out, “reflected the spirit of their religious leaders as they intruded on the conscience of others and judged each other in matters that are between the soul and God.”

A cover of the little book, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, which is based on what has come to be known as The Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7.

A cover of the little book, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, which is based on what has come to be known as The Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7.

It was in reference to this spirit and practice that Jesus said, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.” (Matt. 7:1), and which the little book further explains –

That is, do not make your opinions, your views of duty, your interpretations of Scripture, a criterion for others and in your heart condemn them if they do not come up to your ideal. Do not criticize others, conjecturing as to their motives and passing judgment upon them.” Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 178

Once again, I am reminded of the similar emphasis of these two disparate authors – Ellen White and William Glasser – the first a spiritual author at the turn of the 20th century and the second a secular author at the turn of the 21st century. Glasser would have resonated with Ellen’s statement, for instance, that –

“The sin that leads to the most unhappy results is a cold, critical, unforgiving spirit.”  Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 181

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It is especially interesting to me just how far the damage of a critical spirit can reach, and how powerful that damage can be. Our personal relationships are hurt when criticism is present, often deeply, but we also need to remember how the spirit of criticism can affect an organization’s atmosphere, and in particular a leader’s strategy within that organization. Religious leaders and churches do not draw a pass here. In fact, it is just the opposite. In the passage that follows, Ellen White describes how criticism morphs into control, and how laws and persecution are the sure result. She writes –

When men indulge this accusing spirit, they are not satisfied with pointing out what they suppose to be a defect in their brother. If milder means fail of making him do what they think ought to be done, they will resort to compulsion. Just as far as lies in their power they will force men to comply with their ideas of what is right. This is what the Jews did in the days of Christ and what the church has done ever since whenever she has lost the grace of Christ. Finding herself destitute of the power of love, she has reached out for the strong arm of the state to enforce her dogmas and execute her decrees. Here is the secret of all religious laws that have ever been enacted, and the secret of all persecution from the days of Abel to our own time.

Christ does not drive but draws men unto Him. The only compulsion which He employs is the constraint of love. When the church begins to seek for the support of secular power, it is evident that she is devoid of the power of Christ–the constraint of divine love.  Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 182

Christ does not drive but draws men unto Him.
The only compulsion which He employs is the constraint of love.

Love is the answer, and always has been. Yet how strong the pull is to coerce loved ones into complying with our ideas of what is right. Whether organizationally or individually, though, whenever the spirit of criticism rules the results are disastrous. May we keep from criticizing, judging, blaming, and forcing others to accept our ideas, especially if we are in any way associated with religion.

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I have been receiving a lot of positive feedback on the last post, Desks as Cars. Check it for a great idea about teaching Choice Theory to children.

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If you have read Glasser’s biography, Champion of Choice, would you take a moment and write a review that I can share as part of The Better Plan blog? Sales of the book have been slow in the U.S. Let’s do what we can to let others know of Glasser’s life and ideas.

Desks as Cars. I DID IT!!

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

Blessings!

Sonya

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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Changing the System, Not Students

William Glasser was known for his commitment to answering correspondence. He frequently included his contact information on the last pages of books he wrote and invited readers to get in touch with him if they had questions. Given that several of his books were major sellers, including his contact information was no small thing.

Glasser during a talk in Ventura, CA, ten years ago.

Glasser during a talk in Ventura, CA, ten years ago.

William Glasser, Inc. recently shared one of Glasser’s replies to a reader inquiry and I thought many of you would be interested. The person Glasser wrote to was an elementary school principal who attended a workshop Glasser taught in 1995 at the NAESP convention. (National Association of Elementary School Principals)

William Glasser, 1977

William Glasser, 1977

Apparently the principal wanted Glasser to respond to two comments he submitted regarding school discipline. Unfortunately, the two comments were not included with what Glasser, Inc. shared, but you can almost imagine the comments as you read Glasser’s response, which follows –

September 14, 1995

What you are doing is something I no longer have any interest in whatsoever – that is, concerning yourself with discipline problems in school. Certainly, discipline problems could be handled better than they are now which is what your material is leading toward. In that instance, it is reasonably good. I however, don’t believe that we have any solution whatsoever to discipline problems; handling them better or worse. We need to change the school system that is producing the discipline problems because the system doesn’t satisfy the students’ needs. Therefore, I won’t endorse anything that says the word “discipline” on it. I won’t talk about discipline, but will only talk about changing the system. For more information on this idea, you would need to read my books The Quality School and The Control Theory Manager. Those two books explain it best of all.

It is not that people don’t want what you are doing. They do very much. They recognize that there are a lot of discipline problems and would like somebody to come along and tell them how to deal with it a little bit better. But in the end, your ideas won’t work. They won’t work because they are still trying to support the old system, which is really what is making the problem. It is as if people are falling into a ditch in front of the hospital and finally, the surgeon says, “how come all these broken legs are coming in” and the nurse says, “well, they’re falling into a ditch in front of the hospital” and the surgeon says “well, let’s stop operating for a little bit and go down and fill up the ditch.” That is what we have to do. We can’t figure out better surgical procedures, we have to fill up the ditch.

I hope you understand that you should move toward changing the system and not help a bad system to survive by blaming the student. The students who have discipline problems have every right to be upset. The school doesn’t work for them. We can’t change them if we want to succeed – we have to change the schools.

I’m sure you are disappointed in this letter because you are a good person with good ideas. But your ideas in my opinion are obsolete. Maybe one hundred years ago we had a few discipline problems and we could focus on them, but now we have schools where all the children are out of order. I just worked in one this last year in Cincinnati. No discipline program, yours or anyone else’s would have worked. We changed the system and the problems disappeared. It was hard work, but it shows that what I’m saying makes good sense.

Cordially,

William Glasser, M.D.

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This 1995 letter provided a clue as to how adamant Glasser was about focusing on changing the school program, rather than focusing on disciplining kids into compliance. He came to feel so strongly about this focus that at the 1996 Glasser convention he officially rejected all school discipline plans and explained that those who wanted to work in his organization would have to reject them, too. My purpose in sharing this information here is not to rehash the details of this decision, but instead to consider the real value in Glasser’s points. (If you are interested the details of the 1996 declaration, which led to a significant schism in the organization, the topic is covered in depth in his biography – Champion of Choice (2014))

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I agree with Glasser completely that schools need to focus on becoming need-satisfying places for students. Anything less than creating a classroom and a curriculum based on student needs ultimately leads to underperformance, boredom, resentment, and misbehavior. Such schools are possible and the results are inspiring. Whether nearby, like New Tech High School in Napa, California, or far away, like schools in Finland, examples of effective student-centered schools are there for the observing and the copying. (See the video clip that follows.)

 

I think it is worth clarifying that even schools that focus on becoming need-satisfying in their curriculum and instruction will benefit from having in place appropriate procedures and rules. When Glasser decried discipline plans he was concerned about schools forcing students into complying with expectations that didn’t take their needs into account. He didn’t mean that schools should become “structureless” in the process. Appropriate procedures remind students of the way things are done, and in the process help to prevent problems from even occurring in the first place. Procedures help us in a lot of ways throughout the day – driving procedures, standing in line at the store procedures, and supervising your dog at the park procedures, to name a few – and they can help us at school, too. Rules, on the other hand, are meant to identify behaviors that are not allowed because they are hurtful to others (bullying), destructive to property (vandalism) or that seek unfair advantage (cheating). Broken rules are rare in a choice theory classroom, but the rules still need to be stated.

The real issue lies in how procedures and rules are applied. Broken rules in a traditional classroom lead to blame and punishment; while broken rules in a choice theory classroom lead to problem-solving and restoration of trust. The book Education, written in 1900, describes this process well –

“The true object of reproof is gained only when the wrongdoer himself is led to see his fault and his will is enlisted for its correction. When this is accomplished point him to the source of pardon and power. Seek to preserve his self-respect and to inspire him with courage and hope.”   Education, p. 292

Educators will have to decide for themselves regarding their expectations and plans for classroom management. Glasser stated strongly that any management plans based on the idea that students are the problem and that they need to be fixed will not be successful, and in fact will be destructive to student success. His battle cry was to change the whole system of how we teach and work with students. It seems to me that the effective use of procedures in the classroom is a part of changing the system. (For more on classroom procedures, check out Classroom Management (2015), by Harry Wong.)

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The Devil Made Me Do It

Flip Wilson

Flip Wilson

Flip Wilson, a comedian who many saw as “television’s first Black superstar,” became known for his hilarious skits that often included the phrase, “the devil made me do it!” People laughed as Geraldine (one of the characters Wilson often portrayed) described some fix she had gotten into or some misbehavior she had done, only to lament with great conviction that the devil had made her do it. (The following 3-minute audio recording captures Geraldine’s view of things quite well.)

 

Language is a powerful influence in our lives, not only in how our words affect others, but also in how our words affect us. Words affect the hearer; words affect the speaker. Our vocabulary very much becomes of a part of how we see the world. What we can put into words contributes to our forming a picture of what we see. This process is especially obvious as toddlers begin to communicate, as well as with ELL students in a school setting. As humans we see and perceive through our vocabulary.

We chuckle at Wilson’s emphasizing that the devil made him do it, but we can be just as capable of blaming something or someone else for our attitudes or behavior. “He makes me so mad,” we might hear, or “that makes me so happy” a friend will bubble. The words reflect a worldview that things outside of us control our thinking. The words confirm our belief that things outside of us make us behave one way or another.

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Choice theory reminds us that other people or circumstances don’t make us do anything. Circumstances may influence our decisions, but ultimately we choose a behavior that we think will best work for us at that moment. Choice theory also reminds us that the words we commonly use can help or hinder our mental health (i.e. – our levels of contentment and optimism vs. our levels of dissatisfaction and unhappiness).

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This is why Glasser loved verbs, even changing nouns to verbs as part of his desire to make a point. Instead of anger or being angry, Glasser explained how it is better to say I am angering or I am choosing to anger. It is interesting how powerful our words can be and how much they can influence our perception of things. Choice theory accepts that angering is an option, we just need to accept responsibility for it and not blame someone or something outside of us for our attitude.

On a spiritual note, Flip Wilson’s phrase – the devil made me do it – brought a passage to my mind from the little book Steps to Christ. It goes like this –

When Christ took human nature upon Him, He bound humanity to Himself by a tie of love that can never be broken by any power save the choice of man himself. Satan will constantly present allurements to incline us to break this tie—to choose to separate ourselves from Christ. Here is where we need to watch, to strive, to pray, that nothing may entice us to choose another master; for we are always free to do this. But let us keep our fixed upon Christ, and He will preserve us. Looking unto Jesus, we are safe. Nothing can pluck us out of His hand. In constantly beholding Him, we “are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. II Cor. 3:18           Steps to Christ, p. 72

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The devil can “present allurements” and can “entice,” but although Flip Wilson says otherwise, the devil can’t make us do anything. He certainly can’t separate us from God. As Steps to Christ points out, Jesus is bound to humanity by a tie of love that no power can break! No power on earth can break it, nor can any power throughout the universe. The only way this tie can be broken is if we, as individuals, choose to break it.

Choice theory wants us to use verbs as much as possible and learn to live responsibly, that is, to take ownership of our thinking and our behaving, rather than quickly blaming others. Living responsibly has a profoundly positive effect on our relationships with others, our relationship with God, and ultimately our outlook on life.

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Click on the book to quickly access it on Amazon.

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.

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