Choice theory explains that all we ever do from birth to death is behave, and, LO3 with some exceptions, everything we do is chosen or at least generated from within ourselves. Every total behavior is our best attempt to get what we want to satisfy our needs. total behavior teaches that all behavior is made up of four inseparable but distinct components—acting, thinking, feeling, and physiology—that necessarily accompany all of our actions, thoughts, and feelings. Choice theory emphasizes thinking and acting, which makes this a general form of cognitive behavior therapy. The primary emphasis is on what the client is doing and how the doing component influences the other aspects of total behavior. Behavior is purposeful because it is designed to close the gap between what we want and what we perceive we are getting. Specific behaviors are always generated from this discrepancy. Our behaviors come from the inside, and thus we choose our destiny.
From Glasser’s perspective, to speak of being depressed, having a headache, being angry, or being anxious implies passivity and lack of personal responsibility, and it is inaccurate. It is more accurate to think of these as parts of total behaviors and to use the verb forms depressing, headaching, angering, and anxietying to describe them. It is more accurate to think of people depressing or angering themselves rather than having the behaviors thrust upon them from the outside world. When people choose misery by developing a range of “paining” behaviors, it is because these are the best behaviors they are able to devise at the time, and these behaviors often get them what they want.
When a reality therapist starts teaching choice theory, the client will often protest and say, “I’m suffering, don’t tell me I’m choosing to suffer like this.” As painful as depressing is, the therapist explains that people do not choose pain and suffering directly; rather, it is an unchosen part of their total behavior. The behavior of the person is the best effort, ineffective as it is, to satisfy needs.
Robert Wubbolding (personal communication, April 4, 2015) has added a new idea to choice theory. He believes that behavior is a language and that we send messages by what we are doing. The purpose of behavior is to influence the world to get what we want. Therapists ask clients what messages they are sending to the world by way of their actions: “What message do you want others to get?” “What message are others getting whether or not you intended to send them?” By considering the messages clients send to others, counselors can help clients indirectly gain a greater appreciation of messages they unintentionally send to others.