What is Choice Theory?

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By William Glasser, M.D.

Choice theory is a new psychology developed by Dr. William Glasser when he realized that all his psychiatric work was based on people choosing what they do so he decided to call what he practices choice theory.

By learning to put choice theory to work in your life, you can improve your relationships with all the people who are important to you. You can also teach choice theory to someone else who then can use it to improve his or her important relationships. Since we are social beings, the need for satisfying relationships is encoded into our genetic structure. The more our genes are satisfied, the healthier we are. Therefore, improving our relationships is improving our mental health.

What he calls a psychology is a usual way of dealing with other people in certain situations. For example a car sales person will use a sales psychology when approaching people who come into the showroom. A mother will use a bedtime psychology when she has difficulty putting her children to bed.

Right now all over the world, people rich or poor, of all races, religions and political persuasion use an ancient world psychology which he calls external control when they have difficulty getting along with other people, especially people they want to get along well with, usually spouses, family, friends, teachers, fellow students, fellow workers and bosses. This occurs because we live in an external control world. Almost all of what is now wrongly called mental illness can easily be traced back to too much external control.

Even though people who use external control believe it will help them to get along better with the people they use it with, it actually does the opposite. External control will always increase the difficulty between the disagreeing parties. If it is continued it can destroy the relationship it was intended to help. Almost all people who divorce have no idea where their initial, strong, positive feeling for each other has gone. Choice theory teaches this early love was destroyed by one or usually both using external control as the marriage progressed.

External control is destructive because one or both parties will attempt to control the other so the other does what the controlling person wants. If it is used in a marriage, the partners use it on each and other and as they do the marriage goes rapidly downhill. If one partner gets control he or she may be happy but the other will be more miserable and increase his or her resistance. The actual resistance usually starts with anger but most often the anger is changed into depression, anxiety or any of the four hundred plus symptoms that are wrongly diagnosed as mental illness in a book called the DSM-IV. A better title for that book is the big red book of unhappiness. These unhappy people need each other but don’t know how to get along.

Choice theory is the opposite of external control: It is a self-control psychology. Those who practice it have learned that they choose everything they do. They learn they can control their own choices but they can’t control what anyone else chooses. Basically, choice theory explains that whenever we deal with any person we want to get along well with, we should be careful to replace any external control with choice theory.

Specifically, external control leads all who use it to practice the Seven Deadly Habitsthat destroy relationships. These are criticizing, blaming, complaining, nagging, threatening, punishing or bribing or rewarding to control. Remember once the sentence is out of your mouth you can’t reach out and put it back in. Nor can you erase a look on your face or an upward out-ward roll of your eyes. Choice theory urges all of us to replace the deadly habits with the Seven Caring Habits: supporting, encouraging, listening, accepting, trusting, respecting and negotiating differences.

Keep in mind that the unhappiness caused by our not being able to get along with the people we want to get along with is the basic problem. But unhappiness is not mental illness. Our normal brains are perfectly capable of using external control to the point of suffering any symptom in the DSM-IV. While we may not be mentally healthy, we are not mentally ill. There is nothing wrong with the structure or chemistry of our brains. Learning to put choice theory to work in our lives can bring back happiness or mental health.   

For more info, If you would like to know more about Choice Theory, or take part in one of the workshops held by ACT SA | Association for Choice Theory South Africa, or take part in Choice Theory, Reality Therapy & Lead Management Training, you can CONTACT us with your query.

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Image result for adjustmentsI recently met a young couple on their honeymoon and who also were 3 months pregnant.

Having had 2 children myself, my first comment, after congratulating them of course, was: “And how are you doing?”

What followed were giggles and sighs in reporting morning sickness, nausea, not able to do wine tasting, and needing a lot of naps! Something that was not planned when going on an extensive trip in Southern Africa for your honeymoon. The future dad went on to add: We have learned to make adjustments. – And this is the one word which actually defines what life with a child is about. “Learning to make adjustments”.

Becoming a parent, especially for the first time, is a life-changing event which involves inevitable changes.

A child changes everything and  without adjustments, life would become somewhat challenging.

Adjustments are required from a health perspective of the carrying mom, as she will now need to take care of herself differently with a child inside her. Better eating habits are recommended and of course, if the mom used to smoke or drink, for example, she will need to stop, as another life needs to be considered when making choices which were originally just for herself.

So even when a child isn’t born yet, adjustments are necessary at a very early stage, and ought to be considerate of the child’s needs, at all times.

When parents separate/divorce, adjustments will remain a priority.

While in most cases, there will be a parenting plan drawn, parents must never let go of the need to be able to adjust.

It is not uncommon for separating/divorcing parents to become less flexible and even become rigid in following their parenting plan, but parents need to understand that, for children to grow up healthy and happy, adjustments need to be considered and allowed.

Just like the day you welcomed the news of becoming a parent and exploring the unknown of many required adjustments, a separation/divorce will again change your daily life. Your normal routine will once again require the process to adpat or becoming used to a new situation and with the need to adjust you may find yourself feeling sad, confused, lonely, desperate and even angry. These feelings may motivate you to resist adjusting to a new routine, but reality is, without adjustments, you will face a guaranteed struggle.

Adjusting to your new life and the needs of the children, as well as your own, will take some time and must be welcomed and not seen as a threat.

Here are 3 things you can do to welcome adjustments:

  1. Realise change is normal, even if the event leading to change is stressful.
  2. Acknowledge that your future is going to be different. Understanding that change brings about a different future will help you avoid being anxious while you are making adjustments.  How you adjust and perceive the change is key to how well you will move forward.
  3. Know when to seek help. If making adjustments are mostly a source of conflicts, explore getting help to manage your emotions. Running to an Attorney or going to court every time a change is required will bear more stress on you and your children then the actual required adjustment.

The Law doesn’t raise children. Parents do!

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In light of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the #MeToo movement started by Alyssa Milano has opened the door to many women to come forth with their tragic abuse experiences, which, for a long time, they felt they had no choice but to keep quiet about it.

Ellen Degeneres said: “This is not a male thing or a female thing. It is not a Hollywood thing or a political thing. This is a human thing. And it happens in the workplace, it happens in families, it happens all over the world, and we are all the same. We all want the same thing—we want respect and love and kindness.” 

In my line of work, I see many women (although men are not excluded) who have been abused within their marriage/relationship, and who fail to acknowledge that abuse is not just about being raped or abused by someone they barely know or a complete stranger. It also happens with people we are extremely close to. People we trust and people we ultimately believe we are safe with.

While rape is a most tragic experience, abuse comes in many forms and it is equally tragic to whomever goes through it.

The important point here is that we must understand that we always have a choice. We may not have a choice to avoid the abuse at the time, but we have a choice to take a stand and come forward. We have a choice to voice and claim our rights. We have a choice to not be confined to feeling shame and be silenced by a belief that the abuser has control over us.

For the many victims of abuse, coming forward is not so much about putting their perpetrator away, as it is to come clean with the fact that it is not shameful to have been subjected to it, because one recurring opinion of victims who have kept silent, is that they felt shame and lacked support.

Thank goodness this is now changing.

When abused, we are often left doubting as to what we may have done to cause it, or, if in a relationship, we need to bite the bullet. After all, we did say “for better or worse” …

Now while some people will argue that there are different levels of abuse and if moderate, we must just let it go, abuse is abuse. There is no line to be drawn. If something makes you feel uncomfortable in your relationship, If a partner does not respect what makes you uncomfortable and does not take into consideration that your discomfort is valuable, then it is abuse.

Abuse is ugly. Abuse is degrading. Abuse is manipulative. Abuse is not OK!

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Quick, quick … Now, now.

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For most people I meet, who are experiencing the ending of a relationship, they want a quick divorce, a quick fix to move on, an instant result to be able to turn the next chapter of their life.

While staying stuck in anger and ongoing battles over a period of life which is no longer, is not the solution, providing a quick fix is mostly unrealistic.

People need to realise that their outer problems reflect information about their inner issues.

Wanting things to be quick is not a problem, but speed is really just an illusion.

If you rush through things, you will miss many moments which only, later, will make you wish you had paused at that time.

Taking the time to be aware of your emotions and thoughts is very important, for it is the process you use to create your own experience.

It’s all about choice and understanding that the choices you make, how you choose to deal with your challenges, will determine the quality of your experiences.

So, as you face a problem, know that a quick fix is only meant to hold things together until you have discovered an effective long-term solution.

If speed needs to be valued for anything it’s to make the decision to begin your journey of self-discovery and healing with no further delay.

Invest in yourself to acquire the tools to face your varied challenges and acknowledge that your journey has no time frame, and when you are faced with an unpleasant time, instead, know that your life is not a marathon, but a journey that never stops to be explored.

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My kids are really mature!

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I hear many separating parents claim how mature their children are during their separation.

But think of it carefully. What would prompt you to acknowledge this?

If a separation is handled in a mature way, with both parents paying extra attention that whatever disagreement they may have does not involve the children. That their children remain carefree and able to enjoy their childhood the way they are supposed to. That they are free to love and be loved by both their parents, and, apart from adjusting to two homes, their childhood is being protected and nurtured by their parents, and their needs are being made a priority, then children are allowed to be children.

But if you find yourself thinking and telling people how mature your children are in the face of your separation/divorce, you must consider that for a child to act mature and understanding, they have been thrown in a situation which is not handled in a mature way, and find themselves forced to behave like this because their parents aren’t!

Consider why you shouldn’t be happy that your children are supposedly so mature.

If you had your child in your 20’s, then realise that your child has 20 something years, minimum, less life experience than you. That is a long time difference for them to catch up on, emotionally and psychologically, wouldn’t you say?

With this in mind, is it fair to claim that your child is acting mature in a breakup that their parents cannot manage pro-actively and maturely?

So if you find yourself thinking or saying that your children are so mature under the current circumstances, this ought to raise a red flag that, as the parents, you need to rapidly adjust your behaviour. Let this be the warning that your children are fast forwarding so quickly to be there for you and not be any added cause of concern to you, that they are missing out on just being kids.

You are the guardians of your children’s childhood memories.

Mature children are not something to be proud of. They are victims.


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Mediation vs Litigation

Many people ask me what exactly is Mediation and why is it better?

“Mediation is a voluntary process that can help two sides to reach an acceptable solution to their differences. A mediator can help the parties to examine ideas and options in a neutral, safe environment where they are both free to express their opinions.”

While the process is effective, it is important to consider the “voluntary” part.

Many unfortunately do not choose Mediation over Litigation, not because they do not believe in the process, but because it is voluntary! Yes, unfortunately, it is sad times when being required to take responsibility to discuss ideas and reach acceptable solutions is a choice that seems less favourable than the motivation of winning over the other person’s hurt.

You are angry at your ex, I get that! It’s not wrong. You are possibly processing deceit, lies and even betrayal. Any normal human being would feel hurt and angry, but, in facing this reality, your divorce/separation ought to be a solution and not become the nightmare of your future. Your divorce mustn’t become worse than was your relationship, otherwise you might as well stay unhappy together, wouldn’t you say?
Because of your anger, you now want things to go your way, and engaging in conflict seems the most logical way to get what you want.
Now while it is true that conflict will pave the way to have your way or the high way, it absolutely does not guarantee that your will be the winner. And if you do win, have you actually considered what it would mean to win? Is it getting more money? Is it destroying your children’s other parent? Then what? Do you believe that it would make you feel better, resolve your anger and heal your hurt?

Truth is, no amount of conflict will ever make you feel better. Even if you do get momentarily what you want, you will remain a hostage to your own hurt and anger, destroying any hopes to move on and make the most of your future.

In voluntarily, and by that, I mean consciously, choosing Mediation, you give yourself the opportunity to work through your emotions, recognise that truly getting what you want will be found in a win-win outcome, allowing your family to heal and for your children to keep the best of both their parents.

If your choice between Mediation and Litigation is still uncertain, ask yourself:
Would you rather waste money on your conflict or invest it in your children?
Would you rather waste time in courts or spend it creating happy memories with your children?
The choice boils down to that.

The Law doesn’t raise children, parents do!

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Your children need you

Image result for contribution to societyA divorce/separation remains one of the most traumatic life event with parents finding themselves at wits ends over their never-ending conflicts, expensive lawyers bills and court appearances, all in the name of what is in the best interest of the children.

What started off as 2 people starting a family with not too much thought about their future, apart from it being bright and happy, are now living a present hell and creating a future in which their children will grow up with no happy childhood memories (the competition of expensive presents and outrageous outings do not count), not being given the permission to love and be loved by their parents and feel that they are the reason why their parents had to make so many sacrifices and are in financial distress.

When things go wrong, parents expect the Law to take charge and establish what is acceptable and what is not, when in fact, parents are the sole custodian of their children and they are the ones who need to take responsibility for:

  • Their parental responsibilities
  • Their time spent with their children
  • And how they are hurting their children

Before you make a court case of your conflicts, remember that your separation is not your children’s separation. Stop wanting to defeat each other and move your focus from competition to contribution.

The Law doesn’t raise children, Parents do!


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The Right Choice or the Easy Choice

           Image result for you are free to choose                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  “A man cannot directly choose his circumstances, but he can choose his thoughts, and so indirectly, yet surely, shape his circumstances.” – James Allen




For many, making a choice is a very difficult task which is not always an option.

How many times do you hear yourself, or others for that matter, say: I have no choice.

How is this possible?

Did you know that NOT making a choice is a choice?

Think about it.

We may not always have a choice when facing the outcome of an event, but we do always have a choice in how we react to it.

For many, this idea comes from the belief that when we make a choice it is between good or bad, right or wrong, but in reality, making a choice is between what is right and what is easy.

We are always driven by what motivates us. When we are faced with making a choice, it needs to fit with what motivates us and more often than not, we will choose what is an easy way to get to it as opposed to the right way. It’s not wrong or bad per se, but to achieve meeting our motivation in an easy way is often selection to an inappropriate behaviour.

Making a “difficult” choice requires ownership and taking responsibility, if not for an outcome, then for our behaviour. In order to achieve this, we need to go deep inside our self and discover what we are really telling our self to fully understand how our behaviour may betray our choice, and it will allow us to create a plan for what we’ll do when a specific scenario comes up.

Here are  4 easy steps to practice making better choices:

  1. Question where is your motivation coming from?
  2. Clarify what you really want.
  3. Evaluate your current behaviour with If/Then statement
    • For exemple:
    • If I answer the email aggressively, then he will respond aggressively
    • If I answer the email mindfully, then I will open a platform to find a solution
  4. What are you prepared to do/think differently that will take you in the direction you want to go?

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To, For or With the kids?

Image result for parenting and divorceWhile a relationship breakup requires that many aspects of oneself and one’s life need to be re-looked, it is sad that one’s role as a parent often seems to be unclear.

While a divorce/separation will inevitably require that you adjust your family’s time, schedules and finances, as a parent your role and responsibilities remain unchanged! This needs to be clarified and understood with utmost urgency!

Yet a divorce/separation seems to transform individuals to a point where their parenting role and responsibilities are greatly challenged and even distorted.

As a parent, aside loving your children unconditionally, you need to recognise your responsibility to assist in your children’s development and you need to make choices that will determine your own behaviour in this life changing event.

The ending of your relationship has understandably hurt you and angered you, but this cannot become the grounds from which you will now raise your children, teach them about life and contribute to their childhood memories.

As a parent facing a separation, letting your emotions take over can have a huge effect on your children.

Here are 3 different ways to better understand how you may be relating to your children and the effect it may have on them.

There are parents who do things TO their children

In this instance, parents are motivated by their unresolved emotions. The decisions they are making as parents are based on their hurt and anger and are therefore self-centred. They are not doing things in the best interest of the children. They are making decisions to make themselves feel good and not considering the repercussions it will have on their children. Not supporting your children to have a loving relationship with both their parents and not contributing to their financial needs are the most common. Here, children are in the middle of your conflict and well on their way to grow up as damaged adults.

There are parents who do things FOR their children

These parents are addressing their children’s needs better, but do so to be recognised as a “good parent”. The focus remains on the parents and they are more concerned about what people may be thinking of them. They may be generous financially but miss to understand their child’s emotional needs. They may encourage their children to remain in touch with their other parent but unconsciously are raising children who will feel guilty having a relationship with their other parent. Doing something FOR your children is usually conditional and children are likely to learn being manipulative from a young age.

There are parents who do things WITH their children

These parents value their parenting time and parenting responsibilities. They nurture conditions for their children to grow up healthy and happy. They understand that raising children is a multi-year full time job which requires love, support and care inside and outside of the home. Children are allowed to be children and will collect happy childhood memories, feeling loved by and loving both their parents.

The Law doesn’t raise children, parents do!

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I have a choice

Image result for choiceMy journey with Choice Theory started 10 years ago when I picked up a book from William Glasser and began my emotional awakening.

Until I started learning Choice Theory, I was pretty much living my life believing I had no, or little, choice. I grew up with a set of inaccurate and outdated beliefs and questioned little when it came to how I was feeling.

Overall I’ve always been a happy person, but I was emotionally naive and therefore often attracted emotional predators in my life.

The biggest, and most freeing, realisation I acquired was, I do have a choice, not only in what I do, but in how I feel too. Yes that’s right. We do have a choice in how we feel and how we feel is chosen!

When I thought I had no choice in my life and was feeling miserable about it, I could now change this.

So, if feeling miserable is a choice, why do we even begin to choose feeling miserable? To begin with, it must be understood that at first we are not necessarily aware that we are doing it. Every behaviour has a purpose behind which lies a positive intention. When we feel sad, we get noticed and attract sympathy and comfort so, through our misery we get people to give us the attention that we are seeking. Other times our sadness will have a purpose to make someone feel guilty about what they have done that may have caused our sadness, in this case our sadness is manipulative. Now, while feeling sad is at first a normal response to an event in our life which we are perfectly allowed to feel, remaining sad and prolonging this behaviour is no longer serving our need for expressing our grievance, it serves our need for attention from certain people or control over them.

Becoming aware of this is the first step in claiming control over your life and acknowledging that you have choices, not only over what you are feeling, but over what you are trying to get.

You can begin this process of awareness that you can choose how you are feeling by thinking about  the last time you were feeling sad or upset, and ask yourself, what did you want that you were trying to get by feeling sad?

Food for thoughts.

Not making a choice, is a choice!

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