What is Choice Theory?

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Choice theory is a cognitive science framework that explains how human decision-making has evolved to be largely goal directed and autonomous. The idea of choice theory is not new, but its recent popularity stems from the way it relates to autism.

Choice Theory is a theory that explains how people with autism experience the world. It is based on the idea that we are all born with innate preferences for certain stimuli, and these preferences can be changed by our environment. Choice Theory was first proposed by the psychologist Ellen Langer, who has also written a book about it.

Although there are other theories regarding behavior, some educators and therapists are “choosing” choice theory above other motivating strategies. How does choice theory affect clients? How does it vary from cognitive behavior analysis?

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choice theory explanation

Dr. William Glasser is the author of the choice theory. Choice theory places a strong emphasis on a person’s ability to choose their thoughts and behaviors. We are only able to manage our own actions, which leads to conflict. All conduct is selected, according to William Glasser’s view. According to the Glasser Choice Theory, all human conduct is motivated by the urge to satiate five fundamental human needs:

  • the desire for affection and approval
  • the desire for strength
  • the desire for freedom
  • the desire for amusement
  • the desire to live

According to the William Glasser idea, each and every one of these five fundamental wants is satisfied by the actions we do. We may make wiser and more responsible decisions as our ability to regulate ourselves grows. Seven Connecting Relationship Habits are advised to be used in all relationships, according to Choice Theory. These consist of:

  • Supporting
  • Encouraging
  • Listening
  • Accepting
  • Trusting
  • Respecting
  • Resolving Conflicts

On the other hand, Choice Theory highlights seven Disconnecting Habits that damage interpersonal connections. These key choice theory behaviors are used to exert control over others and eventually result in misunderstandings and anger. They consist of:

  • Criticizing
  • Blaming
  • Complaining
  • Nagging
  • Threatening
  • Punishing
  • Bribery and Rewards for Control

We each decide whether to use Disconnecting or Connecting Habits in our interpersonal interactions. Selecting Connecting Habits leads to fulfilling, constructive relationships.

Axioms: The Ten

Ten Axioms are also emphasized by choice theory. The first premise, that people can only regulate their own actions, has already been shown. The second is that information is all we ever provide or get from people. The third is that all persistent psychological issues are also interpersonal issues. We must have at least one fulfilling connection, according to axiom number four. The others include

• Although our identity is greatly influenced by our history, it does not imprison us.

• Five genetic requirements govern our behavior.

• We create “quality worlds” in order to meet these demands.

• The four elements of acting, emotion, thinking, and physiological make up all behavior.

• Freedom comes from realizing that everyone of us is in charge of our own actions.

• We only have “direct control” over our actions and thoughts, but we may use these to exert indirect control over our emotions and physiology.

The World of Quality

William Glasser theories emphasize the concept of The World of Quality.  The World of Quality is a place in the mind where people store mental pictures of what they find important.  They might store images of places, things, beliefs, and people who matter to them.

Glasser believed that images in a person’s Quality World make them feel good and meet at least one basic need.  These pictures don’t need to align with society’s standards and are unique to each person.  Our idea of a perfect life resides in The World of Quality.

The World as Perceived

Obviously, reality doesn’t reside in The World of Quality.  Choice Theory states that we experience the real world through our perceptions.  We gather information from our five senses and then pass it through our Total Knowledge Filter.

Everything we have encountered throughout our lives is included in the Total Knowledge Filter. We have to decide what to do in the face of fresh facts. We can:

  • Neglect the information.
  • I think the data could be significant, but I need to look at it further.
  • Identify the information’s significance and send it to the valuing filter.

A value is assigned to data that has gone through the valuing filter.

  • Information that is enjoyable is given a positive value.
  • Information that is unpleasant is given a negative value.
  • Information in the middle is seen as neutral

It’s a really personal procedure. Our opinions might be quite different from those of our peers. According to Glasser, reality is what we perceive it to be. It is:

  • dependent on a multitude of factors, such as gender, age, education, and experience; subjective
  • personalized to each person
  • always evolving as we learn new things
  • Probably incorrect (but feels accurate at the time)

How does it function?

We are aware that helping clients change their behavior or way of thinking may change how they feel and how their bodies react to stress. Education is a great illustration of this. Students who are discouraged by their failure to master certain ideas and acquire particular talents may be instructed to reframe their conceptions of what a good life is for them.

Other iterations of choice therapy focus on previous actions and require the patients to address the “triggers” of such behaviors in order to stop them in the future. Choice Theory and Real-Time Counseling, one of its components, do not dwell on the past, according to an article in Psychology Today. They advise customers to focus on the here and now (the reality). They challenge them to think about potential behavioral adjustments that they may make to better achieve their goals in life (or the perception they have of their quality worlds).

Total Behavior is another invention of Glasser. Four elements make up total behavior, including:

  • acting
  • thinking
  • feeling
  • physiology

People only have power over their own actions and thoughts. There isn’t much we can do to immediately alter our sentiments or physiological reactions, like panic attacks. Our body and emotions alter when we have direct control over the components of behaving and thinking. Indirect changes in such areas result from direct changes in ideas and deeds.

In order to foster collaboration and connection with others, Choice Theory advises individuals to form connections that produce “quality worlds.”

Real-Time Counseling


Real-Time Counseling was created using the principles of choice theory. The main objective of Real-Time Counseling is that clients make adaptive decisions that will help them meet their basic human needs. Glasser did not believe in mental illness, per se. Instead, problems were the result of unfulfilled goals. He believed mental illness was an expression of unhappiness.  Because choice theory deals in the here and now, the client is asked to focus on the present rather than rehashing past experiences.

Real-Time Counseling emphasizes the client-therapist relationship. It is thought that the therapeutic relationship serves as a model for other relationships in the client’s life. Indeed, Glasser believed that many psychological problems are relationship problems. It is the therapist’s job to guide the client toward making the choices that will yield the most positive interpersonal outcomes.

Real-Time Counseling is a problem-solving approach. A client must understand that their current behavior is ineffective and work to change it for the better.  This is how they realize their objectives. The successful client will learn to take responsibility for their actions and make a commitment to enact more adaptive behavior.

Real-Time Counseling is effective with numerous problems, including addiction and other behavioral disorders. Real-Time Counseling has shown the most success helping adolescents address behavior problems in school and the community.

Theory of Rational Choice

Theory of Rational ChoiceTheory of Rational Choice is another offshoot of Glasser’s Choice Theory.  Theory of Rational Choice states that people make decisions based on analyzing the pros and cons of a situation. This means that people weigh the costs and benefits of potential choices before settling on a course of action.

Theory of Rational Choice assumes that all behavior is rational and actions can be studied for underlying rational motivations.  Originally conceived as an economic theory, Theory of Rational Choice is a way to understand how people make decisions to maximize their money. As time has passed, however, Theory of Rational Choice has evolved to include all areas of human decision making, including sociology and political science.

Under the assumption of Theory of Rational Choice, all human behavior can be seen as a way to meet individual needs. For example, relationships are assessed by the benefits they provide a person. According to Theory of Rational Choice, human interaction is a transactional process where the perceived gain is emphasized over other motivations.

Consequences for Criminology

Theory of Rational Choice also extends to the study of criminology. It posits that criminal behavior is a premeditated decision where the criminal has concluded that the benefits outweigh the potential risks of their actions.

For example, a bank robber will conclude that the financial reward from the heist justifies the risk of being hurt or going to prison. It should be remembered that just because a decision is sensible doesn’t guarantee it’s the best one. It only refers to the act of doing a cost-benefit analysis.

Summary of the William Glasser Choice Theory

In its purest form, William Glasser Choice Theory states that we make decisions to fulfill our basic needs. It is posited that humans have a desire to make choices that they feel will benefit themselves. Unfortunately, that does not mean that faulty decisions won’t lead to poorer outcomes. However, it has been found that Real-Time Counseling can help people to improve their problem-solving abilities. With its roots in classic behaviorism, Choice Theory has made important contributions to the study of economics, political science, sociology, and psychology.

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Choice theory is a model of human motivation, which describes how people make decisions and feel satisfied. There are 5 basic needs that must be met for humans to feel satisfied: autonomy, competence, relatedness, security and transcendence. Reference: choice theory 5 basic needs.

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