Learning Choice Theory and applying it in your life will help empower you by focusing on the things you have the power to influence or change instead of focusing on the plethora of things that happen that you don’t like and can do nothing about. It moves you from victim to survivor and ensures a happier life. Research has shown the importance of changing language to be more in line with one’s beliefs so here are ten things you will stop saying once you implement Choice Theory in your life. The changes can be initially painful, if you stick with it, you will find taking responsibility for your life also helps you change it and mold it in positive ways.
- I can’t. Whenever I hear someone who knows Choice Theory say I can’t, I like to remind them that they probably could but may not want to. To continuously remind yourself and others that you can’t do things that actually you can, results in a sense of helplessness and being controlled.
- You should/must. People have a tendency to become self-righteous when they believe they know what’s best for another person. I just listened to a client today who was frustrated that her husband kept working past what was comfortable over the weekend and now, is too sore to go to work. She was complaining that he has to take it easy. She may be correct . . . it might be better if he paced himself, but when you understand Choice Theory, you know that what you think is best is likely best for you, but may not be best for anyone else. My son shared a conversation he had with his wife. He asked her, “Do you know the difference between my mother and yours?” She didn’t know so he said, “Your mother tells us what to do and my mother makes suggestions.” I was thrilled he recognized that because I don’t ever want to tell someone else what they have to do. That’s not for me to say. It’s your life, your choice.
- I have to. There are a lot of things people think they do only because they “have to.” Over the years, audience members in my workshops have told me they have to eat, pay bills, pay taxes, mow their lawns and take care of their children. Tell anorexics they have to eat; they don’t. You don’t have to pay your bills but there will likely be consequences if you don’t. I personally know people who don’t pay their income taxes and they are not in jail. You don’t have to mow your lawn but you may have to pay a fine if you don’t. And as a person how worked in child welfare, I know only too greatly that there are a lot of people who don’t take care of their children. The only thing I truly know I have to do one day is die. Everything else from birth to death is a choice. We can often find solace with others who buy into the idea that they have to also but this doesn’t help us live an empowered life. When you understand you do everything because you choose it, they you can begin to look for your reason. The reason you eat is because you want to stay alive and not experience hunger. The reason you pay your bills is so you have a home with electricity and heat in the winter. You pay taxes so you can live in the United States and support its government, or you do it so you don’t get fined. You mow your lawn because having a well-manicured lawn feels great. You take care of your children because you love them and you want them to have the best possible. I is important to stop telling yourself there are things you have to do if you want to live a happy life. Instead remind yourself of your reason for doing it so you can tell yourself, “I want to do this.” [I want to distinguish between these choices and things that happen to you. You don’t choose to be assaulted. You don’t choose the fire that burns your house down. You don’t choose when loved ones die. However, you do choose your responses to these events.]
- I had no choice. This is an expression people use when they had no choices they like. There are always choices, you just may not like the options. If someone holds a gun to my head and wants to do something I’d never choose, I could fight back and I could die. There are choices, albeit nothing great but still there are choices.
- How did that make you feel? This is the typical counseling question and many counselors like to explore feelings. A Choice Theory person doesn’t ask this a lot because we know that our feelings are the direct result of our actions and thoughts so I’d rather know what you are thinking. Also, Choice Theory tells us that external things don’t make us feel anything. How we feel is a choice we make, especially after the initial assessment.
- Triggered is a word that often used in trauma work. It is normal for external sights, sounds, tastes and smells to conjure memories of the trauma. This is normal, just as it’s normal for you to have a fond memory of your favorite teacher when you smell someone wearing his cologne. Having those memories does not mean you need to act out a particular behavior. It’s not like you have a button somewhere and anyone can push it and trigger you into doing something you don’t want to do. Using the word trigger takes all power and control away from you.
- He/she made me . . . People often dodge responsibility by saying so-and so “made” them do this or that. It’s not true! You do what you do because you want to. Maybe you thought this person wouldn’t like you if you didn’t do it or you would lose your job is you didn’t do it or you would be disowned if you didn’t do it. All these things are possible consequences but they don’t make you do things. You choose what you do, choosing the best alternative available to you at the time but no one makes you choose a particular thing.
- I had no time. This sounds good and some people even believe it but if you are going to be totally honest, you had the same amount of time that anyone has – 24 hours in a day. If you believe you had no time, the truth is you didn’t prioritize what was being asked. Instead of saying, I had no time, say I didn’t prioritize this request. There may be reasons you choose not to do that because of the consequences to the relationship but understand that is the truth.
- I need vs. I want. In Choice Theory, there is a big distinction between needs and wants. Even if you want something, you may not get it but you can always, at least, get more of what you need. The needs are just five – Survival, Love & Belonging, Power, Freedom and Fun. These are the things you need in your life. Throughout your life, you collect pictures of things you want that satisfy those needs. Sometimes you can’t have the things you want but you can get what you need, like the Rolling Stones sang. If your partner leaves you, you may not be able to get them back but you can find other ways to meet your Love & Belonging need with friends, family, co-workers, pets and maybe even a new partner. When you know Choice Theory, you stop saying you need dinner, a new car or a girl/boyfriend. You don’t need those things. You need Love & Belonging. The rest are wants.
- As a Choice Theory counselor/coach, I am often asked, “How to I get him/her to _____________?” I respond by saying that’s the wrong question. As a Choice Theory person, you accept others as they are and look to change yourself. You can ask for what you want but if the other person doesn’t oblige you, then you want to look at what you will do to not be in distress over it. It may been you learn to accept this about another person, or it may mean you limit your relationship with this person or even end the relationship.
If taking responsibility and empowering yourself sound like something that interests you, you might be interested in taking a Choice Theory training. This is a four-day immersion experience that can change how you look at the world and elevate your happiness and satisfaction levels.
Thanks Kim. This is such a clear and concise description of choice theory. Very useful.