Redefining Your Personal Freedom - The Application

Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom - William Glasser M.D. 1998

Redefining Your Personal Freedom
The Application

THROUGHOUT THE BOOK, I have stressed how much more personal freedom we have if we are willing to replace external control psychology with choice theory in our lives. Now I focus on what I call the ten axioms of choice theory. It is through these axioms that we are able both to define and redefine our personal freedom.


1. The only person whose behavior we can control is our own. In practice, if we are willing to suffer the alternative—almost always severe punishment or death—no one can make us do anything we don’t want to do. When we are threatened with punishment, whatever we do we rarely do well.

When we actually begin to realize that we can control only our own behavior, we immediately start to redefine our personal freedom and find, in many instances, that we have much more freedom than we realize. If we don’t do what we are told, we can decide how much personal freedom we are willing to give up. For example, when a wife says to her husband, Unless you treat me better I am going to leave you, she is in the process of redefining her freedom. It is always her choice to leave; what she has to choose now is how much freedom she is willing to give up if she stays. In terms of taking control of our own lives, which is always possible, we have to continually decide how important freedom is to us.

Think of how much time you spend trying to get others to do what they don’t want to do and how much of your time is spent resisting others who are trying to get you to do what you don’t want to do. Think of Tina, wasting time trying to get Kevin to propose, time she learned to spend on contributing to the happiness of their relationship. When she learned that she could control only her own behavior, she had more freedom to do what was best for the relationship.

2. All we can give or get from other people is information. How we deal with that information is our or their choice.

Think again of Tina. When she finally accepted that all she could give Kevin was information but that she had total control over what information she gave him, she had the freedom to stop nagging and say what got them closer together. She had much more freedom when she gave up worrying about what she couldn’t do: control Kevin. A teacher can give a student information and help him or her use the information, but the teacher can’t do the work for the student. When you get out of that trap, you regain a lot of freedom that you voluntarily gave up when you felt responsible for students who chose not to work.

3. All long-lasting psychological problems are relationship problems. A partial cause of many other problems, such as pain, fatigue, weakness, and some chronic diseases—commonly called autoimmune diseases—is relationship problems.

There is no sense wasting time looking at all aspects of our lives for why we are choosing misery. The cause of the misery is always our way of dealing with an important relationship that is not working out the way we want it to. Until we face that fact, we have no freedom; we locked ourselves into an endless, impossible task. There is no guarantee that we can solve this problem, but there is an absolute guarantee that if we don’t face it, we will never solve it.

4. The problem relationship is always part of our present lives.

We don’t have to look far for the relationship. It is not a past or future relationship; it is always a current one. It is here that we have to redefine freedom. We can be free of many things, but we are never free to live happily without at least one satisfying personal relationship. To get the most freedom in the relationship is a task that I covered over and over in this book, but it can never be a totally free choice. What the other person wants must always be considered, so in a relationship such as marriage, the freedom we can have must be continually redefined as the relationship changes over time. The solving circle is a good vehicle for two people who know choice theory to use in redefining their freedom.

5. What happened in the past that was painful has a great deal to do with what we are today, but revisiting this painful past can contribute little or nothing to what we need to do now: improve an important, present relationship.

Here we have a chance to free ourselves of the idea that it is important to know our past before we can deal with our present. It is good to revisit the parts of our past that were satisfying but leave what was unhappy alone. Most of the time we actually know what happened, but sometimes, if it was very traumatic, our creative systems have stepped in and erased those miserable memories. The argument that if we don’t know our past, we are doomed to repeat it is incorrect. Our task is to do what we can to correct our present relationship. We are not doomed to repeat our past unless we choose to do so. Using choice theory we can correct our present unsatisfying relationships with behaviors that are satisfying to both parties. If we believe we cannot function in the present until we understand our past, then we have chosen to be the prisoners of what is over. This is hardly a way to feel more free.

6. We are driven by five genetic needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun.

These needs have to be satisfied. They can be delayed but not denied. Only we can decide when they are satisfied. No one else can tell us. We can help others, but we can never satisfy anyone else’s needs, only our own. If we attempt to satisfy other people’s needs, we lock ourselves into an impossible task. In locking ourselves into anything, we lose freedom.

7. We can satisfy these needs only by satisfying a picture or pictures in our quality worlds. Of all we know, what we choose to put into our quality worlds is the most important.

The most freedom we ever experience is when we are able to satisfy a picture or pictures in our quality worlds. If we put pictures into our quality worlds that we cannot satisfy, we are giving up freedom.

8. All we can do from birth to death is behave. All behavior is total behavior and is made up of four inseparable components: acting, thinking, feeling, and physiology.

9. All total behavior is designated by verbs, usually infinitives and gerunds, and named by the component that is most recognizable. For example, I am choosing to depress or I am depressing instead of I am suffering from depression or I am depressed.

Accepting this axiom is uncomfortable for external control believers. But failing to understand it takes away a lot of freedom. To choose to stop depressing is a wonderful freedom that external control people will never have. These people think the miserable feeling is happening to them or is caused by what someone else does. As soon as we say, I’m choosing to depress or I am depressing, we are immediately aware it is a choice, and we have gained personal freedom. This is why designating these choices by verbs is so important.

10. All total behavior is chosen, but we have direct control over only the acting and thinking components. We can, however, control our feelings and physiology indirectly through how we choose to act and think.

Understanding that we cannot directly control our feelings and our physiology, only our actions and thoughts free us to avoid what we cannot control. It is not easy to change our actions and thoughts, but it is all we can do. If we succeed in coming up with more satisfying actions and thoughts, we gain a great deal of personal freedom in the process.

Whenever you feel as if you don’t have the freedom you want in a relationship, it is because you, your partner, or both of you are unwilling to accept the choice theory axiom: You can only control your own life. Until you learn this axiom, you will not be able to use any of the choice theory ideas such as the basic needs, the quality world, and total behavior. But once you learn it, all of the choice theory becomes accessible to you. You can then freely choose to move closer to the people you want to be close with no matter how they behave. But the more they, too, learn choice theory, the better you will get along with them. Choice theory supports the golden rule. To gain the freedom to use it is the purpose of this book.