Reality Check: The Available Choices

Are you ever in a situation where you have no good choices? It’s especially difficult if you can picture the perfect choice. You wish that option was available; you might even mislead yourself into believing it exists, when in fact, it doesn’t.

When we cling to the idea that there should be a perfect option, we can hold ourselves back from recognizing the “not-great-but better-than-nothing” options that do exist.

As an example, let’s take another look at a mom-daughter situation described by Dr. Glasser in “Choice Theory.”

To recap, a relationship that had once been good is now awful, primarily because mom perceives that the daughter is not pitching in. Mom responds with anger when she comes home to find a mess.

Glasser’s suggestion to mom is to try an experiment. Stop the yelling and the blaming. Have pleasant conversations, nurture the relationship, make the dinner, do the cleanup herself. See what happens.

It might sound like Glasser is letting the daughter off the hook and putting the onus for change entirely on mom.

However, it was mom who came to Glasser for help, so it is mom to whom Glasser can make suggestions. The only behaviour that mom can control is her own, so if there is to be a change, then it would have to come from her.

Had the daughter come looking for help, Glasser would undoubtedly have suggestions for her. Suggestions are offered to the person who asks.

Now, if you’re not convinced that this “do all the work yourself while you nurture the relationship” suggestion is a good one, let’s examine what else mom could choose.

One option is for Mom to continue what she’s doing now. She can storm around and attempt to coerce the daughter into cleaning up. How is that working for her?

Mom has headaches, a lousy relationship, and still ends up doing the work. Plus, she’s resenting every moment. It’s not a great choice.

Another option is to withdraw. Mom has the power to not care how the house looks. She can skip the time-consuming meals and get takeout. She could ignore her daughter. That’s a possibility. What’s the likely result?

Mom prefers a tidy house, so living in a mess won’t enhance her happiness. And if mom withdraws, her daughter may think, “If mom doesn’t care, why should I?” Will that lead to improvement?

The option that Glasser suggested is to continue doing the meal prep and cleanup but to separate those activities from the relationship with her daughter.

Mom’s doing the work by herself now. She may as well choose to demonstrate happiness while doing it, and let go of the expectation that her daughter “should” be helping. After all, how has that expectation worked?

It isn’t helping her headaches, nor is it inspiring her daughter to develop a sense of responsibility. And it is highly likely that unless mom does something to improve the relationship, the outcome will get worse as time goes on.

If only there were an option that would have the daughter playing soft music, with a healthy snack waiting for mom as she enters the sparkling house! But if that option doesn’t exist, consider this: Will Glasser’s suggestion lead to improvement? Possibly. Is it worth a try? That’s mom’s choice.

While this is a relationship example, there are broader applications. When we choose where to work, how to live, who to vote for—all of the options may seem horribly flawed. And maybe they are.

But decisions aren’t usually, “There’s a perfect option and a lousy option, which will I choose?” It’s more likely a choice among less-than-perfect options. The question becomes, “Which option more likely leads toward the direction I want?”

How do you deal with less-than-perfect choices?

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