Reality Check: Dr. Glasser’s influence

Dr. William Glasser passed away recently. Even though it’s less than a decade since I first became aware of choice theory and reality therapy, Dr. Glasser’s work now influences almost everything I do.

There are plenty of theories about why humans behave as we do, and you can find lots of advice about how to live a happier, more satisfying life. Some advice conflicts with other advice! How can you know what will work for you?

I find some aspects of Dr. Glasser’s approach particularly effective. This seems like an appropriate time to make a list of those. Let’s see if you find something helpful for you!

  • Personal freedom comes from recognizing that we have choices in how we behave. Dr. Glasser uses the simple example of the ringing phone as a reminder of that freedom. The phone doesn’t make us answer it. We choose to answer it (or not.) We may answer out of habit, or curiosity, or other reasons. But the choice—to act or not to act—is ours.
  • Personal responsibility comes with those choices. Just as the phone doesn’t make us answer it; other people don’t make us behave, either. That means that someone else can’t “make” us mad, sad, or glad. It’s not someone else’s responsibility—not parents, friends, or spouses—to make us feel happy or fulfilled. We bear those responsibilities for ourselves.
  • Self-evaluation works. We humans tend to not make changes (that stick) unless we have decided for ourselves that we want to. Choice theory reminds us to evaluate—for ourselves—whether what we are doing is effective for us.
  • We can’t control others, but we can offer information. Sometimes the most helpful question a friend can ask is, “How well is what you’ve been doing working for you?”
  • It’s helpful to know what you, and others, want. Being clear about what you want can help you make more effective choices. And understanding what others want is helpful if you want to get along with them!
  • The present is where we can take action. We can learn from the past (as in, “How did that work for you?”) but rehashing old miseries or injustices will not likely lead to a satisfying present. As Glasser has said, one trip through the misery is plenty.
  • The caring habits are a set of instructions for closer, more satisfying relationships. Remembering to practice habits such as encouraging, supporting, respecting, and trusting, rather than using controlling habits such as criticizing, blaming, or complaining, will lead to more satisfaction in your life and your relationships.
  • His drug-free stance. Controversially, Dr. Glasser maintained the position that promoting “brain drugs” as a cure for depression, anxiety, or many other conditions was not effective. “…they promise a hope they cannot fulfill…” His alternative—to provide information to help people get more effective control over their lives—is an empowering, optimistic approach.

For me, the primary influence of Dr. Glasser’s work is its reminder to focus on what I can control—my own actions—rather than the many things I can’t control.

Do any of these principles play a role in your life?

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