Have you ever questioned why people make the decisions they do or why they act in a certain way? Choice Theory is one method that may help to better understand an individual’s decisions and actions.
Choice Theory, developed by Dr. William Glasser, is “based on the simple premise that every individual only has the power to control themselves and has limited power to control others.” Many mental health professionals use Choice Theory to empower individuals in taking ownership of their own decisions so they can work to positively change their lives through their actions. This method stems from the belief that all behaviors are purposeful and are most often an attempt to satisfy one of our five basic needs – survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun.
Our 5 Basic Needs
- Survival – The need to be healthy and safe.
- Love and Belonging – The need to be connected to others, to love, and be loved.
- Power – The need to achieve and accomplish, to make a difference, to build self-esteem.
- Freedom – The ability to have choices, be independent, to move freely.
- Fun – The need to play, laugh, to enjoy, relax.
Each person prioritizes these needs in a different order. So, while your highest need may be love and belonging, your friend’s highest need may be freedom. When together, your needs may not align, and you will find conflict in making decisions as you are both trying to serve a different basic need. The five basic needs remain constant throughout our lives, but the importance of each and the behaviors we use to meet the needs can change as we change and grow as a person.
Decision Making Process
Choice Theory believes that no one makes decisions to be “bad,” they are only simply making the best choice they can at the time to meet their priority need. An example from Headstuff.org says a teenager starting to smoke might be meeting a ‘love and belonging’ need – validation from the group – and maybe also meeting their power need – rebelling against parents, taking agency over their own body and choices. As the teen grows, they may find different, more positive behaviors that meet these needs such as positive personal relationships, joining groups, and using their talents to serve a greater good or find success.
It’s helpful to look at yourself first when assessing someone through the eyes of Choice Theory. Work to understand how you prioritize your five basic needs and the behaviors and choices you make to meet those needs on a regular basis. Then, you can begin learning more about someone else’s needs and behaviors and find the areas that can help strengthen your relationship and build positive interactions and support.
This blog article was contributed by Andrew Sheely, Clinical Director for Nexus-Mille Lacs Family Healing, an agency of Nexus Family Healing.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 45 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.