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“Choice Theory” by William Glasser, a book I started years ago, set aside and finished recently, enlightens readers craving directions to bring chaos under control, but is not for the faint of heart. It may come as a rude awakening that you are the source of your own pain.

We are our own worst enemy. When we can no longer deal with reality, we depress. Glasser makes his point by converting adjectives into action verbs. Adjectives describe what happened to us, as in a depressed individual. Verbs express a choice – we choose to depress to avoid a different trauma. This is not about blame, but empowerment. We have the ability to make better choices. “A choice theory world is a tough, responsible world; you cannot use grammar to escape responsibility for what you are doing.”

I can see where this may anger some readers, but I found it liberating. I thought back on times when I developed a pain for no apparent reason, like when my chronic neck pain began. I never tied it to the drama in my life at the time, but this book convinced me there was a connection. I see the value of facing issues head on rather than allowing them to manifest into a physical ailment.

Glasser uses the term “quality world” to represent a unique, personal world that we create from birth and fill with pictures of what we think we need. It starts with our parents, and expands to others as we develop other relationships, experiences and beliefs. But sometimes we need to remove people or things from our quality world in order to be happy.

As I was reading this, I realized why I have distanced myself from certain people for one reason or another – I needed to remove them from my quality world to be happy. If I allowed them to play a vital role in my life, I would have carried the burden of sadness, anger or pain. By removing them from my quality world, they could no longer trigger these emotions because they didn’t matter to me any more. Had I not removed them, I may have turned these emotions inward. “We all need happy, supportive people in our quality worlds.” However, Glasser also points out the alternative. Rather than eliminating people from our quality world, sometimes we just expect less and less of them so we are not disappointed.

In the chapter on choice theory in the workplace, the author explains that the wealthy maintain a picture of prosperity in their quality worlds. However, prosperity is fragile and thrives only until unrestrained greed takes center stage. Glasser cautioned that “if these pictures raise their heads too high, the present years of low inflation and high employment will come to a screeching halt.” The book was written before the Wall Street fiasco in 2008. How did he know?

Some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Other people can neither make us miserable nor make us happy. All we can get from them or give to them is information. But by itself, information cannot make us do or feel anything. If goes into our brains, where we process it and then decide what to do.”

“There is a lot of security in a plan; there’s a sense of control, it’s what you can do.”

On the words choose and choice: “They are very empowering words that help us all to understand that no matter what happened in the past, we can still make a better choice today.”


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