The Language of Choice

 ‘It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities’.

 J.K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets


I’ve just completed my basic intensive training in choice theory, and yes, it was intensive! It was also a really fun learning experience and I’m excited to do more.


Developed by the world renowned psychiatrist Dr. William Glasser, choice theory can help explain why we behave the way we do and help us understand how to make healthier choices in our lives. No matter how we’re behaving, we’re simply doing our best to get our needs met. Perhaps we’ve never been shown another way. Maybe we would use a more productive way if we knew better.


Choice theory recognises that we all have our own internal motivation. If this is allowed to blossom we can learn to make healthy choices for ourselves to satisfy our basic needs. Dr. Glasser maintains we have five basic needs: survival, love & belonging, freedom, power and fun. As we’re all made differently, power will be a strong need for some people while love and belonging will be most important for others and so on.


Based on these needs we each create a ‘quality’ world of people, places and things that are important to us. This includes our parents, siblings, home and hobbies etc. Our quality worlds are as unique as our DNA. If we can learn to have respect for each other’s quality worlds we can learn to negotiate differences without judging or criticising rather with support and understanding.


To help with relating we can cultivate the seven caring habits:

Supporting, encouraging, listening, accepting, trusting, respecting and negotiating differences. While we simultaneously avoid the seven deadly habits: Criticising, blaming, complaining, nagging, threatening, punishing and bribing or rewarding to control. What a relief to let those ones go. I’m sure everyone can relate to that awful feeling of being squashed flat while being fiercely reprimanded. During the course we used little dolls to represent those habits and banished them to a far corner of the room.


We cannot always choose what happens in our lives but we can choose how we respond to events and how we relate to others. Much of our world is controlled by external factors such as rules, timetables and laws necessary to keep order and avoid complete chaos. Within this system we can sometimes loose touch with our own part in things and feel we are just reacting or doing what’s expected of us. We sometimes say ‘they made me do it’ or ‘I have to put up with it’. Forgetting that we’re responsible for our own choices and if we’re not happy we can choose to make changes. We possess endless creativity! The only thing that stops us from coming up with new ideas or making new plans is fear. Fear of criticism from others or self-criticism that shoots down ideas before they have a chance to bloom.


In order make positive choices, how we think and what we do are very important. Our feelings and physical wellbeing grow from this. If we are feeling unhappy, we can explore what we’re thinking and doing in order to find the solution to our unhappy state. By changing what we’re thinking or doing we can change our feelings and physiology. It sounds so simple yet this involves taking full responsibility for our feelings, actions and thoughts; how we operate in the world. It’s no small thing.


My intention in doing this course was both for work and personal development. By far the most significant learning so far has been using it with my children and watching how we all relate better as a result of this new way of being. When we teach this to our children they become familiar with making positive choices and develop the ability to build happy futures for themselves (that’s the plan anyway!). Rather than criticising some of their more outlandish ideas (just our perception) we can say ‘that sounds interesting, how are you going to do that?’ or ‘how are you going to handle that situation?’ and see what ideas they have.


Allowing them to make mistakes and come up with their own answers is a way of building self confidence and strong decision making skills so when they head out on their own they will be accustomed to making their own choices and trouble shooting mistakes and obstacles.


Rather than criticism or praise we can ask ‘what do you think about that?’ ‘What did you learn?’ ‘What would you do differently next time?’ and keep asking questions instead of telling them what we think. That way they become strong negotiators with a strong sense of self-motivation.


Every day, little by little, I’m doing my best to practice the language of choice and become more aware of how I’m relating to others. This morning my son hadn’t yet washed his lunch box (it’s their job to have the lunch boxes ready). Instead of getting annoyed or giving out I said ‘do you want to take your noodles to school in the colander or clean your lunchbox so you can put them in?’ And I held out the colander amused by the idea of him balancing it on his bag. He got the point and the clean box appeared not long after. We do leave for school at 9am but it’s entirely up to them whether they go with or without their lunch, their coats, their hair brushed etc. I’m learning not to argue or complain anymore.


Some days I feel a little like I’m on an alien spaceship looking at everything through a new lens. I’m reprogramming my mind, at times painfully aware of my old ways of thinking and relating. Luckily I did the course with a great bunch of women some of whom I work with so I can have a laugh about this and discuss the journey over a cuppa instead of trying to figure it all out by myself. Choice theory has already brought me so much and opened a whole new way of relating. I’m excited to keep going and see how my life will change and evolve over the next couple of years as I learn and practice more.


For more information visit the William Glasser Institute at or on Facebook at The William Glasser Institute Ireland.


 Siobhán Daffy runs Natural Rhythms Homeopathy practice at Alethea Centre for families and individuals interested in using natural ways to build health and wellbeing. She also runs ‘Happy Healthy Children’ courses for parents.