I have been talking quite a bit about identity recently, and so today I want to introduce the theory that underpins the perspective I have, and has powerfully assisted me in understanding both others and myself.

Choice Theory, developed by Dr. William Glasser, it is all about how to live with greater personal choice. I highly recommend his book. I have taught this theory, in many countries, for many years. Universally, it has been well received, and on many occasions people have been shocked at how this theory has provided great insight into their lives.

So let’s start with the theory and then go to some stories.

There are several components Choice Theory, and each component offers a real gem of wisdom. There is a link at the end of this blog that you can click, which will connect you with a document highlighting the components I am talking about today.

The first component is about the needs we all have as human beings. Dr. Glasser proposes that human beings have four genetic psychological needs, just like we have needs at the physical level. These needs are extremely important because all our behavior is an attempt to meet one or more of them.  In addition, the needs are all equally important, like the four legs of a chair. You need them to exist in balance in order to really do well in life. So what are they?

The Needs Identified

Love and Belonging (not surprising), Power (a bit more of a surprise), Freedom (oh yes most of us know we have a need for freedom), and lastly, Fun – now that is not what most people expect. Fun as a genetic need may be quite a surprise, but not if you understand that it is linked to learning. The optimal way to learn is through fun and play… all we have to do is to watch children, and we can see this very clearly.

How Do They Come Into Play in Our Lives Every Day?

Why have I found understanding these needs to be so helpful?

I first saw the value thirty years ago, in raising our son Timothy. As a little boy it was very easy to see when he transitioned from love and belonging as his focus, to the need for power being center stage. This stage is often called this the “terrible twos” but, in fact it is a very natural transition for children. Having a sense of power is normal, and critical to healthy development. The problems arise when parents are not able to direct this need for power in appropriate ways. Channeling all the energy and creativity of a two or three year old is a big job, and a really important one. For me, understanding that Timothy’s need for power, was a really good thing. and helped me be more creative in engaging him in tasks and decisions that were suitable for his age.

We All Need Power

The need for power is as critical for adults as in children. Can you think of ways adults go after power? The first that comes to mind is wanting control, and how about wanting to be “right,” or the person who “knows it all.” These are all examples of the need for power, whether it is being met in a positive way or a negative way. Getting mad or using “put-downs” are also examples of power in action. It may seem easier to see the negative side of power than the positive side, but there are lots of examples of positive power, too. Knowledge and skills can give us a sense of power, helping others, random acts of kindness, etc., can all be empowering. Basically the more we can gain a sense of power from the inside versus “power over” others, the better off we will be.

Let Me Be FREE!

Right along with the need for power, is the need for freedom.

I used to present the need for freedom as the need for choices, but I realized it is more than just having choices. People can, in fact, have too many choices and not feel free at all. So what is freedom? It has many facets – physical freedom, the ability to move around; emotional freedom – being allowed to express a full range of feelings (not something I was encouraged to do as  a child); intellectual freedom, this involves creativity, imagination, visualization etc.; and we even have a need for physiological freedom – sun on our skin, bare feet, exercise, etc. When you think of a time when you felt really free, what comes to mind? How would you describe how you feel when you are really free? We all know what it feels like, so go ahead… right now… and take a moment to focus on a time when you felt free. Connect with that feeling as best you can.

Now, how often do you give yourself that feeling… what I call a “freedom” break? Many people, myself included, engage in what I call “fake freedoms.” We eat, have a coffee, some people smoke or drink, and some people go shopping to feel free. We call it “letting our hair down,” “relaxing,” or “retail therapy.” But it’s all a substitute for what we really want and, as any substitute, it will always leave us wanting more.

Here’s a Little Assignment for You…

So, I want to end this blog with an invitation – consider rating yourself on a scale from 0 – 10 for each of these needs. Now, put your focus on your lowest rated need(s) and see what you can do to meet that need more, over the course of this next week. Notice how you feel as you do this, and how your whole system responds.

Now, if guilt creeps in, please notice that as well, because that may be precisely what is hijacking you. (I’ll cover the topic of guilt in a later blog).

Okay, that’s it for now. Remember these needs are genetic, they won’t go away, and the choice you have is to meet them in a positive, proactive manner… or your system will find less positive and more destructive ways to meet them.

Have a great week and send me your comments!

To access the resource outlining the Genetic Needs in greater detail, click here.