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Understanding total behavior

One of the axioms of Choice Theory/Reality Therapy is that all behavior is a total behavior and is composed of four parts: thinking, doing, emotions and physiology (physically what’s going on inside of us). All of these four parts are always going on at the same time. We often use the analogy of a car to explain total behavior, and these four parts are represented by the wheels of the car.

The front wheels are thinking and doing. We almost always have control over these front wheels. The only time we don’t have control over them is when we are under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, including prescription medications, when we are suffering from traumatic brain injury, or afflicted by a brain disease. We steer our car by controlling these front wheels and it’s important to remember that the front wheels drive the car. Let me repeat that because many people, including many health professionals, just don’t get it – the front wheels drive the car.

The back wheels are emotions and physiology (physically what is going on inside of us). We have indirect control over these back wheels. That means that if we want to change how we feel, either emotionally or physically, then we have to change the front wheels (what we choose to think and what we choose to do). The back wheels (emotions and physiology) don’t drive the car. The front wheels (thinking and doing) drive the car.

It’s also important to remember that because the thinking and doing wheels are on the same axle, if we want to change what we are doing then we can change what we are thinking. This is the basis for cognitive therapy. We can also change what we are doing in order to change what we are thinking. This is the basis for behavioral therapy (not to be confused with behaviorism - classical and operant conditioning).

Because the back wheels are, also, on the same axle, there is an intimate connection between emotions and physiology. When we talk about stress, for example, we are often referring to both emotional and physiological aspects of the total behavior of stressing.

Total behaviors are named after their most prominent part and, because they are verbs, they are either given an –ing ending (or have a “to” placed in front to denote an infinitive). For example, we would speak of the total behavior of “panicking” or say that someone is choosing “to panic,” in order to make this behavior a verb (which is what behavior is).

This is the part that often confuses people because they say, “Wait a minute. I’m not choosing this behavior. You’re full of it if you think I want to feel like this.” Sorry, but since we are almost always directly in control of what we are thinking and doing (with the exceptions, noted above), and we are indirectly in control of our emotions and physiology, we are in control of what we feel, both emotionally and physically. Panicking is so named because we have thoughts and behavior that cause the emotions and physiology we are experiencing and after which we name the total behavior. Because the emotion (of panic) is the most dominant aspect of the total behavior, we call it “panicking.” Because we are in direct control of our thoughts and behavior, we can choose to think something different and/or do something different in order to change the emotion and the physiology that is accompanying the emotion. Or, we can choose to think and do what we’ve always done and we’ll get what we’ve always gotten – panicking.

That said, let me point out that no one gets up in the morning and says, “Gee, today I think I’ll do some panicking,” any more than someone gets up and says, “Gee, today I think I’ll be a junkie.” That’s just crazy. We do everything we do because either it meets our basic, genetic Needs, or, we think it will meet our Needs, in some way. We don’t develop any pattern of behavior, however, that doesn’t meet our Needs. Yes, both panicking and using are patterns of behavior because they meet our Needs. That’s why we continue to do them. They aren’t the best total behavior we can choose (that’s why we talk to other people – to get suggestions for what else we can do to meet our Needs other than what we are currently doing), but they meet our Needs, so we continue to choose the thinking (that causes the doing) and doing that causes the emotions and physiology. And we will continue to make the same choice until we find another way to meet our Needs. Either that or we will just stop the behavior and then be miserable.

For behaviors such as panicking, cognitive behavioral therapy is the therapy of choice. Cognitive relates to thinking. Behavioral relates to doing. Cognitive behavioral therapy is about thinking and doing something different in order to change problematic emotions and physiology. If we want to steer our total behavior car in a different direction then we can change what we think and change what we do. Or, we can continue to think and do what we’ve always done and continue to get what we’ve always gotten. Did I already say that? Really? Well, let me say it, again. We can choose to think something different and/or do something different, or, we can continue to experience the misery in our lives. The choice is ours.

If you are having problems in life, don’t think psychiatric medications are the path for you, and would like to know more about total behaviors, choice theory, or reality therapy then I encourage you to pick up a copy of Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom by Dr. William Glasser. Choice Theory is the basis for Reality Therapy, one of the pre-eminent modalities in therapy for the last 40 years. You may also like his book, Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health.

You can also call Knoxville Center for Clinical Hypnosisat 865-851-8687. They are Reality Therapy Certifiedand do individual life coaching with Choice Theory Psychology as well as Choice Theory groups for five or more clients where the focus is on learning and understanding Choice Theory Psychology. Group rates are significantly less, of course, than individual life coaching sessions. Knoxville Center for Clinical Hypnosis is now located at Rhama Center, 9237 Middlebrook Pike, Knoxville, TN 37931. Chose to do something different and check them out!

Experiment with life. Nurture those you love.



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