What Is The Choice Theory?

Unveiling the power of Choice Theory! Discover the key to creating a satisfying life and embracing positive change. What is Choice Theory?

By Rosewood Recovery Team
July 10, 2024

Understanding Choice Theory

Choice Theory is a psychological perspective developed by William Glasser in the early 1990s. It is based on the premise that individuals have the power to control themselves but have limited control over others [1]. This theory empowers individuals to take responsibility for their own lives while refraining from trying to direct the decisions and lives of others. It emphasizes personal choice, accountability, and the satisfaction that comes from meeting basic human needs.

The Basics of Choice Theory

At the core of Choice Theory is the belief that individuals have five basic human needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun. According to Glasser, these needs drive human behavior and influence the choices people make to satisfy them.

Basic NeedsSurvivalLove & BelongingPowerFreedomFun

These needs are universal and play a significant role in shaping individuals' thoughts, feelings, and actions. The fulfillment of these needs contributes to mental well-being and overall satisfaction in life.

The Evolution of Reality Therapy

Choice Theory evolved into Reality Therapy, which was introduced by Dr. Glasser in 1965. Reality Therapy emphasizes personal desires, evaluating the effectiveness of actions, and taking responsibility for one's choices. It encourages individuals to focus on present circumstances, make effective choices, and take action to meet their needs and achieve their goals.

By understanding Choice Theory and its evolution into Reality Therapy, individuals can gain insight into their own decision-making processes, take responsibility for their choices, and work towards leading more fulfilling lives. This approach promotes personal growth, stronger relationships, and reduced negative behaviors.

Understanding the basics of Choice Theory and the evolution of Reality Therapy provides a foundation for applying these principles in various aspects of life. Whether seeking personal growth, improving relationships, or making positive changes, Choice Theory offers valuable insights and tools for individuals to create a satisfying and meaningful life.

The Five Basic Needs

Choice theory, developed by William Glasser, posits that human behavior is driven by five genetically driven needs in hierarchical order: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun. These needs are essential to our overall well-being and play a significant role in shaping our behaviors and decisions.


Survival is the most fundamental need for all living beings. It encompasses the physical necessities required to sustain life, such as food, water, shelter, and protection from harm. Meeting the need for survival is essential for our existence and forms the foundation upon which other needs can be fulfilled.

Love & Belonging

Love and belonging are central to our emotional well-being. As social beings, we have an innate desire to connect with others, form relationships, and experience a sense of belongingness. This need includes both intimate relationships and a sense of belonging to a community or larger social group. Love and belonging are considered the most important needs for satisfying all other needs [3].


The need for power refers to our desire for autonomy, influence, and control over our lives. It involves having a sense of personal agency and the ability to make decisions that align with our own values and desires. Power is not about dominance or control over others, but rather about having a sense of personal empowerment and self-determination.


Freedom is the need to have choices and the ability to act upon them. It involves having autonomy and independence in making decisions, free from external constraints or limitations. The need for freedom allows individuals to express their individuality, pursue their goals, and live according to their own values and beliefs.


Fun is the need for enjoyment, pleasure, and a sense of playfulness in our lives. It encompasses activities that bring joy, excitement, and entertainment. Having fun is an important aspect of our well-being and contributes to our overall happiness and life satisfaction.

By understanding and recognizing these five basic needs, we can gain insights into our own motivations and behaviors. It is important to note that these needs are interconnected and influence one another. For example, love and belonging are considered the most important needs for satisfying all other needs. By addressing these needs in a balanced and fulfilling manner, we can work towards creating a more satisfying and meaningful life.

The Quality World Concept

In choice theory, one of the fundamental concepts is the "quality world." The quality world refers to an individual's personal collection of significant role models, possessions, and beliefs. It is an internal framework that serves as a reference for comparing and calibrating real-world experiences with ideal images. The quality world greatly influences an individual's behaviors and decision-making processes.

Exploring the Quality World

The quality world is unique to each person and is shaped by their upbringing, experiences, and values. It represents the things and people that individuals find important, meaningful, and desirable. These can include cherished relationships, personal achievements, material possessions, and even abstract concepts such as justice or spirituality.

Within the quality world, individuals hold images of what they believe would bring them happiness, satisfaction, and fulfillment. These images act as a compass, guiding their choices and actions. When individuals perceive that their real-world experiences align with the images in their quality world, they feel content and fulfilled. On the other hand, when there is a disconnect between their experiences and their quality world, they may feel dissatisfied or unfulfilled.

Influence on Interactions

The quality world concept has a profound influence on how individuals interact with others. People tend to seek relationships and connections that align with their quality world. They are naturally drawn to those who share similar values, interests, and goals. These relationships provide a sense of belonging and validation, reinforcing the perception that their quality world is valid and valuable.

Furthermore, the quality world plays a role in decision-making and behavior. Individuals are driven by their innate need to satisfy the five basic needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun. The quality world influences how individuals prioritize and pursue these needs. For example, someone with a strong need for love and belonging in their quality world may prioritize relationships and seek opportunities for connection.

Understanding the concept of the quality world can provide valuable insights into why individuals make certain choices and how they navigate their lives. By recognizing the significance of the quality world, individuals can better understand their own motivations and drivers, as well as the motivations and drivers of others. This understanding can foster empathy, improve communication, and facilitate personal growth and fulfillment.

The Axioms of Choice Theory

Choice Theory, as developed by William Glasser in the early 1990s, offers a framework of self-evident truths called the Axioms of Choice Theory. These axioms serve as guiding principles for decision-making and actions, ultimately contributing to personal growth and development. Let's explore these axioms in more detail.

Self-Evident Truths for Decision-Making

  1. The only person we can control is ourselves: According to Choice Theory, individuals have control over their own thoughts, feelings, and actions. While we cannot control others, we have the power to make choices that shape our own lives.
  2. All we can give another person is information: Instead of attempting to control or manipulate others, Choice Theory emphasizes the importance of providing information to help individuals make informed choices. By sharing knowledge and understanding, we empower others to make their own decisions.
  3. All long-lasting psychological problems are relationship problems: Glasser believed that many psychological issues stem from unsatisfying or unhealthy relationships. Choice Theory encourages individuals to focus on improving their relationships by actively choosing behaviors that meet their own needs and the needs of others.
  4. The problem relationship is always part of our present life: Choice Theory emphasizes that individuals are responsible for addressing and resolving relationship issues in their present lives. By recognizing and taking ownership of these issues, individuals can make choices that lead to healthier and more fulfilling relationships.
  5. What happened in the past has no power over us unless we give it power: In Choice Theory, the focus is on the present and future rather than dwelling on past experiences. By acknowledging that the past does not define us, individuals can make choices that support their personal growth and well-being.

Contributing to Personal Growth

The Axioms of Choice Theory provide a foundation for personal growth and development. By embracing these self-evident truths, individuals can take control of their lives and make choices that align with their needs and values. Choice Theory encourages individuals to explore their own thoughts and feelings, build healthy relationships, and actively choose behaviors that contribute to their overall well-being.

By understanding and applying the Axioms of Choice Theory, individuals can cultivate a greater sense of self-awareness, develop healthier relationships, and make choices that lead to a more satisfying and fulfilling life.

Applying Choice Theory

Choice Theory provides individuals with powerful tools to create a more satisfying life and make positive changes in various aspects. By embracing Choice Theory principles, individuals can respond positively to questions regarding satisfaction with life, motivation in the work environment, supportiveness of personal relationships, and feelings of control over one's life.

Creating a Satisfying Life

Choice Theory promotes the idea that individuals are fundamentally good and that no one intentionally sets out to be bad. It emphasizes that all behavior is purposeful, with individuals always doing the best they can to meet their needs at any given time. According to Choice Theory, individuals have the power to choose their behavior and can learn a better way to meet their needs, even in settings that may limit their freedom.

To create a satisfying life using Choice Theory principles, individuals are encouraged to:

  • Take responsibility for their own actions and choices.
  • Identify their needs and desires.
  • Focus on positive behavior and outcomes.
  • Seek out supportive relationships and environments.
  • Embrace personal growth and continuous learning.

By adopting these strategies, individuals can align their actions with their needs and values, leading to a more fulfilling and satisfying life.

Tools for Positive Change

Choice Theory emphasizes that changing one's actions can lead to changes in thinking, feelings, and physiology. It highlights the significance of having an environment that reinforces positive behavior, as it facilitates change more effectively than an environment focused on negative behavior. To support positive change, Choice Theory provides individuals with various tools and techniques, including:

  • Reality Therapy: This therapeutic approach, derived from Choice Theory, focuses on helping individuals develop effective strategies to meet their needs and make positive choices. It encourages self-reflection, goal setting, and taking responsibility for one's actions.
  • Positive Reinforcement: By reinforcing positive behavior, individuals are motivated to continue making choices that align with their needs and values. This can be achieved through rewards, praise, and recognition.
  • Self-Evaluation: Regular self-evaluation allows individuals to assess their progress toward meeting their needs and achieving their goals. It helps in identifying areas for improvement and making necessary adjustments.
  • Communication Skills: Effective communication is essential for building positive relationships and resolving conflicts. Choice Theory encourages individuals to develop active listening skills, express their needs assertively, and engage in open and honest communication.

By utilizing these tools and techniques, individuals can navigate challenges, make positive choices, and create meaningful changes in their lives.

Choice Theory has applications in various fields, including education, psychology, and sociology. By understanding and applying Choice Theory principles, individuals can enhance their personal growth, improve relationships, and strive towards a more satisfying and fulfilling life.

Choice Theory in Different Fields

Choice theory, developed by William Glasser in the early 1990s, has made significant contributions to various fields, including education, psychology, and sociology. By understanding the principles of choice theory, professionals in these fields can better support individuals in making positive choices and improving their overall well-being.

Choice Theory in Education

In the field of education, Glasser's choice theory emphasizes the importance of practical, real-world topics chosen by students based on their interests and inclinations. This approach, known as the quality curriculum, encourages student engagement by involving them in selecting material with practical career applications, fostering a more fulfilling learning experience.

By giving students more control over their learning, educators can tap into their intrinsic motivation and enhance their sense of ownership and responsibility. This approach helps students develop critical thinking skills and prepares them for the challenges they may face in their future careers.

Choice Theory in Psychology

Choice theory in psychology focuses on the integration of thinking and feeling, action that is relevant to needs, and the personal value orientation of the individual. Glasser believed that individuals have the power to choose their behaviors and, as a result, meet their basic human needs.

According to choice theory, mental health is not solely determined by external factors or luck. Instead, it is a result of perception and choice. By understanding and applying choice theory principles, psychologists can help individuals gain a sense of empowerment and take responsibility for their own mental well-being.

Choice Theory in Sociology

Choice theory also has implications in the field of sociology. It recognizes that human life revolves around the choices made to fulfill our basic psychological needs. Glasser identified five fundamental needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun [4].

By understanding these needs and how they influence human behavior, sociologists can analyze and explain the dynamics of social interactions and relationships. Choice theory provides a framework for understanding why individuals make certain choices and how these choices impact their overall satisfaction in life.

Understanding choice theory in different fields allows professionals to apply its principles to their respective domains. Whether in education, psychology, or sociology, choice theory offers valuable insights into human behavior, decision-making, and personal growth. By embracing the principles of choice theory, professionals can help individuals lead more satisfying and fulfilling lives.


[1]: https://wglasser.com/what-is-choice-theory/[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glasser%27schoicetheory[3]: https://www.childrenschoice.org/choice-theory-2[4]: https://lo.unisa.edu.au/mod/book/tool/print/index.php?id=454028

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