William Glasser penned his behavioral theory, choice theory, more than 50 years ago, but it’s a theory that has withstood changing times.
Choice theory changed the way I looked at life and the choices I make. Choice theory also aligns well with the financial independence/retire early community–promise!
Choice theory states that:
- all we do is behave,
- that almost all behavior is chosen, and
- that we are driven by our genes to satisfy five basic needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom and fun.
–from The William Glasser Institute
Behavior and Expectation
Behavior can be elusive, often confusing and frustrating.
Have you ever been sitting in your car at a green light, wondering why the person ahead of you hasn’t moved?
“What are you doing? Playing Pokemon Go? Step on the gas!”
At one point or another, I may have had this thought this summer. 🙂 I may have chosen to frustrate over the behavior of someone else, someone I can’t control. Sounds crazy, right?
Except that we have these expectations. Unconscious and conscious expectations for everything and everyone.
You might not even know it. A pattern of thought you have rehearsed so often that it infects your behaviors.
“Why won’t s/he text me back?! I sent a message five minutes ago! I’ll never speak to him/her again!”
“I deserved that promotion that she got. I’ll go find a different job where I’m appreciated.”
“Give me the grandchildren I deserve!”
“They financed a car?! Obviously, they should have invested the money in a total market index fund like me.”
“I work hard and I need to keep up appearances, so I want a new car right meow.”
Basically, this is the structure of these thoughts, thoughts that drive us to behave in interesting and often self-defeating ways:
[Person or thing] should have done [something I think should be done].
We literally “Bill Lumberg” ourselves and others! (Office Space reference, yo)
But we can choose differently. We can choose to improve our own lives, our own approaches to money (and maybe we’ll be a little less judgmental of others, too).
Behavior, Expectation, and Money
Often, we choose to spend money to satisfy our expectations, expectations that often exceed what we need to meet our five basic needs. Housing has been on the brain lately, so let’s use that as an example.
Choosing to spend money on housing helps us satisfy our survival need. However, choosing to spend money on a huge house with hundreds or even thousands of square feet of unused space is another story.
Other survival needs quickly follow suit: clothing (buying new vs. thrift shops), transportation (new car vs. the bus), belonging (yacht club vs. Yahtzee Club), etc.
Spending money is inextricably linked with satisfying our basic needs, but anyone who has read at least some personal finance blogs knows that used cars are perfectly fine and public transportation can be a reliable and affordable alternative where available.
However, there are expectations everywhere to spend more than we need to. I know I’ve felt it before. And I’m sure I’ve inadvertently put my expectations on others. This kind of pressure often leads to behavior changes, behavior changes that often having us spend more money than necessary.
In 2015, we decided to put an end to all the nonsense, trying our best to ignore the pressure and expectation to do things that no longer align with the direction we’re headed.
Because we’re focused on crushing debt, my number one goal each day is to choose behaviors that will help me make progress toward our goals and also to change behaviors that aren’t helping us make progress.
Choosing behaviors that align us with what we value most is the key to crafting the life of financial independence we seek, known as the “Quality World” to Glasser. Glasser believed that we can only satisfy our basic needs when we satisfy what we imagine for ourselves in our respective Quality Worlds.
Quality World Self-Assessment
If you want to play along at home, take out a piece of paper and a pen and draw a Venn diagram.
On another piece of paper, make two lists: one list of the things you want to do each day to meet your basic needs and one list of the things you actually do each day to meet your basic needs. Write down who you spend time with today and who you want to spend time with in the future. Write down what you spend money on today and what you want to spend money on in the future. Write down how you want to spend your time.
Today = Reality
Future = Quality World
Next, grab a highlighter or start circling where there is overlap.
Screenshot of my short list
Are there things that exist on both lists? If so, those are the items that belong in the middle of the Venn diagram.
Screenshot of my Venn diagram
What does my Reality look like and how much does that cost?
Reality: 5:30 a.m., wakeup; 5:45-6:30 a.m., gym; 6:30-7:30 a.m., breakfast, reading, meditating, side hustle business; 7:30-8:30 a.m., get ready for work; 8:30-9 a.m., commute; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work; 5-5:30 p.m., commute; 5:30-6 p.m., dinner; 6-7 p.m., walk; 7 p.m. to bedtime, side hustle business
Before the establishment of a morning routine, I used to wear “tired” like kids wear merit badges. I used to work myself to the brink of utter collapse. Ask Garrett. I woke up early and worked. I worked well after dark. I worked until I hit a wall and then woke up the next day to do it all over again. I had a scarcity mindset, but who could blame me when we put ourselves in debt to the tune of more than $240,000 at its peak in November 2015?
In an effort to move closer to my Quality World, I work on creating balance by changing behaviors that didn’t align with where I wanted to be. Establishing a new routine was a critical part of restoring balance and represents an attempt to make Reality more closely align with the Quality World I outlined for myself.
Since improved physical and mental health are priceless, I’ll focus on the items in the budget for our Reality.
Cost for the material goods of Reality: $3,500
We spend about $3,500 each month to maintain this Reality, which includes the items in our budget, a mortgage, and a student loan payment.
What do I wish I was doing each day and how much will that cost?
Quality World: meaningful work, action verbs, creativity, travel
Cost for the material goods of the Quality World: $2,500
Our FIRE budget has us spending $2,500 each month on financial independence (i.e. our Quality World).
With respect to our material expenses, there is a $1,000 decrease each month between our Reality and the Quality World. It’s amazing to me that we anticipate spending less money to maintain the life we actually want rather than the life we’ve chosen today.
Paying for the Quality World
Isn’t this the million-dollar question? or the $750,000 question, if you ascribe to the 25x principle?
First, we must believe!
Paying for a Quality World is possible when we are completely free of the debts we’re aggressively paying off, saved our money after we’ve paid off our debts, and we avoid the behaviors that don’t align with financial independence.
Second, we must behave!
Paying for a Quality World is possible when we invest the money we save after we’ve paid off our debts and when we spend responsibly.
Third, we must take action!
Paying for a Quality World is possible today (or at least part of it is possible today).
After investing countless hours in books, blog posts, and podcasts, I realized that I don’t have to wait to achieve financial independence before I can pursue the life I want. I can start now.
Check out that Venn diagram again and you’ll see where we’ve already begun to create our life of financial independence: Side Hustle, LLC. Our business is a way in which I can bring value to this world, which is part of my Quality World.
For 10 years, I waited for someone else to give me the exact roadmap I should follow to obtain the life I want. This expectation, coupled with the scarcity mindset, is why I’ve maintained a full-time job with employer-subsidized benefits. I’ve let fear and the expectations of others influence my behavior, my choices, and my potential.
As a result of this self-improvement, I decided to stop expecting someone else to create my Quality World for me, so by the time you read this, I will have put in my notice at work today.