Choice Theory: The Quality World

Finding out about a  person’s Quality World is the best first step to building rapport, understanding what motivates them and forms the foundation of a healthy and productive counselling. teaching or coaching relationship.

What is the Quality World?

The term Quality World was first used by Dr. William Glasser in his book, Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom, to describe that place in our brain where we store pictures that relate to our memories of those people, things and ideas or systems of belief that we perceive to be need-fulfilling. Choice Theory proposes that these pictures govern much of our behaviour. Glasser believes that the Quality World explains why we perceive much of reality so differently from others.

The pictures in our Quality World:

  1. Meet one or more of our basic human needs ( see Theory Test: 5 Basic Needs)
  2. Are changing and changeable
  3. Are unique
  4. Often conflict with each other
  5. Vary in levels of intensity
  6. Vary in levels of attainability

What pictures are in the Quality World?

Most of the pictures in our Quality World relate to our past experiences, but some relate to the future: our aims, ambitions and our ideal selves.

It is important to remember that the pictures in our quality world are our perceptions of what would fulfil our needs, and may contain some pictures that we have placed there in the belief that by constantly pursuing more of these things, we will become more satisfied with our lives. A drug addict will have pictures of stimulants in his or her quality world, for example, given their perception of these things as the means to a happier life.

There are also pictures in our quality world that may cause us pain. For example, the picture of a much wanted baby for a childless couple; the memory of film star looks for an aging actress; or the picture of oneself as a successful university student for someone who has just failed a crucial examination . The child in a foster home may have a quality world picture of themselves living back with their parents. It is for this reason that any probing of the quality world needs to be done with the greatest of sensitivity .

The best educational experiences are those that help people to create new pictures in their quality world. For example, a student may come to a new school believing that power and recognition come from having the latest clothes and accessories but learns that he can gain status by volunteering to help others in the community. In this way, the strong pictures of fashion may fade somewhat and the picture of self as helper is now placed in his Quality World.

Why is a knowledge of the Quality World useful?

Increasing our knowledge of our own quality worlds can be a useful aid to improving our own mental health . By becoming more aware of those pictures we have consciously and unconsciously placed in this store we begin take more control over whether to keep those pictures in our quality world or to take them out. If we can analyse which combination of the five basic needs (survival, love and belonging, power, fun and freedom) are met by this picture, we can choose alternative ways of meeting those needs.

For example, a teenager who has a picture of himself as the class clown in his Quality World could be helped to see that this fulfils his high need for fun and also love and belonging. As it is preventing him others from meeting their needs and may also be harming his own educational chances, he may be helped to meet those same needs in a new way, such as joining a club or negotiating ways of having more fun in school.

Knowledge of internal urges and drives is essential to the teacher who has a pupil who does not want to do what they want them to do. It helps the teacher to choose the right argument in a debate with that pupil if they have access to that child’s world. It is also important that the teacher or adviser is already in, or takes steps to become part of, that child’s Quality World. That is, the child perceives them as someone who can help them to get what they want.

How to find out what is in the Quality World?

Learning what is in a person’s ‘Quality World’ and trying to support it, will bring us closer to that person than anything else we can do” (Glasser)

Many of the children and adults we encounter have greats difficulty verbalising their thoughts and feelings and sometimes we need to provide a bridge from the non-verbal to the verbal world. The Quality World Activity Series has workbooks to help pre-school, Elementary and Middle School children apply Choice Theory to their lives.

Observation and listening are our two greatest tools here.

Questions to get started:

What do you do when you are not in school?

What is it about activity that you enjoy?

Who are the important people in your life?

If you could have a perfect job, what would that be?

What is it aout that job that attracts you?

If you were independently wealthy, what would you do with your time?

What does it mean to be a friend?

What do you want?

When do you feel/ have you felt/ important or proud?

What direction do you see your life going?

Sometimes, asking questions about direction can tap into a person’s quality world system of values . Ask them if she or he wants: to be a strong person? to be a successful person? to be a happy person? to be in control? to have a good relationship?”

Once you have an idea of the pictures in a person’s quality world you can find out more about why those pictures are there.

For example, “ what is it about your grandparents that makes them so special to you?” . “What kind of computer games do you play? Who do you play these with? What’s the best thing about these games?”

Finding out about the pictures in a person’s Quality World is a good first step to understanding their motivations and behaviour. However, one needs to look beyond the pictures to the needs that these pictures represent, in order to be able to move forward in taking more control of one’s life.

Now read: Choice Theory: 5 Basic Needs

Image Credits: pangalactic gargleblaster


Glasser,C. and Bushey, B. The Quality World Activity Series. (order online

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