"They are called wise who put things
At the very heart of this book is perceptual control theory, which is a complex model for describing how people think and why they behave as they do. Control theory teaches that we create our own unique world through a hierarchy of control systems and store them in our memory. From these created perceptions, we build our own systems of values and standards, which form the basis for how we make decisions and deal with both ourselves and others so that we can create satisfying lives.
Unlike other theories, control theory is concerned solely with feedback, that is, the result of our actions, not with the actions themselves. Our system of values and standards continually operates as a closed-loop control system to satisfy our internal goals by trying to reduce the difference between what we want and how we perceive the outcome of our efforts, which is the input.
We always deal with the external world to satisfy our own internal goals, never the goals of others. Regardless of what happens to us as we interact with the environment, the ultimate reason for our actions is our attempts to satisfy our own individually-set values, priorities, and standards. No one else creates our goals - nor sets them. We do.
Most behavioral scientists teach otherwise. These scientists don't think in terms of a closed-loop system. They see the perceptual inputs as causing the organism to produce behavioral outputs. Stimulus simply produces response. They recognize that actions do have effects on future stimulation, but they see this as something separate, not a part of one single process. Frankly,, I've never believed we are at the whim of what happens to us. My study of control theory has confirmed this suspicion.
What all this means is that we are responsible for what we do. It is not our parents, not drugs or alcohol, not the pressure of our friends, not our feelings, not the seductive advances of others, not the product we bought, not the hot weather or the freezing temperature, not the Good Lord, not the media, not our job,, not our spouse or children, not the other driver, and certainly not a thing called stress. The bottom line is that we are the captains of our own ships.
We live in a culture that has been taken in by excuse-makers. We keep trying to find out why we are the way we are. This constant searching leads us through a maze of endless pathways. The fact is that we are not diseased when we act irresponsibly. Feelings do not cause us to act foolishly. No medicine or operation is going to cure a lifetime of bad eating, excessive drinking or drugging, and lack of exercise. Someone yelling and screaming does not cause us to be upset. The solution is obvious. We must look to the one source of all stress: our own self-made conflicting goals or impossible desires. It is our ability to maintain harmony throughout the whole network of values we've built, priorities we've established, standards we've set, and decisions we've made that will bring us the most satisfaction in life.
As long as we look outwardly for reasons for our unhappiness, we will remain miserable. Fortunately, internal peace is possible. All we have to do is to examine the world that we have constructed, reflect on what is really important to us, critically review our values, look at how we've set our priorities, set forth standards that reflect these values, and begin to make decisions that are based on our own standards. If our own values and standards don't bring us the peace we want, we had better reevaluate our entire system. Eventually, with a little help from above, we will find this internal harmony. The two characters in this book, Bob and Betty, reflect such an attempt. I've worked with hundreds who have succeeded.
As in my recent book, Love Guaranteed, I have used a counseling format for this book. That is, you will encounter my application of control theory to the problem of stress through counseling sessions with a fictitious couple. Bob and Betty represent a cross section of the kinds of problems I deal with in both my private counseling practice as well as those problems presented to me by my students in my classes at Arizona State University's School Of Social Work.
Freedom from Stress reveals much about my approach to the task of counseling. It is evident that, as a counselor, I see myself primarily as a teacher. If I am to be true to the premises of control theory, I must teach people how to change their lives on their own. With respect to this theory, I often find myself swimming upstream in the counseling profession. Most counselors use much different and more accepted methods. Were it not for the effectiveness I experience with my approach, I might worry about that.
I usually see people who present problems such as Betty's and Bob's for two to three months. I see many other clients only two or three times. I work with a few for many months - sometimes years.
Although I teach my clients elements of control theory in our sessions, it must be said that I don't attempt to be as thorough as I am with Bob and Betty in this book. That thoroughness is for your benefit as the reader and as a fellow explorer of the application of control theory to human concems. With clients, I teach what is needed for them to make the changes they want to make.
The smaller diagrams that I present Bob and Betty throughout the book all relate to the complete Control Theory diagram found in Appendix 1. Once you begin to understand the concepts, you will want to refer to the complete chart to understand their inter-relationships.
If you are interested in the concept of quality time presented in Chapter 4, a more detailed explanation can be found in my book, Love Guaranteed: A Better Marriage in Eight Weeks (Brandt Publishing, 1987). Similarly, more discussion of the idea of social maturity of children, found in Chapter 9, appears in my book For the Love of Children (Brandt Publishing, 1977), Chapters 1 and 7.
Finally, if you would like to obtain free copies of the Quality Time (Love), Teaching Responsibility, Counseling, and Freedom from Stress 3x5 cards referred to in this book, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope with your request to Brandt Publishing.
Edward E. Ford, M.S.W.