The Think, Feel, Act Cycle is at the very heart of my belief that happiness is a decision. This is my core philosophy and the core premise of my coaching practice.
Using this model, we learn that limiting beliefs, even core beliefs, can be changed. As our beliefs are just thoughts that we no longer question. ‘The Model’ provides a simple framework that enables us to experiment with questioning these beliefs and try on some different ones and the flow-on effects from changing them.
When I first heard about The Think, Feel, Act Cycle years ago my mind was blown and I had to know more. I spent a lot of time researching more about it on the internet and I also discovered Brooke Castillo’s book Self Coaching 101. In this book, the author teaches the ‘Self Coaching Model’, or simply ‘The Model’, as a way of using The Think, Feel, Act cycle to change your thinking and create better outcomes in your life.
This book provided me with a simple tool to change my own life and has provided a valuable tool for my coaching practice. The Think, Feel, Act Cycle is a simple model I use to explain to my clients how they can become empowered and manage their thinking and from that ultimately feel better and create their own happiness and build a life that they love.
The Think, Feel, Act Cycle is a framework that we can use to understand how and why we feel the way we do. And, it’s also a tool that we can use to change the way we think and act.
It has its origin in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which was originally developed to treat depression. CBT is now used to treat a whole range of mental health issues including anxiety.
This Think, Feel, Act Cycle is an automatic process going on inside us constantly.
Our brain is constantly thinking thoughts and making judgements about everything around us. Those judgements influence or create our emotions. Our emotions then influence the way we act. And, from our actions, we get our results or outcomes.
Until we’re taught to recognise it, we don’t even know that we are doing it. The good news is that once we become aware we can learn to recognise our own cycles then start to shift them so that they serve us better and we can get better outcomes.
It’s helpful to get a full understanding of how the cycle really works to add two more processes either side. These are Circumstances and Results.
Let’s break it down and have a closer look at each of the parts of the cycle starting with Circumstances.
The first thing to wrap your head around is that all circumstances are neutral. They are neither good nor bad. They just are.
They are everything out there in the world, including other people and their thoughts, feelings and actions. They also include everything that has happened in the past.
Circumstances are everything that is currently outside of your control at that moment. They may be things that you want to take control of or, can have an impact on in the future, like your weight or fitness level for example. But, at this moment the circumstances are out of your control.
All of these circumstances are completely neutral until you have a thought about them and make a judgement about them. They can’t affect how you feel or what you do next until your opinion and judgement about the situation or circumstance comes into play. They are just the bare facts of the situation.
Our thoughts are our own opinions, judgements and assessments about something.
They are just a sentence in our mind. And, just because we think it doesn’t make it a fact. Our thoughts are just our thoughts.
Many people may have the same thoughts about a situation or circumstances and the same beliefs. But that doesn’t make the thoughts or beliefs true. The fact that someone somewhere could have a different thought about the situation proves that.
Our thoughts are ALWAYS OPTIONAL and can be changed and this is where our power lies.
This doesn’t mean that we should turn everything around and try to think positively about every single circumstance. This just won’t work. Our subconscious brains just won’t believe and accept a total turn around and therefore will completely reject the idea. Also, as humans, we have a full range of feelings; happy, sad, anxious, joyful, excited and fearful, to name a few, and they are there to be experienced.
Some circumstances we encounter should make us feel less than positive. And, those emotions can drive our actions as a result. For example, if we see racism or discrimination in action, we may see this as a terrible injustice. Our thoughts about this may make us feel indignant and cause us to protest or stand up and against the situation and try to change it. In this situation, negative feelings as part of a full range of feelings are serving us to identify and protect our values.
The next stage of the cycle is feelings or emotions.
The big thing to remember is that our feelings, all of them, are created in our bodies by our thoughts.
Feelings are one-word emotional states like happy, or angry, or joyful, or anxious, or jealous, or afraid. You get the picture.
Our feelings or emotions are actual physical sensations in our body. Some feelings may cause our heart to beat faster and cause us to break out in a sweat. Some feelings may cause us to feel warm or cold or to relax.
Whatever feelings we experience are completely created by what we are thinking and the judgements we are making. That makes thoughts very very powerful. The fact that just thinking about something can cause actual physical processes to occur in our bodies processes that make our hearts beat faster or make us sweat without any physical activity; that’s pretty amazing.
While feelings do create physical responses in our body we need to sometimes remind ourselves that the feelings themselves are actually harmless. In some cases, our hearts may be beating faster and our breath may feel short but these sensations are just created by a stressful thought. The thought has triggered hormones and other chemicals to be released into our bloodstream and if the thought was especially stressful, it has triggered our ‘fight or flight response’ designed to help us survive when in danger. Once we identify the panic we feel has been created by our thoughts, we can remind ourselves that we are ok and take a few deep breaths. The chemicals that have been released causing the physical sensations will then take about 90 seconds to be cleared from our bloodstream and then the feelings will subside.
Remember, bad feelings are not necessarily bad. We, as humans, need to feel the full range of emotions. If we don’t experience bad, how will we know and appreciate good? Some things will make us feel sad or angry and trying not to feel those feelings or trying to block them can cause problems too.
Now that we know that our feelings are entirely created by the thoughts we are having we can be aware and notice how we are feeling. Negative emotions in everyday situations are a sign for us to pay attention to what we are thinking.
Our actions, or inactions, are motivated by how we are feeling.
Generally, negative thoughts and emotions will cause us to act differently to a situation compared to when we are having positive thoughts and feelings about that situation.
When we’re happy we can laugh off small irritations and just get on with our day. But if we’re in a more negative mood then some small obstacle or chance remark may tip us into an angry response and drag the whole day down for us and maybe for others around us too.
Let’s look at the circumstance that we have been invited to a party. Let’s imagine that we are having negative thoughts about ourselves. Maybe we are comparing ourselves to others in the room and feel that we don’t measure up in some way. Maybe we are second-guessing our outfit, or are thinking that we’re too fat, or just don’t fit in for some reason. We’re probably not even completely aware of these comparisons and the thoughts going on in the moment. But our brains are constantly scanning, assessing and making judgements all in the interests of keeping us safe from harm.
Our negative thoughts about ourselves may then lead us to feel insecure and awkward so we wouldn’t be enjoying ourselves. Our actions would then be motivated by these feelings. Our actions could be to retreat to a corner and not try to fit in. Or we may decide to just leave. Or, we may decide to have a couple of drinks to loosen up and give us some (false) confidence. Or, we could decide to start a conversation with someone anyway.
Whatever our actions are, we actually end up training our brain that the action chosen was the right one and the next time we have those feelings our brain will remind us to do that thing again. You can see how this could result in negative patterns being created and get us into trouble. Especially if we are looking to solve the issues with outside influences like alcohol.
Results are what we get from taking the action. Our results can then become our circumstances and the whole cycle begins again.
In this model, our results only relate to ourselves and the funny thing is that our results will always prove our original thought to be true.
Let’s go back to the party as the circumstance. Imagine your thoughts about it are that you won’t enjoy yourself because you don’t fit in with that (cool) crowd or whatever. Then your actions may be that you don’t engage with anyone and end up standing on your own until you finally decide to leave early. Therefore, your result, coming home early after feeling awkward and on the outside, proved your initial thought. You don’t fit in and you didn’t enjoy yourself.
Our perception of reality is based on what we think and our brain is always looking for evidence that it is right. This is called Cognitive Bias. Cognitive Bias is actually a survival mechanism for our brain designed to save energy.
Back when we were evolving, just surviving, finding our food and creating our shelter, took a lot of energy. So, our lower brains, in an effort to save energy, evolved to run patterns or protocols because having new thoughts all the time took a lot of energy. To support this process the brain always looks for and registers evidence that it is right and that the protocols are working. This is Cognitive Bias.
We can see Cognitive Bias in action all the time. If we believe that the world is a bad place full of evil people we will go about our day and see evidence that that belief is true. On the other hand, if we believe that the world is a good and loving place and that people are generally good, then we will see a lot of evidence to back up that belief.
Some of our thoughts are very ingrained and form our core beliefs. Some of these beliefs may be very limiting and be preventing us from achieving the outcomes we want. Beliefs like, I never went to university so I can never get a great job or earn a good income. Or, I’ll never lose weight and get fit it’s just the way I am. Or, I just can’t live without smoking or drinking or whatever it may be. I need it. These are some examples of limiting beliefs. We all have a few.
The good and exciting news is that beliefs, even core beliefs, can be changed. These too are just thoughts.
The first step towards changing any thought or belief is to identify it and recognise it when it occurs. This can be quite tricky at first. These thoughts and beliefs are buried deep in our subconscious and may not stand out against the constant chatter going on in our heads.
“Oh look, there’s a tree.”
“There’s a bird in the tree.”
“I mustn’t forget to go to the supermarket”.
“We’re going to have such and such for dinner tonight.”
“I’ll never be able to afford to have such and such instead.”
“I am so fat and such a failure.”
“That’s just the way I am. I can’t change that. It doesn’t matter.”
“Watch out for that crazy driver.”
“Look, there’s another tree just like that other one.”
These thoughts just happen. The first trick is to recognise when they do. See the thought when it happens. Don’t judge it. Don’t be ashamed of it or be angry at the thought or yourself for having it. Just recognise it. Once you have identified it then you can question it and ask yourself, is that really true?
Did you leave the party early or spend the whole time standing in the corner and end up having no fun? Then did you moan about everyone and the whole thing to your partner?
Or, did you end up drinking too much and not even remember any of the conversations you had and wake up feeling terrible and full of regret the next day?
Or, did you realise that everybody else there was probably so caught up in their own thoughts and were probably not judging you and relax and enjoy yourself anyway?
Change isn’t easy. Remember, our lower brain has evolved to work in patterns and it has been running these patterns, or protocols, for a very long time in some cases. Our lower brains will resist change because whatever it had been doing for so long was working in its opinion. You’re alive, aren’t you?
The lower brain doesn’t care if the habits you have created are good or bad it just wants to keep doing whatever it was doing and being rewarded for in the past. But it can learn new habits. We can have new thoughts, create better feelings and results and this will then provide new rewards and build new and better habits.
Notice the think, feel, act cycles that you are running. You may first notice your results or your feelings. If these aren’t what you want them to be, then that’s a big clue that you should take notice of the thoughts that have brought them into being. Once you have noticed the thoughts, question them and work to change them.
The Think, Feel, Act Cycle is at the very heart of the belief that happiness is a decision.
What are some of the think, feel, act cycles that you recognise in your life? Are there any you want to change?
I can help you to use The Think, Feel, Act Cycle to be happier. Book a free discovery call with me today to learn more.
I have written other blog posts that take a closer look at the different parts of The Think, Feel, Act Cycle. Click the links to read more.
- The Think, Feel, Act Cycle – A Deep Dive on Circumstances
- The Think, Feel, Act Cycle – A Deep Dive on Thoughts
I have borrowed heavily from Rachel Hart’s wonderful explanation of how The Think, Feel, Act Cycle can create bad habits and even addictions. Check out her fantastic podcast, Take A Break From Drinking. You can listen to her podcast and find out so much about the psychology of any bad habit you have, not just drinking. Rachel is certified by The Life Coach School, Brooke Castillo’s life coach certification program.