The Think, Feel, Act Cycle – A Deep Dive on Circumstances

We’ve talked about The Think, Feel, Act Cycle in a previous post. Click here if you want to go back and have a read about it. But, to summarise, The Think, Feel, Act Cycle refers to the self-coaching model made famous by Brooke Castillo. 

The Think, Feel, Act Cycle, or self-coaching model, is made up of 5 parts*:

  1. Circumstances – Things that happen in the world that we cannot control right now.
  2. Thoughts – Things that happen in your mind. These are the opinions and judgements we make about the circumstances. That cause…
  3. Feelings – Vibrations that happen in your body that are caused by your thoughts, not the circumstances. That cause…
  4. Actions – Behaviour. What we do in the world. Our actions are influenced by our feelings that are determined by our thoughts. Actions then bring about your …..
  5. Results – What we see in the world and in our lives as an effect of our actions. Interestingly, the results will always be evidence of your original thought. Our results can in some cases become our new circumstances. 

Here’s Brooke Castillo’s handy diagram*:

The Self-Coaching Model by Brooke Castillo

The Self-Coaching Model is based on the following truths*:

  • We cannot control the world
  • Nothing outside of us has the power to make us feel good or bad
  • It is not the circumstances, but our thoughts about the circumstances, that create our experience.
  • We attract what we think about.
  • Emotions are vibrations that lead to action.
  • We can’t permanently change our results without changing our thoughts.
  • We don’t have to get anything to feel better; we can feel better right now.
  • Being conscious and choosing our thoughts are the most important components to feeling better. 

Today we’re going to take a deep dive and define circumstances. Many of us get hung up on our circumstances. We blame them for our unhappiness or the reason why we are not at a point in our life where we would prefer to be. We say things like, it is because of my upbringing, or, my parents didn’t raise me right, or, it’s my genetics. We may blame our job, or lack of, our boss, our peer group, any number of things. I think you get the picture.


Brooke Castillo

But here’s the thing. It is never the circumstances that make you feel good or bad. It is ALWAYS your thinking, your thoughts and opinions and your internal judgements about the circumstances that create your feelings. 

Circumstances are always neutral.

They are neither good nor bad until we make a judgement about them. Circumstances are all the things in the world that we can’t personally or directly control right now. For example, things like the past, the weather, other people’s choices and behaviour or opinions about us or other things, war, other people’s illnesses or death and the political climate. Circumstances also include things that we may have some control over, like our health or our weight or fitness, but at that moment, we can’t actually change them.

The idea that circumstances are entirely neutral can be a hard thing to accept, to begin with. Especially if we’ve attributed parts of our makeup to current or past circumstances. But, there is an amazing freedom in releasing our connection to past and present circumstances by realising that in themselves, they have no power over us. 

To begin releasing our connection to past circumstances we need to accept them. Accept that these things happened to us, and that’s it. Acceptance certainly doesn’t mean that you condone bad behaviour or situations or believe they were right. Terrible things are still terrible things and accepting their existence in your life doesn’t mean that you agree with them. But it does help us to get past them and live well in spite of them.

No matter how terrible or sad circumstances were in your past, those circumstances don’t cause any emotional pain right now in the present. If you are still experiencing emotional pain due to past circumstances, then it is due to your thoughts about it. And, the good news is that we have the power to change our thoughts and release the pain. 

I can hear some of you adding your, ‘buts’ and, ‘what abouts?’ So, let’s look at a few examples.

So, what say you suffered abuse as a child. This is a terrible thing that should never have happened to you. At the time, as a child, you had no control over this situation and the wrong behaviour of others around you. This is something that you may still be fighting to accept and you may have built up your identity as a victim of abuse. 

You may still, even years later, be having angry thoughts about the person or people who abused you. You may believe that they should have treated you better and should have shown you love and that it is because of them that you are messed up or broken. These are the thoughts that are causing you to relive this pain now in the present.

It is not circumstances from your past causing you suffering, it is your thoughts about those circumstances.

Right now, you are no longer suffering any physical harm as a result of this past abuse. Any pain you are now feeling about this is due to your thoughts about it and because you will not accept it as part of your life. 

Fighting against and hating the fact of this circumstance in your life is a no-win situation that just feels awful. Unless you accept the situation you are doomed to continue to feel awful hating and rejecting it. Accepting the circumstance won’t make it right or mean that you condone it. In this example, it doesn’t mean you let the abusers off the hook, but it will help you to take back your present and stop reliving the abuse now. 

It’s important to remember in situations like this that while the abuse was painful and wrong, it is over and not happening to you now. It is now a circumstance from your past that you can’t change. (That is the definition of circumstances in the Think, Feel, Act self-coaching model). As much as we would like to we can’t change the past, or how other people behaved (or still do behave). What you can change are the thoughts that you are having about this circumstance right now in the present. By changing the thoughts about that experience we can actually change our feelings about this past and stop the abuse we may still feel now in the present.

Strong free survivor

How can we change our thoughts about the circumstances?

Well, we are going to do a deep dive on this topic soon but in the meantime, we can use the self-coaching model to help us to work through it.

How do we do this? Well, we can use the model to help change the thought by firstly writing down what your current thoughts, actions and results are regarding this circumstance. Then, use the same process to try on some new and different thoughts to change your feelings. Do this until you can reframe your thoughts more positively and believe them. This will then end your suffering around this circumstance.

Let’s try this with a few different examples. 

Example 1: 

Circumstance: My parents physically abused me as a child

Thought: My parents should have been better parents and loved me better. I was not loved enough.

Feelings: Anger, hurt, resentment, inadequate, sad, betrayal

Actions: Be withdrawn and cold towards my parents or any authority figures.

Results: Isolation and difficulty dealing with authority.

The self-coaching model also tells us that our results will reinforce the original thought. In the example above the results of isolation and difficulty dealing with authority reinforce the belief that you are not loved enough.

Let’s turn this example around:

Circumstance: My parents physically abused me as a child

Thought: They should have known better but I survived it and I am free now.

Feelings: Pity, strength, pride

Actions: A distant but cordial relationship with parents, empathy for others

Results: Independent and doing well at life in general

Let’s try another example*:

Circumstance: My son just got expelled from school for using drugs.

Thought: I am a terrible mother/father and did a terrible job raising him.

Feelings: Inadequate, sad, frustrated, scared

Action: Cry, argue with the principal, speak harshly to my son.

Results: Everyone responds defensively and I end up in a fight with the principal and my son.

And let’s try to turn it around:

Circumstance: My son just got expelled from school for using drugs.

Thought: Thank goodness that this has come to light so we can take some action and prevent him from becoming a drug addict.

Feelings: Gratitude, fearful, determined, confident, capable

Action: Talk to my son and our doctor calmly about getting some counselling and or rehab.

Results: You and your son have a closer understanding and he is getting counselling and can work through his reasons for using drugs to find a healthier alternative to deal with his feelings.

See how the results in these examples will reinforce or ‘prove’ the original thought?

Try using the self-coaching model with different circumstances in your life. Of course, you only need to do this if thinking about these circumstances causes you suffering.

Remember, the circumstances are never the problem. Your circumstances are not what is causing you suffering. It is always your thoughts about the circumstances that are causing you pain. Change those thoughts and you’ll change the feelings that you experience. When you feel differently you’ll act differently and get different, hopefully much better, results.

I have a great worksheet for you to help you work through the thought process around problem circumstances. Click here to enter your email address to download the free PDF. You’ll also be added to our every so often newsletter list.

I’d also love to hear from you if this information has helped you. Please let me know in the comments below.

The world at your feet

Resources and further reading:

Book: Self Coaching 101 by Brooke Castillo

Video: The Model Part 1

*Reprinted with permission from the author Brooke Castillo (,

Megan Ruffino
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