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

We’ve talked about The Think, Feel, Act Cycle and how it can help you to be happier in a previous post. Click here if you want to go back and have a read about it. We also took a deep dive looking at circumstances in the model. Click here to read that post. 

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 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. 

In this post, we are going to take a deep dive and look at how our thoughts fit into Think, Feel, Act Cycle. 

In her book, ‘Self Coaching 101’, Brooke Castillo, describes a thought as ‘a sentence formed in our mind.’ Our thoughts seem to play continuously in our minds all the time seemingly without control or regulation from ourselves. For anyone who has tried to empty their mind during meditation, you’ll know how little control we seem to have over the stream of sentences running through our minds.

In 2005, research was published by the National Science Foundation about how many thoughts humans had per day. It was found that the average person has between 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. That’s quite a big range, but it was found that of those thousands of thoughts, 80% were negative, and 95% were exactly the same repetitive thoughts as the day before. That’s pretty incredible. From this research, we can see that our brains tend to focus on the negative and importantly, make many of our thoughts (bad) habits. 

Brain researchers have noted that our tendency to focus on the negative is an evolutionary trait that helped our ancestors survive. I wrote a post about this – Negativity is Not Your Fault. By having brains tuned to spot the problems our ancestors were able to avoid dangers. (The cavemen that were the most attuned to the possible dangers lurking behind every bush were the cavemen that were successful at passing on their genes to their offspring.) True to Darwin’s theory of evolution, the danger focused individuals survived and passed on their genes to us. So, today, we have been bred to think that every rustling bush is a sabre-toothed tiger and not just the wind. But today we don’t have tigers to run from. This is good news indeed. But our brains are still anxiously looking for danger even if that danger is being late for an appointment, or that look on our partner’s face. 

Knowing we are wired to detect problems and view the world through a negative filter can actually empower us. We can stop bashing ourselves up for being negative and pessimistic and notice our negative programming. When we do that we can reframe our thoughts. More about that in a minute. 

The other part of that research showed that 95% of the thoughts we have are repetitive and the same as the thoughts we had yesterday. This fact is pretty mind-blowing actually. Science says that the reason for this has to do with conserving energy. Thinking, and creating all those electrical connections within the brain, takes a lot of energy. So, to conserve energy our brain recycles thoughts that have already served us well in our day to day survival and runs them again and again down well worn neural pathways. So, we’re actually just like a computer running software programs over and over again. I’ve written further about this and neuroplasticity in another post – The Science of Positive Affirmations.

The good news is that we can train our brain to think new thoughts and more positive thoughts.

Thinking new thoughts creates new neural pathways in our brains and the more we think those new thoughts then the more habitual they will become. 

This is where our awareness of the process and what we are thinking serves us. Brooke Castillo states in the quote below:


Brooke Castillo

If we are aware and manage our thinking we learn to question our automatic thoughts. If we don’t allow the autoplay of our circuitry of doom then we won’t feel the negative emotions that these thoughts cause in our bodies. Doing this actually rewires our brains. Consciously being aware of our thinking and deliberately deciding what to think will have a follow on effect and determine how we feel. 

How do you know when you should question or change your thoughts?

As Brooke Castillo intelligently answers, because you don’t like the way it makes you feel. There is no need to question thoughts that make you feel good. Good feelings lead to good actions which lead to good results. 

There was another research study made (Leahy, 2005, Study of Cornell University), in which scientists found that 85% of what we worry about never happens. Additionally, with the 15% of the worries that did actually happen, 79% of the subjects reported that they handled the difficulty better than expected, or that the difficulty taught them a lesson worth learning.

The conclusion of this research was that 97% of our worries are completely baseless and are the result of unfounded pessimistic perception. Wow. 97% of all our worries are totally for nothing! So we are making ourselves feel terrible with stressful thoughts releasing stress hormones and living with fearful feelings for nothing most of the time. 

Our brain and our thoughts have been designed with only one purpose, to keep us alive and safe and to prevent us from doing anything risky. Our brain wants to keep us in our comfort zone and maintain the status quo. Now considering that all growth happens outside our comfort zone it stands to reason that our brain is not serving us to grow and evolve by itself. Hell no, that would be dangerous for us it thinks. It tricks us into believing a lot of stuff that doesn’t serve us. 

A belief is just a thought that we no longer question or that we keep repeating to ourselves.

Our beliefs are not necessarily true. Some of our beliefs are downright limiting and are keeping us stuck. 

The good news is that we are not our thoughts and our thoughts are not us. How do we know this? Because we can observe our own thinking as if we were a watcher looking on. When you are watching your mind and ego you are doing so from a place of awareness and this is where we can question what we are hearing and challenge our thoughts and limiting beliefs. 

OK. So how do we change our thoughts? 

The first step is to become aware of what you are thinking. Just by noticing your thoughts, you start the change process. 

When we first start becoming aware of our thoughts they seem to slip pasts and so quickly that it’s hard to even grasp them. Our thoughts seem to jump from subject to subject and a lot of it can be pretty nasty and uncensored. As an exercise try becoming the Watcher for a moment and listen to your thoughts. Write down the first 10 thoughts you have on a piece of paper. After doing this read your thoughts then pay attention to how you are feeling. Are your thoughts making you happy, sad, angry or resentful or ashamed? 

We can use The Think, Feel, Act 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 make your emotions more positive and make you feel better. When you feel good your actions are usually good and they then bring about good results. 

It sounds so simple huh? Well, it is simple, but like a lot of life’s stuff, simple does not mean easy. But it gets easier with practice as you build and strengthen those neural pathways.

The following exercises from ‘Self Coaching 101’ will help you to use the model to find a new thought and to discover current negative thoughts that are making you feel bad. These are provided with permission*.

Finding A New Thought

Sit down with your journal and work through the following questions. Click here to download this exercise in a handy worksheet. 

  1. What is your current painful thought?
  2. Why are you choosing to believe it?
  3. Is there any part of this thought that is not factual?
  4. What part of this thought is your opinion?
  5. Can you imagine someone else having this exact thought with a different opinion?
  6. On a scale of 1-10, how important is this thought?
  7. How big is this thought? The size of a penny? A bread box? A building?
  8. How can you make this thought smaller?
  9. What would you say to a small child thinking this thought?
  10. Write down three better feeling thoughts that you truly believe
  11. When you plug this new thought into the self-coaching model, what changes? (see the following exercises)
  12. What is funny about the original thought? (Find something, anything). 
  13. How would your life change if you changed this one thought?
  14. What is the new thought?
  15. Rewrite the thought until you truly believe it. 

When the Thought is the Problem

Sit down with your journal and work through the following questions. Click here to download this exercise in a handy worksheet. 

  1. What is the thought you keep thinking?
  2. What feeling does this thought cause you?
  3. How do you behave when you feel this way?
  4. What is the result of this action?
  5. How does this result prove the original thought?
  6. What is a better feeling thought to think that is believable to you?

Use the questions above to fill in the unintentional thought pattern and create the new intentional thought pattern. 

Unintentional Thought Pattern

Sit down with your journal and work through the following questions. Click here to download this exercise in a handy worksheet. 

  1. What is the circumstance?
  2. What are your thoughts about it?
  3. What are the feelings about it?
  4. What actions do you take/make?
  5. What are your results?

Intentional Thought Pattern 

Plugin the new thoughts from the first exercise above. Click here to download this exercise in a handy worksheet. 

  1. What is the circumstance?
  2. What is the new thought?
  3. How does this thought make you feel?
  4. How do you act when you feel this way?
  5. What would be the new results?

Change your 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.

Subscribe below and join our mailing list. Let me know if this information has helped you. 

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
Latest posts by Megan Ruffino (see all)