Thinking Your Way Out of Stuck

woman thinking

Are you stuck in a rut? You might be able to think your way out of it. Recently I attended a seminar where the speaker talked about a method for putting our thoughts to work to our advantage. The Self Coaching Model, developed by life coach Brooke Castillo, is beautiful in its simplicity. While I am not an expert in this approach (or any type of behavioral therapy), the group I was with found it so helpful, I thought I would share it with you.

The foundation of this approach is that thoughts drive feelings, which in turn drive behavior. Interestingly, I had recently been encouraged to read the classic book Think and Get Rich by Napoleon Hill, which also focuses on the power of thoughts. It seems that the way we think is both important and manageable. We may not be able to change our circumstances, but we do have some control over how we think about them, and this can significantly impact the way we experience them.

Thoughts are constantly whirring around in our heads. They often enter as a result of an event or situation in our lives. Much like clutter, once they enter, they tend to stick around and build up. In fact:

  • Research suggests that the average person has as many as 60,000 thoughts each day.
  • As many as 90% of these are repetitive, i.e. thoughts we have had before.
  • The majority of these thoughts are typically negative.

Many people I speak with talk to me about feeling stuck. For example, they feel that they are always behind the eight ball and can’t figure out how to live differently.  Or, they struggle with living with a house full of children who can make a mess faster than they can restore order. Some people face chronic organizing challenges (e.g. ADHD, traumatic brain injury, concussions, etc.), while others simply feel unsure about how to get out of a bad situation and back on a desirable track. While these battles are real, they are not insurmountable, and the first step toward changing them may be to alter the way they think about them.

Here is how the model works.

First, take a piece of paper or a notebook, and write the following letters vertically in two separate columns.


These letters stand for:

C: Circumstance… a concise, non-emotional statement of the situation.

T: Thought… a sentence that summarizes what you think about the situation.

F: Feelingone word that describes how you feel about the situation.

A: Action… a statement of how you have reacted (or are reacting) to this circumstance.

R: Result… the result of the action stated above.

For the purpose of illustration, let’s walk through an example of a situation or circumstance that often causes people to feel frustrated or stuck.

Example: “My house is a disorganized mess and it is driving me crazy. I try to clean up, but my spouse and/or family always dump stuff all over the place. I cringe every time I walk into my house, and I don’t know what to do.”

Now let’s plug this into the model, beginning with the column on the left. When filling in the column on the left, the goal is to record the scenario as it is (or has been) playing out.

C (Circumstance) – No emotion/judgment

My house is disorganized and I am the only one who puts things away.


T (Thought) – A sentence

My home will never be the way I want it to be.


F (Feeling) – One word



A (Action) – What I’ve done

I have complained about the way things are.


R (Result) – What has happened.

The house remains a mess.


If the situation is relatively new, and no action has yet been taken, you can put down what your current thoughts and feelings are, what action you are considering, and what the likely result of taking that action would be.

The second step in the process is to start filling in the column to the right. This column represents an alternative scenario that could play out if the T (Thought) were different. Altering the thought is the key to the entire model, and the question to ask is, “What could I think that would make this better for me?” To be clear, the goal is not to ask what you should be thinking, but only what you could choose to think about this circumstance that would trigger a more positive result for you.

If we return to our example, the second set of answers might look like this:

C (Circumstance) – No emotion/judgment

My house is disorganized and I am the only one who puts things away.

C (Circumstance) – This doesn’t change

My house is disorganized and I am the only one who puts things away.

T (Thought) – A sentence

My home will never be the way I want it to be.

T (Thought) – A sentence

While I can’t change my family, there are things I can do that will make me happier about my home.

F (Feeling) – One word


F (Feeling) – One word


A (Action) – What I’ve done

I have complained about the way things are.

A (Action) – What I might do

Call a professional, read a blog, call a friend… and work to improve a space that is primarily mine, such as my desk.

R (Result) – What has happened.

The house remains a mess.

R (Result) – What might happen.

My personal spaces would be more organized and I would be happy.

What I found helpful was to realize that while I often cannot change a situation, I can change how I think about it, and so can change how I react. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter what I think, as long as it helps me cope better with whatever is going on.

While I was toying around with the model, I was reminded of advice I had heard long ago about what to do if I felt nervous about speaking in public. You may have heard this as well. Rather than look out and think, “These people are scary and will be critical of my presentation,” which would result in fear, the suggestion was to imagine the audience dressed in their underwear. The result would be an entirely different thought, more like, “Wow, they look so silly sitting there.” This thought is likely to trigger a feeling of relaxation, and therefore a better speech.

As I said, I am not a mental health professional. However, I do believe there are tools that may be helpful in knocking us out of an unhealthy and/or repetitive thought pattern and onto a more desirable path.

*     *     *     *     *

Have you ever “thought” your way into a better place? Would you try using this model?

26 thoughts on “Thinking Your Way Out of Stuck”

  1. This model is absolutely great and what a positive way to indeed make change happen for the better for us all. So, thanks for sharing and now need to give this a try for myself here!! 🙂

    1. I love how simple and positive the model is too, Janine. When everyone around our table started jumping in and plugging their issues into the model, I realized that anyone could use it, for so many situations. I found it empowering!

  2. This is a powerful strategy for us to shift perspective. Often, that’s all this requires. I was recently with a client who thought her home was hopeless, disorganized and ugly. It became a difficult and depressing thought for her. It took a while for her to reframe and reframe she did. She said, I have the power to make changes in my home. My home is on the way to being a beautiful and organized dwelling. Just these new perspectives helped her shift and start fresh in her home. That’s the power of your post today.

    1. I am pretty amazed by the power of shifted thinking. It really can change the way we react and behave to situations. It isn’t like this is a new idea to me, but I loved the simplicity of this model, and the idea of keeping a journal to track progress. It was a big hit at our meeting, and that made me think it was worth sharing. Love that great success story from your client!

    1. I love how simple it is. We had a great conversation around our table discussing a variety of situations, and it was easy enough to use for all of them. That’s when you know it is a great tool!

  3. Love this model! When my negative reel rears its ugly head I slay it by repeating the opposite of the negative thought in my head. I’m going to make much more progress with this model. Love it!

    1. I loved her idea of using a journal to do this, because over time we can look back and see the impact of our intentional thinking. I have a few journals on my shelf that aren’t being used, so I think I may pull one down and see how it goes:)

    1. This simple little model has stuck with me since I heard it, and I find myself thinking that of situations I might want to “run through the model.” It is nice to have a few tools we can turn to, right?

  4. Love it. So simple and yet so few of us do this, I love these kinds of thought training tools. I’m shocked that the majority of our 60,000 thoughts are negative. Oy. Definitely something to change. And I truly believe in the power of getting unstuck, and being able to use those tools into the future. Makes it all less scary.

    1. It is so simple, and that’s one of the things I really love about it. I was struck by the idea that, on any given day, 90% of my thoughts are repeats. That is pretty astounding to me. Definitely makes me realize how important it is for me to take some control over my thought life!

    1. I loved the simplicity of this method. It can be applied quickly and easily to so many situations, and the idea of putting the chart on facing pages of a journal really helps me see the impact of a change in thinking. Worth a try, right?

  5. Love this post. Altering the negative thought and replacing it with a more motivating one is very helpful. I call this not being a victim. We tend to give up when we are the victim in a situation. So, empowering ourselves with positive motivational thoughts will shift our stance and allow us to be open to possibilities.

    1. I agree, Sabrina. When you see yourself as a victim, you see yourself as having no power, no ability to change your circumstances. I love your mindset!

  6. Very interesting and informative. I often think that I get in my own way. It’s easy for me to talk myself out of an idea that I have or a project I want to pursue. I’ll try to remember this info.

    1. I do that as well, Janet. Sometimes I overthink things. However, the key in this model is to identify the thought that will make the given circumstance better for me, and I found that a helpful question on which to focus!

    1. I could tell by the reaction of the people at my table that it had the potential to be powerful! I’ve decided to dedicate a notebook to giving it a try. Can’t hurt, right?

    1. Yes, I think it works for a wide variety of situations. It’s all about taking the time to choose our thinking to benefit us!

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