The first person I heard put those words together was Byron Katie. At the time, I failed to appreciate the full significance of this model of how life works. It wasn’t until I recently read Brooke Castillo’s explication of the idea in her book Self Coaching 101 that the full potential of the model became clear to me. Thanks, Brooke!
Actually, Brooke precedes “Think” with “Circumstance” because it’s often the circumstances of our lives that provoke thoughts. And often those thoughts are punitive or painful, leading to feelings we don’t like, actions (behavior) that don’t serve us, and outcomes we regret.
Brooke defines circumstance as “something you cannot directly control in this moment.” (emphasis in original)
I notice that the only think I have any influence over at all in this moment is what I think about whatever is going on. With the right thoughts now, I might be able to affect future moments, but this one now is already “in the can” as it were, out of my reach. It is what it is. So I have no leverage over current circumstance.
Feelings are automatic. I have tried to manufacture feelings before with a complete lack of success. I can’t make myself feel an emotion simply by trying. I have noticed, when feeling angry, that if I focus on the feeling, it fades. If I focus on what I’m feeling angry about (a thought), the feeling persists. So I can’t produce feelings directly, but thinking the right thought will generate a feeling.
It seems like I choose my actions, so it seems like I should have some leverage at “Act”. Maybe I do. But I notice that my past efforts to achieve outcomes by controlling my behavior have by and large not been successful. Sooner or later, I have to let go of my rigid control because I get tired or my feelings of deprivation overwhelm the willpower I’m exerting to avoid an undesired behavior or force myself into some activity that doesn’t interest me.
“Have” is the outcome that flows from my actions, my behavior. It turns into my circumstance for the next iteration of the model. It triggers more thoughts which, negative or positive, helpful or painful, lead to more feelings, more behavior, and further outcomes. The outcome is an automatic consequence of the behavior.
So the only place I have a real chance to affect the flow and generate lasting change is at “Think”. To do so, I have to watch my thoughts closely and notice how they condition and shape the downstream feelings, how the feelings generate the behaviors, and how the behaviors produce the outcomes. Then I need to consider which thoughts will lead to feelings, behaviors, and outcomes I like better than the ones I’m getting.
If I’m happy with how I feel, what I’m doing, and the outcomes I’m getting, I’m already done. Nothing more is needed. In any situation, the feeling is the payoff. The only reason for ever changing anything is because I don’t like how what I’ve got feels.