Core Thought-Action Model

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It has been said by some that an average adult in the U.S. makes over 10,000 decisions a day. I’ve even heard estimates as high as 35,000 decisions. Research has actually shown that adults will make just over 226 decisions a day about food alone.1 The exact number of total decisions is not clear, but it’s safe to say that we make a lot of decisions everyday (although if you are aware of research that makes it more clear, please leave a comment).

I’m fascinated by this topic because it astounds me. There is so much going on behind the curtain of our mind that it’s hard to keep up with. Having well-defined that you actively use is one way to help you make better subconscious decisions, but about the conscious ones?

More than how my food decisions are driven by more core values, I am now consumed with choice of thought.  Here are two important concepts I have learned while examining my own thoughts:

  1. Since I cannot control the external world around me, including any person within it, my thoughts are, indeed, the only thing I can control.
  2. There is a “secret” pattern flow to be aware of when changing behavior, achieving success, and being fulfilled.

Core Thought –> Core Emotion –> Core Action

While our thoughts drive our emotions, it is our emotions that drive our actions. The key is to understand and examine our core thought at any given time so that it becomes a choice rather than an “external fact.”  By being aware, or conscious, of the core thought inherently makes you able to choose whether to accept that thought or choose another one that is more beneficial to you.

This formula is applicable in so many scenarios.  Are you dealing with a challenge that you can’t seem to figure out?  Are you dealing with someone at work that is pushing your buttons?  Do you want to start a business (or write a book, or find a life partner, or change careers, or lose weight, or…)?

When reflecting on your challenge, ask yourself the following 3 questions:

  1. What is the underlying thought that keeps replaying in my mind, over and over again when I think about this challenge?
  2. When I have this thought, what feelings am I experiencing?
  3. When I feel this way, what actions do I typically take?

Let’s use the example of changing careers.  It’s not uncommon for someone to be unhappy in their job and want to find a new path.  Often times I will hear something like, “I am so unsatisfied and want to make a change.  But I have bills to pay at home and can’t risk any missed income or a lower salary.  Plus I’ve been in this job for so long that I don’t think I have enough experience to do this other thing I want to do.”

What is the core thought that they are replaying in their mind?

Core Thought(s):  “I don’t have what it takes to make this change happen.  I’m not valuable enough to another company to pay me what I want, and can’t imagine finding a good opportunity.”

Now, if you had this core thought, how would you be feeling?  Here’s how I would feel:

Core Emotion(s):  Helpless, frustrated, dejected.

If you were feeling this way right now, what are some typical ways you might behave?  Here’s what I would do:

Core Action(s):  Take no action, accept my current state of dissatisfaction, complain about my situation.

Now, here’s the power of this formula.  Let’s do a “thought pattern interrupt.”  If you could, what thought would you like to have when thinking about this challenge?  Here’s how I would like to think:

Core Thought(s):  I deliver value to my employer and clients.  I am competent and hardworking.  I deserve to find a career that is both satisfying and rewarding to me, and valuable to my employer.

If you had this core thought, how would you be feeling?  Here’s how I would feel:

Core Emotion(s):  Empowered, hopeful, confident.

If you were feeling this way right now, what are some typical ways you might behave?  Here’s what I would do:

Core Action(s):  Analyze my situation, prepare my personal situation for change, reach out to others for help and connections, do some research, and confidently display my value to others.

By catching the process in the beginning at the core thought, you can completely interrupt the negative cycle and choose new ways to think, feel, and act.

This is the basis for change, for growth, and for fulfillment.  Examine your thoughts…you may be surprised at what you find.


1Wansink, Brian and Jeffrey Sobal (2007), “Mindless Eating: The 200 Daily Food Decisions We Overlook,” Environment and Behavior 39:1, 106-123.

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