By Tommy Geary, CEO WeEmbark

From the outside everything was dialed. But the outside wasn’t matching how he was feeling inside. Jake had a great wife and kids, lived in a nice community in a great house, a solid job, decent health. He’d accomplished the steps that were laid out for him, but he wasn’t feeling accomplished.

He wasn’t motivated to get to the gym or eat healthy, he was procrastinating on projects, and this underlying frustration would flare up around his family. As much as he planned to turn it around, it wasn’t working. 

This isn’t a unique situation. It’s actually normal. 

Many people are hampered by a sense of feeling “stuck”. Checking all the boxes associated with success or fulfillment, but finding oneself unfulfilled or unmotivated can be really frustrating. And it’s common. And why wouldn’t it be? After all, when we pursue outcomes and accomplishments, we’re really just guessing about what will ultimately make us feel successful. It’s not as straightforward as that.

When this happens, instead of working on picking up new habits, on pursuing the next achievement, we might need to focus on picking up new thoughts. 

Let’s unpack this using the Thinking Cycle.

Versions of this sort of framework, described as ‘cycle thinking’ have been examined in a variety of different settings: personal development, environmental impact, even nanotechnology.

When working with clients one on one, I’ve found this one to be helpful: 

Thoughts -> Emotions -> Actions -> Thoughts (see image)


These are sentences that run through your brain. Stories, beliefs, mindset. Self-talk and the way we name the world around us. Thoughts evolve over time, might slowly develop or come upon us like a storm, but we do have some control over them.

More on thoughts HERE.


Joy, sadness, frustration, anger. Emotions are feelings that begin the body. Emotions are created by a combination of physical responses, history, and thoughts. 

More on emotions HERE


The things we do and don’t do. These are our outward behaviors. Finish projects. Procrastinate. Work out. Scroll on our phones. The actions we take are fueled by our emotions. How many times have you said “I don’t feel like doing that”?

More on emotion influencing action HERE.

Feeling stuck?? “instead of working on picking up new #habits, on pursuing the next achievement, we might need to focus on picking up new #thoughts.” – examine your thoughts with Tommy Geary (CEO, WeEmbark)

At the end of each cycle, the actions we take confirm (or disconfirm) our thoughts. This can be a helpful tool for self reflection, ultimately realizing that the outside world is not the sole influence on how we feel or act. 

It’s why one more piece of cake doesn’t make everything okay (even though it might be delicious in the moment). It’s why money doesn’t bring happiness. It’s why Jake can have the perfect job and still feel stuck.

Case Study: Jake’s Thought Cycle

Jake’s thoughts were holding him back. This is what his model looked like:

THOUGHT: I’m not getting enough done-> EMOTION: Disappointed -> ACTION: Scroll on the phone. Have a few extra beers. Skip workouts. Leave projects incomplete 

The actions weren’t making the disappointment go away. And they were confirming the thoughts that he wasn’t getting enough done, wasn’t accomplishing enough, wasn’t good enough.

If he wanted to break the cycle, we needed to understand this one concept:

The outside world does not impact the cycle as much as he thought.

His job, house, family, all his past accomplishments (or failures) are outside the cycle. Bringing awareness to this ideas was the most important inroad I could make with Jake. Then, we could dig into the ‘why’ of thought and emotion, and decide what actions might be better aligned with his ultimate wellbeing.

Next Steps

Start investigating your thoughts, discern the difference between a thought about the outside world and the actual outside world. (Ex: ‘it’s hot out here’, vs. ‘it’s 83° out here’)

Here are a few things you can do to recognize your thoughts:

  • Thought dump – This is pen to paper. Write out all the thoughts cruising through your head. It’s different than journaling.
  • Talk to yourself – Say the words you are thinking out loud, see how you react to your own ideas.
  • Get an unbiased outside perspective – Hire a coach or counselor to shine a new light on the whole picture.

Once you start calling bullshit on thoughts that don’t serve you, you’ll start aligning the accomplishments with pride and joy inside.

If you enjoyed this article, please SHARE! and check out this one by Maurice McDavid: The Value of a Coach

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