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Coaching Yourself

Clouds II. Watercolor on paper. Discovery Bay, Hong Kong. April 2020.

Whether as a doctor, teacher, mentor, life coach or physician executive, my work has always been about empowering others. So of course when I first learned about self coaching it struck me that this could be the key skill that would empower us all. After all, if our brains are our most powerful personal assets, why wouldn’t we want to be sure that we are using it to create the results that we want in our lives?

Societal programming

As children we grow up absorbing a lot of beliefs and thoughts from the adults around us. It’s like our hard drives start out blank, but our parents and teachers are constantly writing code into our brains throughout our childhood.

Sometimes we are conscious that certain beliefs are a result of this kind of programming, in which case we can choose to accept or reject those beliefs, but sometimes we aren’t even aware that that programming is even there.

For example, if you grew up with Asian parents like me, you probably heard them warn you repeatedly that you would get appendicitis if you went swimming immediately after eating a meal. Of course as an adult and physician, I could choose to dismiss this as complete nonsense.

Learning to uncover our thoughts and beliefs is the first step to developing awareness

But it’s taken me years to realize how much I had internalized cultural sexist and racist beliefs. I definitely saw myself as “lesser than” as a woman of colour in academic medicine for decades, grateful to be accepted and allowed a place in the ranks of leadership.

What beliefs do you have about yourself? Do you even remember when you first started believing them? Young children typically believe that they can do anything - sing, dance, draw, play any sport, and so on. But at some point we all begin to acquire limiting beliefs about ourselves.


Perhaps our parents or teachers/classmates said something that we interpreted as being negative or critical, or maybe we learned to compare ourselves with peers. Believing that we don’t belong, that there’s something wrong with us, or that we are somehow lacking, generates painful feelings. And.


What if we could discard or rewrite our programming? What if we could rewire our neural circuitry intentionally through practicing new thoughts, emotions and habits, so that we can deliberately live healthier lives that are better aligned with our values and vision for ourselves?.

Self coaching with The CTFAR Model, as taught by The Life Coach School, offers a simple approach to retraining our neural pathways. The CTFAR Model is based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which is a structured psychotherapy technique intended to help you to become aware of negative or inaccurate thoughts so that you can see them more clearly and decide to respond to them more effectively.

The CTFAR Model has five components:

C: Circumstance

A neutral fact or data that could be proven in a court of law.

T: Thought

A sentence in our mind about the Circumstance (C).

F: Feeling

A vibration or sensation in the body created by the Thought (T).

A: Action

What actions we are taking (or aren’t taking) in response to the Feeling (F).

R: Result

What we create through our Actions/inactions (A). Always ties back to the Thought (T).

Turns out that learning to uncover our thoughts and beliefs is the first step to developing awareness. And when we become aware, we may decide that we like those thoughts or we can choose to try on different ones.

While limiting beliefs can keep us safe as children, they are no longer helpful to us as adults

We’ve all heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In my experience, transformation happens when we are willing to step out of our comfort zones by changing it up.

How It works

Let’s look at an example of how the CTFAR Model can work for weight loss. Let’s say that you are wanting to lose weight. Your first model may look something like this:

C - Weight: 190 lbs.

T - I hate being overweight.

F - Disgusted

A - Avoid weighing myself. Constantly bargain with myself about what to eat or not eat. Worry about getting diabetes or heart disease. Try to starve myself or exercise as punishment. Judge myself for being overweight. Try to hide it with dark colored, loose clothing. Beat up or shame myself every time I eat “bad food”. Believe that being overweight is in my genes and therefore inevitable. Not accepting or being loving to myself.

R- I hate myself and feel stuck.

So you can decide you are okay with this. I lived with exactly these beliefs, feelings, actions and inactions for decades. I was caught in an endless cycle, vacillating between wanting to accept the inevitability of being overweight, and leaping into yet another diet program. Until I found that I had only been working with half the equation for permanent weight loss.

T-Doodle Thought Downloads. Pen and pencil on paper. Discovery Bay, 2020.

When I started listening to Dr Katrina Ubell’s Weight Loss for Busy Physicians, I realized that I didn’t have to just be resigned to how things had been, even though it had been going for decades. The missing link for me was doing self-coaching through the CTFAR model.

I found out that I could reprogram my beliefs around food and weight by choosing an intentional model that looked like this.

R - I have lost weight permanently and food no longer has power over me.

A - I have a protocol for food and drink, for when to eat, and what to avoid. My protocol is built around my body’s needs, my microbiome, and brain health - it includes sleep, movement, art, and self-coaching,

F - Proud

T - I’ve learned how to manage my weight and my feelings without needing to use food.

C - Weight loss.

Give it a go

Self coaching takes some practice to learn, and it will take time. You can certainly choose to do a little or a lot. I would encourage you to focus on one area to begin with, ideally something that you really want to change, but is not so high stakes or emotionally charged. Like perhaps you’d like to exercise more, or eat less sugar.

Photo by Joel Wyncott on Unsplash

Decide ahead of time that you are going to be okay with being confused and that it is okay to make mistakes. After all, you are learning to reprogram your own brain by yourself, a little at a time. It’s like teaching yourself a new language or new musical instrument. You can absolutely learn it yourself through practice and there are abundant free resources available to you on the internet.

Thought downloads

Start by setting aside 15-20 minutes each day to do thought downloads. For the first 5 minutes just start writing down the thoughts that are swimming about in your head at any given point. You will want to be focused on just dumping it all out. This works best when you are alone and undisturbed, away from your phone and other distractions or interruptions.

Decide ahead of time that it is okay to make mistakes.

This step is about creating awareness. Some thoughts may be about things you need to do, or they may be just recounting what happened that day.. You’ll find that some thoughts may feel a bit more emotionally charged. Like “What was up with so-and-so? Why did they say that?” or “Why did I do that?” Some thoughts can just be words and not a full sentence. No need to edit, censor or judge.

Pick any one thought and run it through the CTFAR model. What do you feel when you think that thought (F)? When you feel that way, what do you do or not do (A)? What result do you create for yourself (R)? Don’t worry about “getting it right.” The more you practice, the better you will get at this.

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Just do it

Self coaching is not for everyone. Some people just aren’t into self-improvement, and others prefer not to delve too deeply into their thoughts. If you are pretty happy with your life right now, there may be no need to go any further.

But be onto yourself if you catch yourself thinking these kinds of thoughts: “I’ve got too much going on right now to take this on,” or “I’m so overwhelmed already.” There’s a really good chance that this work is exactly what you need to help you get on top of that overwhelm and busyness.

You can learn more about self coaching with The CTFAR Model by listening to the free podcast at The Life Coach School by Brooke Castillo. And you can get more free help working on specific topic areas like weight loss, money, social justice, etc by following other coaches trained in The Model,



Free podcast on how to apply principles of weight management through managing thoughts and emotions. Start here for roadmap for how to get the most out of her podcasts.

Learn more about life coaching through this free podcast that teaches you how to manage your mind and emotions

A refreshing approach to becoming aware of and transforming our unconscious social conditioning and critical self talk.

Money is one of those areas that we all have a lot of thoughts about. And yet it’s not a topic that we talk about much. Learn how to manage your money mindset and get practical tips on personal finances and investments.

Disclaimer: Dr Em Wong is a certified life coach through The Life Coach School. Neither she nor IntegrityHealing have financial affiliation with any of the Resources listed above. Please note that these Resources are provided for educational purposes only and are not intended to take the place of medical advice from licensed professionals. You are advised to seek consultation with health practitioners for your specific concerns or questions.

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