All last week, we practiced thinking positive thoughts about money. But chances are, as much as you try to focus on the positive, there are all sorts of negative thoughts about money still floating around in your head. This week for Money Mindset Month, we will be cleaning those up!

As it turns out, we’re often not even aware of all the negative thoughts swirling around in our brains—but they’re certainly there! Those are the thoughts that tell us to hate ourselves, to avoid reality by overspending, to judge other people, and so on forever. I firmly believe that our thoughts define our experiences, so if you have a hard time with positive thinking, you’re going to have a hard time with life.

I do want to give an important caveat here: I’m not saying you should be happy all the time. On the contrary, if you expect a steady stream of perfection in your life, you will be sorely disappointed. However, in a world where you can’t always control your environment, and you certainly can’t control other people’s behavior, you can at least be aware of your own limiting thoughts and work to change them.

The CTFAR Thought Model – Mapping Out Negative Thoughts

In order to do this type of work, I’m a huge fan of Brooke Castillo’s thought model, which goes a little bit like this:

  • Your CIRCUMSTANCES in life are completely neutral. They might feel negative or positive, but in fact they simply are what they are.
  • Those circumstances trigger THOUGHTS, which are the sentences that constantly run through our heads and define those circumstances. If we think negatively about a circumstance, we perceive it as negative, and vice versa.
  • Those thoughts in turn create FEELINGS, which are the various emotions and vibrations in our bodies, including anger, pain, love, joy, anxiety, etc.
  • Feelings then cause us to take ACTION. This is the part of the equation we have the most control over, but those actions are ultimately driven by our thoughts and feelings.
  • Finally, our actions create the RESULTS in our lives. We use these results as evidence that our thoughts are true, and so the cycle continues.

Brooke Castillo’s Thought Model

This thought model is Very Good News, because it means if we can understand our thoughts and feelings, we can start to focus on more constructive thoughts instead, which drive us to better actions and actually help us receive the results we want.

Let me give you a couple of examples:

Circumstance– Savings account balance near zero.

Thought– I hate myself for overspending like that. Why can’t I just prioritize saving?

Feeling– Shame and guilt.

Action– Stress shopping.

Result– More overspending.

In this case, it’s interesting how all the guilt and shame could be serving to perpetuate a bad spending cycle, rather than creating actual incentive to change.

Here’s another negative thought model I see quite a bit:

Circumstance– Lack of financial literacy.

Thought– I’m a smart person, why don’t I know this stuff? I must just be incapable.

Feeling– Money anxiety.

Action– Delaying taking action out of fear.

Result– Not closing the learning gap.

In both of these cases, your thoughts, and what you believe about your own capabilities to take control of your finances, are creating the results that keep you stuck in a negative cycle.

Using the CTFAR Thought Model to Incorporate Positive Thinking

So the question is, what happens when we take those same circumstances and start to reframe the thoughts? Let’s consider the following:

Circumstance– Savings account balance near zero.

Thought– My bank account is just waiting to be filled.

Feeling– Excitement.

Action– Spending more mindfully.

Result– Starting to prioritize savings over short-term goals.

And in the second scenario:

Circumstance– Lack of financial literacy.

Thought– I’ve learned hard stuff in the past, and I can do it again.

Feeling– Self confidence.

Action– Seeking out new sources of knowledge.

Result– Growing one’s financial acumen.

I love the idea that we can take what feels like a stressful circumstance, or a reason to judge ourselves and reframe it. By changing our thoughts, we can create the types of positive feelings that make us want to take action, rather than getting bogged down in the guilt and shame that so frequently leads to inaction.

Using Questions to Reframe Your Thoughts

One of the follow up questions for this practice becomes, “How do I actually go about thinking better thoughts to plug into the model?” In this case, I turn to Jen Sincero’s “Reframing your Thoughts” exercise in her recent book You Are a Badass at Making Money. Here’s how she tackles this challenge:

  1.    Question and investigate those negative thoughts.
  2.    Rewrite them.
  3.    Say it loud and proud.

Let’s walk through an example so it’s clear:

Unhelpful thought: I may be broke, but at least I’m not selling out.

Question: Is everyone with money really a sellout?

Answer: Well, no. Some are, and some aren’t.

Question: Then isn’t it possible for me to make money without losing sight of my values?

Answer: Yes, because this is the work that I love.

Question: If you love this work and you’re good at it, are you willing to accept compensation to reward you for this?

Answer: Yes, I suppose so.

Rewritten thought: I value my work enough to charge for it. I know that when I make money, it doesn’t change who I am.

Sometimes it takes a few follow up questions to really unpack our negative thoughts, but understanding why you think how you do, looking for counter examples, and getting to the root of our concerns allows us to rewrite thoughts in such a way that feels authentic.


Learning to understand our thoughts and reframe in them in a way that serves us is no easy exercise. But I love this hard work for two reasons:

  1. Nothing we do can happen unless we think it first. If you want abundance, you need thoughts that align with that. Thinking about what you want to create makes it a hell of a lot easier to actually create it.
  2. When your thoughts trigger emotions that are positive, you can help drive yourself to action in spite of the difficulty involved—something that’s way harder to do when you’re stuck in a guilt or shame spiral.

In short, just thinking positive thoughts won’t get you where you need to be, but it’s an important first step in taking real action.

…and speaking of action! This is a reminder to check out my online community over at the Young + Scrappy Facebook group for daily challenges, peer support, and group accountability for the rest of September’s Money Mindset Month and beyond. And stay tuned next week as we shift the focus on Finding Your Personal Why.


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