The Empowerment Model

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In this article, I want to talk about “The Empowerment Model.” For years, I’ve talked about it in the context of “key moments,” those situations and events in which our emotions are engaged and it’s easy to react or act out our negative feelings. But I like thinking of it as an empowerment model because by understanding the elements of the model we empower ourselves to respond to the events of life in positive ways.

The model is a version of cognitive behavior therapy as conceptualized and made popular by psychologists like Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis. There is lots of scientific evidence supporting CBT to treat many forms of mental illness including depression, anxiety, PTSD, and even more serious problems from obsessive-compulsive disorders to schizophrenia. But you can also consider it as an everyday model which all of us can use to deal with challenges and put ourselves into a positive mindset to enjoy life and accomplish our goals and dreams.

So I want to make the elements of the model explicit and then offer some examples of how to apply it to everyday life.

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The model builds on the concepts of reality and responsibility which I’ve introduced in a few of my latest articles (and is a theme in much of my writing).


It begins with a circumstance or event, which could be considered a fact, something observable and indisputable. The weather at this moment is a circumstance. Your age is a circumstance. What you do for a living is a circumstance. This moment in time is a circumstance. Where you are is a circumstance. Events or what happens to you day-to-day are circumstances. You face a myriad of events and circumstances every day and most of them you navigate with ease. No sweat. But some are big and present a challenge. If you’ve followed me for very long, you know that I call these challenges key moments.


The next step in the model is meaning. Meaning is the spin or interpretation you put on circumstances and events. This can be thought of as the mental process of making sense out of what is happening. There are lots of synonyms for meaning including your thoughts, perceptions, opinions, judgments, assumptions or conclusions. I like the word meaning because it implies that we don’t just experience life but we try to make sense out of what happens. This “sense-making” has a lot to do with our background, past experiences and core beliefs that we’ve formed over time. Hence, not everyone puts the same meaning on a particular circumstance or event.


The next step in the empowerment model is feelings. This is what you experience inside your body following an event or related to a circumstance. Whereas meaning is mental and occurs in the mind, feelings are somatic and occur in your body. There are really two kinds of feelings. First are physical sensations such as shortness of breath, nausea, muscle tension, rapid heartbeat, tight jaw, dry mouth, sweaty palms, weak knees and so on. The other type of feelings are emotions like joy, excitement, confidence, anger, hurt, sadness, helplessness, fear, inadequacy, anxiety, disappointment, or depression.


The next step in this cycle is behavior.  Behavior is what you do following an event/circumstance, meaning and feeling. Behavior is observable. Whereas others can’t see into your brain to know what you are thinking nor can they be in your body to know for sure what you are feeling, they can witness your behavior. And your behavior can be neutral, or weakening and self-destructive or positive and strengthening.


And finally are results. These are the consequences or outcomes of meaning, feelings and behavior when moving through this cycle. Depending on the situation, your results may be neutral or positive or negative. Notice that results influence your circumstances and events. Positive results create more positive circumstances and events in your life. They set up a virtuous cycle. On the other hand, negative results create more negative circumstances and set up a vicious cycle. So best to think of the model as a circle.

What is most important to understand about this model is its cause-effect nature. A circumstance triggers your thoughts/meaning. Meaning triggers your feelings. Feelings determine your behavior. And your behavior causes your results.  And then results set up new circumstances. By being aware as you go through the elements of the model, you can empower yourself to live a happy, abundant and effective life.

I also want to point out the relationship between the Three Rs and the empowerment model. Reality + Responsibility = Results. Circumstances and events are part of reality, the first R. Your thoughts, feelings and behavior are in the responsibility circle. And the consequences are your results.

I now want to offer you a few examples of using the empowerment model.

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The Ruined Vacation

A few years ago, I traveled to Orlando, Florida where I was presenting a workshop on marriage to a conference Couple enjoying the rainof 360 Solutions consultants. Although the trip was work for me, most who came brought their families and planned to spend some evenings and/or the next weekend playing in Disney World and other theme parks.

However, this was June, a wet month in Florida and it rained every day. It was interesting to watch how people reacted to the weather. The weather was a circumstance. Some of the folks in my workshop created a lot of negative thoughts about the rain. “I can’t believe it’s raining. I hate all this rain. It has ruined our vacation. We can’t go out. This shouldn’t be happening.” And so on.

What kind of feelings did these thoughts produce? They felt disappointed, angry, bitter and powerless. They hung out around the hotel, commiserated with each other, watched lots of tv, and made their plans to go home. The result, for them, was an unhappy vacation.

However, I noticed that a few people responded in a very different way. “I didn’t expect rain but this is Florida, after all, so what can you expect. There’s a lot we can do around this hotel. We or my kids love to swim, watch movies, and play games. The rain isn’t going to ruin our vacation. We can still have fun.”

These people were not only more positive but even saw the rain as an opportunity to spend more intimate time with their partner or family members. Some even went out and bought rain gear and made a big, memorable adventure of taking in the amusement parks. The rain didn’t slow them down one bit.

I watched with interest. Same circumstances but such different meaning, feelings, and results.

Your Husband forgets Your Anniversary

Let’s say your husband forgets your wedding anniversary. You might think, “He’s so self-centered and thoughtless.” “I’m not as important as his work, that’s all he cares about.” “Why should I keep putting out for him?” Your feelings would be hurt and anger. Your behavior would likely be to scold him for being so thoughtless. You may punish him by giving him the silent treatment and withholding affection. Perhaps you’d make sarcastic comments about his work. This behavior would result in defensiveness, emotional distance, and less enjoyment and spontaneity in your relationship which would likely set up new and similar events in the future.

On the other hand, you could use the empowerment model to change how you frame this incident by thinking, “He’s not as romantic nor as aware of relationships as I am.” “I’m responsible for my needs, not him, and I let this date come without letting him know what I wanted to happen on our anniversary.” “It’s not too late. We can still go out and have a good time.”

By thinking this way, you’d feel empowered and confident as well as warm and forgiving of your husband. Your behavior would be to talk to him, not with the intent to make him wrong, but to connect, learn from the experience and explore how you could meet your need for closeness. The result would be a deeper connection and re-commitment to supporting one another’s needs.

Re-framing, in this way, takes self-responsibility, flexibility and the courage to talk openly. In other words, it requires that we grow ourselves instead of making someone else wrong for our experience and results.

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Adjusting My Outlook

Let me offer one last example of self-empowerment. I originally wrote about this more than three years ago and now I’ll share the rest of the story. My wife and I lived in New Delhi India as missionaries for several months back in 2015 and 2016. I had not been feeling well and so went to a doctor who had me do a battery of tests, including a CT scan of my heart. The results revealed that I had some blockages in my left anterior descending artery and left circumplex coronary arteries.

I got the report and had them sent to a doctor in Hong Kong who supervised our work. This doctor called me saying that my condition was extremely sensitive because of the location and nature of the plaque. He told me to book a flight for the states immediately. No sooner had my wife and I started packing that I got a follow up call telling me I was in no condition to travel and needed to get to an emergency room immediately. Within an hour or so I was in a hospital room in New Delhi, signing papers so a cardiologist could do an angiogram and angioplasty the next morning.

Needless to say, I was alarmed and devastated by this news. The reaction of the doctor, not a cardiologist, caused me to think that I could have a major heart attack at any moment.

My initial thoughts were, “This is awful. It’s going to change my life completely. My health is fragile. No more competitive running and trail running. This shouldn’t be happening to me since I’ve taken such good care of myself through diet and exercise for so many years. Why do I have to deal with this in India so far from family and my doctor?”

I felt devastated, disappointed, worried and depressed, not only during but once released from the hospital. My behavior became hyper-vigilant and self-protective. I was quieter and sullen. Consequently, I slowed down our work, spent more time in our apartment, and began to learn as much about heart disease as possible. The results were less enthusiasm and excitement as well as less effective in our work.

Telling Myself a Different Story

Frankly, it took some time, but I gradually began to re-frame the meaning of this incident and my heart disease. Some eight or nine months following the initial incident I began telling myself a different story. It sounded like: “There are millions of these surgeries every year which result in health and longevity. My doctor tells me I can do anything I want including running mountain trails. I can live a normal life, even if I slow down in a few areas. It is not surprising that this is happening to me considering a family history of heart disease. I’m in far better health than my father and other relatives at my age. The research I’ve done and lifestyle changes I’ve made are a blessing and going to result in a longer and healthier life. I am fortunate, indeed.”

My feelings shifted pretty dramatically after I started talking to myself this way. Rather than anxiety, I began to feel confidence in my body and hopeful and optimistic about the future. I also felt gratitude for the health of my body and gift of life.

These feelings resulted in an increased commitment to take good care of my health through diet, regular exercise, meditation/relaxation, and focusing on the quality of my relationships. I got physically active, running daily and entering a few races each year. I got engaged in social circles and recommitted to my professional goals. The results have been an enriched lifestyle and sense of well-being.


I share these three examples with you so you can understand how to use the Empowerment Model. I want you to see the pattern of a triggering circumstance/event, followed by thoughts/meaning, feelings, behavior, and results.

It is so easy to give your power to circumstances and find yourself on an emotional roller-coaster, going up and down depending on what’s happening. Yet how rewarding to take your power back and decide to make the best of a difficult reality.

Although I could present more examples, it is your turn. I invite you to consider something troubling in your life and work through the elements of the model. Then take some time to change your thinking or the meaning you’ve given a circumstance and see how your feelings, behavior and results shift.

Share your example with others by leaving a comment below.

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  1. Rolayne Sellers

    I found this article very interesting. I had three examples of this in the same day. One with a family member, another with an issue in our neighborhood HOA, and a final one with some events from my church. I know how much it matters to respond in ways that will bring out better results in my long term goals and desires. Having awareness makes it so that I can manage my feelings and think before I respond. I recognize that not everyone thinks the same way I do, and it was a great reminder to me that my results will be so much more desirable if I approach my events with understanding for others. That mindset will help me process through my issues in a more productive way.

    • Roger Allen

      Thanks for your comment, Rolayne. We’re so often tempted to just respond to what we are getting from others and it makes sense to take time to process our thoughts and feelings so we can respond in ways we know will be support us in accomplishing our long-term vision.

  2. Andrea Tate

    I love the Empowement Model! I have encountered many coaches that are trained by the life coach school by Brooke Castillo. I have learned though that the model these popular coaches are actually using (and most charge a lot!! of money in a lump sum at the beginning of a 3 month commitment to learn this model concisely) is what Roger Allen calls the Empowerment Model, or CBT. I’ve found it to be a relief actually that this information is available widely and in therapy as well as coaching, though sometimes not advertised as such. I enjoy listening to podcasts where coaches dive into the applications of this model and it has greatly blessed my life for good. We are agents to act, not just to be acted upon! Thanks for sharing this great information!

    • Roger Allen

      Yes. It is a model which Brooke Castillo and lots of life coaches who have been trained by her use. I’ve been using it for years and teach it in my book: The Hero’s Choice: Leading from the Inside Out. It comes from the field of cognitive behavior therapy and goes back to people like Aaron Beck, Albert Ellis, and David Burns. It is an evidence-based approach to treatment used as one of many tools by most professional counselors, therapists, psychologists, etc. I’m glad you love it and agree that it is helpful to listen to the application from people like Jody Moore.


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