The Habit of “Try.”

A chained baby elephant will try to break the tether around its leg but soon gives up – to the extent that even when full sized, it lets the weak rope keep him tied to the spot. WHY?  Because it doesn’t believe it can break the rope, according to @MindFitCoaching.

Never Underestimate the Power of Persistence.

Beliefs have the power to create and the power to destroy. (Anthony Robbins) The elephant’s “fixed” mindset allows him to believe that initial failure is proof that the rope is unbreakable. A “growth” mindset says, “I haven’t broken this rope yet.”

Are our beliefs about ourselves and our clients holding us in the same place?  They might be if we subscribe to the “fixed” mindset.

Dr. Carol Dweck (2006) who is a leading authority in motivation and personality, has discovered that our mindset is not a trivial oddity of our character, it creates our entire perception of attainable opportunities. According to Reza Zolfagharifard (@PractisePPsych), Carol Dweck’s work is about the power of beliefs.  The beliefs we may or may not be aware of having, nonetheless they strongly affect our success. You can find out more about her book at MindsetOnline.

If you find yourself getting discouraged because Participants don’t engage, don’t attend meetings and classes, don’t fill-in-the-blank; then you might be focusing a little too much on the task. Watch out for this: keeping score can be downright discouraging. With the growth mindset, you soon learn to love the process, the growth. With a fixed mindset, it becomes easy to think in terms of the task, and whether or not it was completed. In other words, unless Participants comply, you could feel like you and they are losing. But with the growth mindset, the journey is the reward, because you and the Participant are picking up new skills and habits even when things don’t go as planned.

So what are your beliefs about the people you serve?

  • Are they not good at budgeting personal or household income?
  • Are they reluctant to enroll in classes?
  • Are they exhibiting poor work habits?

There is a way to help people embrace the stretch in order to learn a new habit or skill. It’s all about encouraging them to master the learning, not the task. And we only need to add one little three-letter word to the sentence.  Try this:

  • She is not good at budgeting personal or household income – YET.
  • He has not YET decided to enroll in classes.
  • She is working on her attendance issues. She hasn’t been able to work a full month – YET.

As an authority figure in their lives, we shape mindsets through our actions and words. Every word and action can send a message.  It tells your participants how to think about themselves.  It can be a fixed-mindset message that implies your residents have permanent traits, or it can be a growth-mindset message that says: you are a developing person and I am interested.

Subscribing to the fixed mindset has pitfalls even when things are going well. If you believe that your Participants are successful due to some inherent trait like intelligence or talent, then you could be setting people up for failure. Why? Because if success at a thing depends upon talent, then people might give up at the first sign of failure. They fall prey to thinking, with a fixed mindset, that initial failure means they don’t really possess the ability. The growth mindset recognizes success but subscribes it to effort, persistence, or application of a previously-learned skill – anything but talent or natural ability.

PositiveMindsetIn a program that relies on voluntary enrollment, the growth mindset is crucial. Because if you believe people are capable of change, you’ll communicate approval and celebrate their efforts.

Do the opposite and the unspoken judgment will discourage enrollment, engagement, and progress.


Stop Swooping in.

Interesting things happen when we stop swooping in.

May (not her real name) came to join Family Self-Sufficiency with a definite plan: she wanted to parley her cake-decorating and baking skills into a small catering business. I looked at her intake enrollment form and saw more than one hurdle.

  • May had not attended school beyond the 10th grade,
  • She had not held a full time (or part time) job in years,
  • She seemed timid – almost shell-shocked, and I suspect she suffers from some sort of post-traumatic stress.

Our first rule at the BHA is to never turn anybody away.  Some FSS programs will actively discourage a resident with May’s capabilities from her chosen path, but that’s a form of “swooping in” that has little result.

Most of us react to residents the way we do when a child we love is having trouble with a certain task:

  • “Do it like this,” we urge.
  • Or we explain what is wrong with their approach.
  • Or we advise them to abandon the thing altogether and try something else.

The immediate result is that we feel we’ve solved something, but I wonder; could our point of view be too narrow?

Picking the wrong target.

Often we swoop in when we think something needs to be solved. But think back for a minute to the young child struggling to fit the wrong piece into her puzzle. Before jumping in to help, let’s ask ourselves about what we intend to accomplish.

What is our goal?

  • Get that puzzle put together, every piece in order?
  • Help her figure out for herself a way to think things through, come up with options, and pick a plan?

Different questions = different answers.

There are probably a few other goals we can think of for the above scenario, but we only come up with ideas when we broaden our target beyond that of solving a problem for someone.  Interesting things happen when you don’t swoop in,  I’ve found.  So rather than turn May away from joining FSS, or advising her on a more suitable goal, I asked her a question.  “A catering business,” I said warmly.  “Why catering?”

Upon learning that people love the cooking she provides at church suppers, I asked the question I rely upon most. “So sometime within the next few months you hope to go into business.  What do you think you should do first?”

May’s eyes crinkled in thought.  She was beginning to see that there is a big difference between a wish and a plan.  “I need a website.”  She announced.

Now I knew of course that there are many other steps to opening a catering business BEFORE one puts up a website announcing service – especially if that service involves food preparation and delivery.  But people learn best through discovery, so I asked, “Can you afford to hire a webmaster?”

When her face fell, I became encouraging.  “Look, May,” I urged. “There are free sites on the internet that help people set up simple websites. Don’t you know somewhere you could take a computer class?’

I’m afraid I was right, but I could have easily been wrong!

At the end of her five-year term, the only thing May had accomplished was a short class on computer basics offered at her local Center for Senior Citizens. Along the way, however, some other good things happened as well:

  • She developed a twinkle in her eyes,
  • She gained a small measure of confidence.
  • She returned to her personal counselor.

True, it turns out that May is not yet ready to open a catering business.  But she made positive changes, hopefully because I refrained from swooping in with that determination, directing and deciding for her, taking away her right to self-determination.

And while she was on this road to discovery, I learned something valuable: make every interaction you have with those you meet on your path a positive interaction.  You won’t do harm and you can’t go wrong.

When does Difficulty Breed Courage?

When does Difficulty Breed Courage?

The other day I was asked directly which FSS participants I thought were lazy.  I must admit I was stumped.  Because wikipedia defines the word thus: “laziness (also called indolence) is a disinclination to activity or exertion despite having the ability to do so.”

From ‏@Daniel_L_Baker

From ‏@Daniel_L_Baker & Tim McCloskey

Despite having the ability to do so

Who defines this so-called ability? Because if lethargy and sluggishness is due to

  • depression,
  • chronic fatigue syndrome,
  • thyroid disease,
  • diabetes,
  • hypoglycemia,
  • sleep apnea
  • or even allergies,

…then it’s not fair to label the illness as a character flaw.  Better to treat the illness.

Some people think inaction is due to variety of non-medical factors, such as:

  • fear of not doing well,
  • loss of motivation,
  • being dependent upon others,
  • learned behaviors, and so forth.

But these conditions can be repaired, so wringing our hands and giving up on someone is probably not the best way to help them.

In his essay Traits that Define Lazy People, James Lynne (Life Paths 360) lists some conditions that sap energy and concludes that people, in general, want to be excited and animated about life and the opportunities it presents. Furthermore, he believes that “laziness is usually a symptom of something bigger than a character trait.”

We asked several FSS Participants if they thought success was an all-or-nothing prospect and many believe it is.  They think reaching a goal takes luck, talent, innate ability – anything but hard work.

This lack of resilience is not laziness, however.  Some say it should be taught at the earliest years.  And just like the FSS Coordinator who encourages and coaches for resilience, some say that for our kids, when it comes to creating resilient students, educator resilience matters.  Resilience building requires that you accept yourself for who are, and accept that you will make mistakes.

A good coach, teacher, or FSS Coordinator extends the same tolerance to those enrolled in the program.

All of which tells me that sticking the label of laziness on someone is just a way to make my job easier. Because if I can blame them for inaction, then the case is closed, right?  My job is done.   Except, wait: maybe that makes me the one who is lazy.

At Greater Minnesota Family Services, the staff is using a model of youth empowerment that encompasses four core values: belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity. They suggested that children who are often referred to as “alienated”, “troubled” or “difficult” are at risk because they live in an environment that is hazardous – one that breeds discouragement.  And according to Kevin Kappler, @theravive, being discouraged can be devastating and may stop you in your tracks.

Seems like adults could benefit from a similar system as the circle of courage.  And maybe we can create this type of environment.


Thanks to:  @HYSHO,  @mindsetworks,  @carthagebuckley, ‏@Daniel_L_Baker

Next Post:  12 steps to begin! 

Fear makes everything seem Impossible.

Srinivas Rao, @skooloflife reminds us that “everything that you know how to do today and you do effortlessly, is something that you once didn’t know how to do.” This fairly simple concept is difficult to remember in the heat of adversity.  That’s why we’re impressed with FSS Participants like Noelia.

Noiella DiplomaNoelia is one of thirty-four participants who are enrolled in a secondary or post-secondary school.  An FSS program can amend itself to support the wants and needs of just about any adult.

Our Participants are enrolled in:

  • English- for speakers of other languages,
  • GED Preparation,
  • Vocational classes such as Certified Nursing Assistants,
  • College-level courses.

And it is not easy for any one of them.  For one thing, by definition, if an adult relies on rent subsidies to get by financially, that person is also saddled with a host of life situations which only certain resources can resolve.  Clearly, for low-income working families like Noelia and the nation as a whole, income disparity is our biggest hurdle.

The number of households with an unemployed parent rose by a third  in just 6 years.  And the national income gap has not budged in years, according to @urbaninstitute. (  Almost everyone agrees that there are few key issues more critical than putting Americans back to work.   According to the Hamilton Project, this problem will most certainly get worse, since even more low earners are in the pipeline.

Noelia and others like her know that the key to a job that sustains the family is more education.  More education equates with higher earnings, and the payoff is most notable at the highest educational levels.

We prod and push the remaining two-thirds of our Participants to reach for this goal, reminding them of the heroines and heroes like Noelia who chose this path and stepped along it daily, overcoming sickness, family emergencies, unhelpful employers, and friends and relatives who challenged, “Why? What for?”

When Noelia was asked why she stuck to her goal in spite of setback after setback and years of inching forward towards obtaining her GED, she talked about the skills recommended  by anyone who instructs how to overcome self-limiting beliefs.   Dan Pasche ‏@Debt_Destruct paraphrased these concepts very well when he wrote, “Fear makes everything seem impossible.”

To a courageous woman like Noelia, steadfastness makes the goal attainable.

PS: Noelia is enrolled at her local community college for the fall of 2013.

Here, we HEAR!

Asma Zaineb
says that listening is an effective way to forge a strong relationship with the other person or persons engaged in a conversation. It involves three steps:

  • Receiving the message communicated by the sender
  • Interpreting it for arriving at the meaning and
  • Responding to the message.

Any coach or FSS provider knows these three steps, and we know how important they are.  But sometimes in the course of a busy week, we forget.  It took a statement from a colleague far outside the coaching and FSS profession to remind me of the importance of listening.

Hear-HEARI was looking for a cute tag line to add to our correspondence.  It was to be a marketing technique, really, just a line to remind Family Self-Sufficiency participants of the importance of letting us know about their progress towards their goals. “Something catchy and memorable,” I told everyone, “to remind residents to contact us when they’ve accomplished something.”

It was a fun exercise.  Several of my colleagues in the office offered great suggestions, which we saved for future use. But the winner came from our Director of Security.  Paul Daley, Director of Security for the Brockton Housing Authority, suggested more than one tag line, but his slogan that we liked best is “Here, we hear.”

That about says it all.

The Leadership for Success Institute, a not-for-profit organization in Toronto, Ontario, notes that we have been blessed with two ears and one mouth, so we are supposed to use them proportionally.

And so I can’t help wondering:

How much more effective would we be if we remembered to listen carefully?

How much more in touch with themselves would our Participants be, if we modeled this technique?

Would they stop missing out on important knowledge?  Would we?

Prasann Ranade  says that “Empathic listening allows one to broaden one’s perspective and expose themselves to new ideas.”  

She Says She Can’t

She stopped by the office unexpectedly, and fortunately I was there to sign her up, because every time I meet with a new Participant I learn something.  She’s young, but her brown eyes were dull with discouragement.  And for every idea that she advanced about a way that she and her husband could press forward to move themselves out of poverty and into another income bracket,  her sentence ended with the words, “I can’t, because…”

Today I found a new response to the words, “I can’t, because…”  It is a response that worked for this one resident; I suspect I’ll need to listen and learn in order to find equally effective responses.

Marie T. Russell asks, “What would life be like if we didn’t have a list of “I can’t because” rules and scenarios.  Those old “what ifs” can stop a goal from being set much less reached, according to Melissa Miller-Young.

Sometimes “I Can’t” sounds a little like blame.  Blame is a commodity in great supply these days and on occasion it gets leveled with equal opportunity at things, conditions, and sometimes even the weather.

“I want to get a job but I can’t find one that accommodates the hours I can work.”  Blame the job market.

“I want to go back to school but when I enrolled they said I would need to take some remedial courses.” Blame the educational system.

Not taking responsibility is one of the ten big reasons people do not set goals, according to  If we think about it, though, we are solely responsible for all the choices in our life.  This is a hard concept to think about, however. And that’s when it hit me:  rather than search for ways to introduce concepts that sometimes take an entire book to explain, maybe I should just cut to the chase. The next time she said, “I can’t, because…” I jumped right in.

“Because.”  I repeated.  She waited, and I said nothing.
So she took up her train of thought.  “I can’t, because…”
“There it is again.  That word.”
Her brown eyes questioned. “What word?”
“The word ‘because,’ I smiled.  Then I leaned in.  “It is always easy to think of reasons why something won’t work.”
“Well sure.  But sometimes you should listen to those reasons because-”

But I interrupted.  “Throw that word away,” I urged.  “Stop editing yourself.  Successful people imagine what it feels like to reach a goal, and after they think about it in a positive light for a long enough time, do you know what happens?”

Now the brown eyes were smiling.  “Things come true?” she offered.

“No.  But answers come to mind.  It’s not magic. Real work is involved.  But you won’t know where to begin until you throw away the words ‘I can’t, because.”

Then she showed how pretty her eyes are when they twinkle. And after that she got down to the business of selecting goals and the necessary steps to take that will lead her and her family out of Public Housing.

What’s WRONG with them?

A growing body of research claims that people find success at any age, and it most happens when they follow their own passions, capitalize on their strengths, and find a place in the employment world that allows us to merge those two components.

“It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” Said George Elliot.

And yet we hear self-limiting talk from Family Self-Sufficiency Participants every day.  Sometimes twice a day.

But do we feed into these negative beliefs?

Well, let’s think: I personally have a co-worker (you know how you are!) who is extremely disorganized.  Her desk looks like a hurricane blew through.  Come to think of it, I know several residents with this same flaw.

But if I subscribe to the idea that negative beliefs we hold about ourselves and each other can inhibit individual growth, maybe I should monitor my thoughts.  David Rendall claims that for every weakness, there is a corresponding strength.  You can get a free chart at his site that lists them all.

If I subscribe to this theory, my residents and co-workers aren’t disorganized; they are creative individuals who can adjust on a dime. After all, even Einstein had a messy desk, I’ve been told.  Furthermore, he once said, “If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what is an empty desk a sign of?”

Take a few moments to listen to the ways staff and residents describe themselves or each other. Do we approach things from the deficit model of from the abundance model?    Instead noting an individual’s weaknesses, maybe we should help them find the uniqueness in their personalities and help them move into situations that make good use of their strengths.

The world is full of people who learned to take a condition like dyslexia and find a strength hidden within.  JetBlue Founder David Neeleman, Kinko’s founder Paul Orflea, and Virgin founder Richard Branson are just a few. And it does not stop with dyslexia. For every so-called weakness, you can find someone who elected not to try to overcome their own particular difficulty, but instead decided how to use it to grow and thrive.

I, for one, am open to ideas on how to help FSS participants learn this technique. It seems as if we’d be more efficient, they’d be more self-driven, and everybody would win.

The best part of FSS.

It happened again today.  A resident came to enroll in Family Self-Sufficiency and by the way he walked through the door I could see defeat in his stance and frustration in his eyes.  It’s a hard thing to support a family of five on less than $25,000 a year. Harder still to realize that the way out involves steps that would seem overwhelming to the most motivated among us.

Sometimes it seems like the best part of operating an FSS program is watching people reach their goals.  I’m guessing it’s a little like the coach sitting on the sidelines, watching the scores total up on the board every time a player makes a goal or a basket.

Good coaches, however, look to a wider view.  Of course it is great to see a star performer develop his or her skills.  And who wouldn’t want to see that same performer grow his or her career to the point where the player stands out in their field? But good coaches try to enhance the learning and development of everyone on their team.

At the BHA’s Family Self-Sufficiency Program, we enroll residents at the rate of one or two a month.  Not everyone will become a successful graduate, of course.  But maybe that’s OK. Maybe we need expand our definition of success to include several layers of growth.

The most successful coaches look beyond the scoreboard and notice the player who once was too clumsy to be trusted with the ball, or too emotional to be effective on the court.  Those are the coaches who, at the end of their career, are as pleased with the everyday student’s accolades as they are to hear their name mentioned by a player who reached stardom.

Rather than add to the frustration and defeat that a resident feels, we’ve learned to adopt a strength-based approach.  It helps if we turn their weaknesses into strengths.   It’s easy to find the impatient, unrealistic, disorganized side of someone.  Dave Kerpen, CEO, Likeable Local, NY Times Best-Selling Author & Keynote Speaker, suggest we train ourselves to think of those characteristics as being passionate, positive, or creative.

The result is immediate.  Suddenly people who were feeling discouraged straighten up and begin sharing ideas on how they think they could succeed.  It’s like the light comes on in their eyes and in their minds.

This is the event we’ve come to appreciate.