As I was painting the closets of some small bedrooms on the upper floor of the four-plex we were working on, I was imagining what it must be like to be the family who will move into this home. We had been told that families who qualify for a Habitat home must have children living with them, and that they have often moved many times, from low income housing, to the basements of families and friends, to places I can’t even imagine. We heard about a family who had recently received a similar Habitat home. They had moved there from a basement with deplorable conditions; one of the children in the family was originally excited about their basement suite because he thought that there was macaroni on the floor – in fact it was a fungus growing.
As I worked away, listening to the sounds of power tools, hammers, instructions being given, teams working together, and laughter, I thought to myself that if someone were watching us, what they would have seen us creating was a structure for a family. In the simplest sense of the word, structure means anything composed of parts, arranged together in some way. This is exactly what we were building; a structure.
However, there are also some different definitions of structure. Structure can be thought of as a systematic framework. During our Habitat build, our day was structured for success by the careful planning of the organizers. Structures can also be thought of as things put in place to give us maximum success. One of the reminders we were given at the build was that if our knees were higher than the top of the ladder, then we were too high. This was an easy structure used to keep us safe.
Structure is incredibly important for the successful running of our lives. If we examine the day to day activities of successful people, we will find that they use many structures to set up their lives for success. Structures can be thought of as habits or of routines that we establish to remind us of ways of being or of things to do.
My friend Brenda set up a structure for herself at the beginning of this year. She had heard about a person who used to be a runner who had decided to get back into the sport. He had made it his goal to run 300 days out of the year. Brenda thought that this was a great idea and she decided to give herself the same 300-day challenge for walking. The rules were simple. She had to go outside and walk 300 days out of the 365 days in 2017. She did not set any minimum distance or time. The structure she used was to put a star on her calendar each day she walked so that she could easily keep track of her day without a complicated system.
On about the third week into her program, she had only missed two days. One cold evening in January, at about 8:30 at night, her twenty-something year old son Daniel said, ‘Mom, you didn’t get a star today!’ It was about -20 and pitch dark out. Brenda had thought that this might turn into one of her days off. However, she said that a few minutes after hearing Daniel’s comments she found herself and her husband bundling up and heading out into the cold night for their walk. This simple structure of putting stars on the calendar not only kept track of her walking, it also allowed room for others to encourage her. Up until this moment she had not realized that anyone else was even noticing what she was doing. A simple structure like this can turn into an incredibly powerful tool.
An even simpler structure was used by the facilitator of a leadership course I took. She said that before each class she taught, she would take a deep breath and silently say, ‘It’s ShowTime!’ This structure reminded her to give her absolute best to the participants in her class. Because I was a teacher at the time, this inspired me to stand at the front of the class before every lesson, look at my students and say to myself, ‘I wonder what they have brought with them today’. This structure reminded me to be kind and to give them a place of safety.
When I am coaching clients I often ask what structure they will put in place to help keep them on track for their goal. Sometimes they choose to email me to tell me they have followed through. Sometimes they will put a picture somewhere to remind them, sometimes they tell other people what they are doing. There is no one right way to create structures; the important thing is to have them.
I suspect that the structure that I had a very small part in building this week will soon become much more for some family than just a place to lay their heads. It has the potential to give them a chance to think and dream about some of their next steps, knowing that they have a sturdy, safe, well-made home. My hope is that it will give them space to see new possibilities, to establish some structures for success and to create some incredible memories.
Learn more about using structures in your life to create the success you want. Book a coaching session for you, for your workplace or for a group of friends.