Attitude, behavior and self-employment: Less boring than it sounds

Our story so far … I suggested that people with disabilities who are successful in education, jobs or self-employment don’t define themselves as disabled, and neither do the people around them.

It can’t be that simple, right? Have a positive attitude, look on the sunny side of life and next thing you know, people are driving by and throwing bags of cash in through the open door of your mansion.

sun moneyhouse

What about those people who say they want to get a job or start a business but never make an effort.

There are two major reasons for this lack of connection between attitudes and actions. One is, and I know this may come as a shock to those of you of more tender years, but …

People Lie.

Yes, they do. They tell you they want to get a job when they really have no such desire whatsoever. What they really want to do is to continue to live in your house, eat your food, watch your TV and have you quit nagging at them to go get a job.

Pick up any social psychology textbook (e.g., Myers, 2013) to read it in technical terms. People have a social appropriateness bias – they say what they think you want to hear, what makes them look like a good person, or, as one of my lovely children once explained herself

I said whatever I thought would get you to stop yelling at me at the time.

People may tell you that they want to graduate from school or get a job, but they really don’t care whether they do or not.

The second reason is that not all attitudes are created equal.

Two people who made careers out of proving this point are Icek Azjen and Martin Fishbein. It is an urban legend that you are guaranteed at least a C- in social psychology if you can pronounce their names.

General attitudes – I’d like to have more money – are really bad predictors of people’s behavior.

Specific attitudes – I’d like to get a job at the casino so I could earn money this summer and buy a car to drive to school – are far better predictors of behavior.

This is one reason why, whenever I review files for a vocational rehabilitation program, and see vague vocational goals, like, “Get a job” or “Go to school” it bothers me.

Attitudes we hold more strongly predict behavior more than attitudes we have just sort of adopted. If you asked me if I was in favor of research on endangered plants, I would say, “Yes”. Plants are good, right? I mean, what weirdo doesn’t like plants?


Would I really go to any major effort to insure that plant research was funded? Nope.

On the other hand, I care quite a bit about funding vocational rehabilitation, small business and Native American programs. I have written on my blog and to federal agencies on those issues. I’ve been a grant reviewer for competitions in those areas of research.

One way to strengthen attitudes is to have people actually think about them. This is where vocational counseling can be useful, if the counseling session is actually a discussion of what the person wants to do. This is also why I said at the beginning  that while my giving a lecture one day won’t make much difference, teachers, parents and counselors repeatedly talking to people with disabilities about their goals DOES matter.

One last point, it is easier to predict behavior from attitudes in the aggregate than a specific behavior.

What exactly does that mean? Let’s say I honestly, truly and very much want to succeed at self-employment – which I do, by the way. Let’s take the first behavior you might consider, did I get up early in the morning today to start work. I hate mornings, so no matter what day you asked that question,probably not.Let’s take a whole list of behaviors,though:

  • Working late
  • Working weekends
  • Working more than 8 hours a day
  • Being willing to travel for work
  • Working on holidays
  • Learning new skills so that I can be better at my job
  • Traveling to conferences so I can learn more
  • Attending events to meet people who might be customers for my company

This does loop back to self-employment (I promise), but let’s recap :

Having an attitude that you can succeed does predict success when:

  1. It’s honest
  2. It’s specific
  3. It’s strongly held
  4. It’s well thought out

As a person with a disability, that should maybe give you some clues about what types of people you want in your life – friends, teachers, counselors – who challenge you to set goals that are honest and specific. Who remind you of those goals regularly. Parents, teachers, etc. that gives you some direction in what you want to be encouraging on a daily basis.

You might think my talk for the conference is done at this point but you would be wrong. I have to talk for another 20 minutes and besides that, we haven’t got back to the main point of self-employment. Remember self-employment? that’s what this talk was supposed to be about.


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