By Vince Morales
Significant life transformation comes from understanding our underlying patterns of thinking—our root systems—and shifting our perceptions and mental models to find our true identity.
Years ago, Tony Robbins made a powerful statement. He said, “Heal the boy, and the man will appear.”
Canadian author, speaker, and trainer Danielle Strickland says, “Transformation involves getting to the deep-rooted beliefs which feed values, create actions, and lead to results.”
These statements powerfully speak to the fact that fundamental, significant transformation begins with work on the root systems in our lives. In other words, if we need to remove a fruit tree, picking the fruit never solves the problem. While a fruit can undoubtedly help identify the type of tree and root issues, we must target and dig out the roots. I call it “root assessment”, and it always leads me to explore the underlying patterns of thinking that shape our beliefs.
Many coaches address root matters from different avenues of approach. Through coaching and consulting, I ask critical questions that help clients see the fruits that identify existing root systems. I work to empower others to identify and transform their own thinking, mental models, and belief systems—and then shift their perceptions or perspectives.
A good mindset coach/consultant will ask the right questions to unlock what the client needs to discover themselves. The right question will result in the right answer, but the right question asked at the right time produces the right solution.
I am thrilled when a client discovers their thinking has held them back for years. I love witnessing when they find out the shift can happen rather quickly—even if it takes time to develop a new, strong root system.
From Survive to Thrive
On August 18, 2016, it took me one day to shift from a survival, homeless mindset to thriving on the street as a homeless man. Why? I targeted the roots of my thinking. In the deepest parts of my mindset, my thinking realm, the boy in me was healed, and then the man appeared.
Dr. James Marcia’s Identity Status Theory is a good framework of reference for my own journey through homelessness. It says people go through four distinct stages that help establish their sense of self and identity: Identity Achievement, Identity Moratorium, Identity Foreclosure, and Identity Diffusion:
“Identity achievement persons have undergone a period of exploration and have made ideological, occupational, and interpersonal value commitments. Moratorium individuals are currently in the exploration period, actively searching among alternatives. When this exploration process becomes emotionally fraught, these kinds of moratoriums are described as being in an identity crisis. Foreclosure persons are those who are committed…but who came to those commitments with little or no exploration; usually, they have adopted directions laid down for them by parents or other early authority figures. Identity diffusion persons are uncommitted in important life directions and are not currently engaged in a process leading to commitment (as are the moratoriums)”.1
I first learned about the Identity Statuses when I heard a psychologist discuss an episode of Friday Night Tikes, a reality show about intense youth football in Texas, often depicting overly aggressive football coaches. At young ages, the boys’ identities were being shaped from their participation in football, and the psychologist pointed out we were witnessing a classic case of Identity Foreclosure—when someone else picks out a person’s identity and they don’t participate in shaping of their own individuality.
My Identity Foreclosure was intertwined with my root system, and I finally crossed over from Identity Foreclosure, through Identity Moratorium, into Identity Achievement. I was regularly surrounded by people—some of whom were the Latino cultural influence in my life—who embedded in me the idea that one’s identity is “what you do.” In my family, identity also was tied to the concept that “a husband provides for his family.”
In 1985, my first year out of high school, I did not have a vision for my life. I was working full time in the sporting goods department of a major retailer in Orange County, CA. One day a young man from our church came home after graduating from U.S. Marine Corps bootcamp. The transformation I saw in his life, his attitude and self-confidence inspired me. I visited the local Marine Corps recruiter and the marketing material hooked me. I enlisted.
Four years later, as I transitioned out of military service, I spent six months floundering and working small jobs, many that would last only a day or two. But I worked because I had a wife and two kids because my beliefs told me I would not be much of a husband and father if I was not a good provider.
Six months after military service ended, I was hired by a law enforcement agency in Orange County. My identity was solid, and I was proud. Ten years later, another dark day arrived. I turned in my badge and gun—my identity—after deciding it was time to leave the department for my well-being. Once again, I was lost.
Not long afterward, I entered the ministry, where I served as an associate pastor and senior pastor. Eventually, I would leave the ministry, arriving at that place where the loss of my identity led to depression and, ultimately, homelessness.
Because we had three adult children with us, we were typically ineligible for most veteran services throughout the county. Adding to my loss of career—I was now a man who could not provide for his family. It was clear I was an embarrassment to some of my Latino family members, and guilt and shame were devouring me from the inside out.
I had a book with me that I decided to read for the third time: Thinking for a Change by John C. Maxwell. This time, one of my favorite quotes struck me differently: “One of the reasons people don’t achieve their dreams is that they desire to change their results without changing their thinking.”
I started to reflect on my thinking. In fact, I put it under a microscope, and I took a much closer look at my identity issues. Then I made a conscious decision to change my thinking. On that day, my identity no longer would be tied to my job, to being a father, husband, son, or friend. People come and go, they die, or pass through like the seasons. I needed to tie my identity to what could not be taken away from me—no matter what situations arose. I had to find that place where “I am Me.”
I went after the roots of tying my identity to people, relationships, and jobs, and I simply began thinking differently—no matter how things looked in my life. I affirmed to my own mindset that I am not identified by the homeless circumstance. I made a decision I was no longer going to “act” like I was homeless. I would start acting like a thriver, not a survivor. No more blaming external elements like the VA, veterans’ groups, the Marine Corps, police work, the church, or certain family members. Simple things like bathing became more frequent, despite the fact that they took place in the local coffee shop or supermarket restrooms.
My wife and I did what homeless people don’t normally do: We started a small program to feed homeless people. We looked for opportunities to create gratitude in our life together. These actions reshaped my mindset. I started living “as if” until the actions became new habits.
This shift empowered me to grow a coaching and consulting business while I was still homeless. I began working with clients in local coffee shops and grew from there. In June 2017, I was able to move into a condo in San Diego with Michelle, my wife of 34 years, after being homeless and living in our van for 447 days. Some clients affectionately called me the “homeless life coach.”
We learned to thrive and make peace with our identity while homeless, and we often found we were in a better mindset than people who had money and a home.
My wife and I discovered our true identity—and it was no longer attached to the jobs we did or the titles we had. I realized what it was to be a man, husband, and father without my identity being attached to societal perceptions of success—and I rediscovered true faith in my life.
Now I know I can truly empower others to be better positioned for amazing personal and professional transformation.
Target your roots because it is time for you to grow.
1 Marcia, J.E. (1966). Development and validation of ego identity status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 3, pp. 551-558 https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/social-sciences/identity-status.
Vince Morales is a Master Certified Professional Coach in the mindset and resilience niche, and he consults in leadership development as a certified coach, trainer, and speaker with the Maxwell Leadership Team, founded by world-renowned thought leader John C. Maxwell. Vince is a proud veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, a former 13-year law enforcement officer, and an entrepreneur. In 2016, Vince founded his coaching business, Validus Coaching & Consulting (formerly Zoe Transformation), when he was a homeless veteran in San Diego. After earning his master’s degree in Psychology of Leadership from Penn State University in 2021, Vince began a second master’s in Executive Coaching & Consulting. In 2019, He was featured San Diego Voyager’s “Most Inspiring Stories”, which also appeared on the FOX, NBC, CBS, and USA Today affiliated websites. Read the story at: http://www.sdvoyager.com/interview/meet-vince-morales-of-zoe-transformation-coaching-consulting/. Contact Vince at: email@example.com.