See Volunteers Differently

volunteers differently

It’s important to see volunteers differently.

I have a walk that I take most days, along the North Thompson River near my home in Kamloops, BC. I always go the same way; it allows my mind to focus on other things besides where I’m going. This morning, though, I dropped something and had to retrace my steps for a short way to retrieve it.  In the process, I saw a different view of the river than I had ever seen before.

That got me thinking about perspective.

Our habits of mind can lead us to miss so many things.

The human brain is a pattern-seeking machine.  It needs to be.  So much of our daily energy goes to fueling our brain that if we had to consciously think about everything that we do, we’d be exhausted all the time. Once our brain establishes a pattern, it goes on autopilot and lets the subconscious mind deal with the actions, freeing our conscious mind for other things.

Have you ever driven into the parking lot at work when you had actually set out to go to a nearby store?  Once the first few actions are taken, our brains recognize the pattern and go on automatic.

Again, it’s necessary.  But it also restricts our perspective. Ever wonder why kids are so creative?  They have fewer patterns recorded.

Some people have been able to deliberately limit the number of patterns they form. Or at least become conscious of them.  They’re the people who come up with innovative ideas, creative solutions and who see opportunities in things that the rest of us don’t even notice. They’re the ones who notice the potential in the volunteers in their organization that other people don’t see.

So, how can you become that way?

Become aware of your patterns, and how they limit your perspective.

Not just in our physical actions, like the route we take to work, but also in how we look at the things and people around us – like volunteers. How do you see and think about volunteers? Is there a way you could see volunteers differently?

Notice your biases (we all have them!), and think about how they were formed. Pay attention to things that you’ve seen all your life but never looked at; cracks in sidewalks, the expressions of passers-by, the shapes of clouds. Study the way you do everyday actions, like getting dressed in the morning, and think of different ways that it could be done.

Then break those patterns!

Experiment with “walking in someone else’s shoes”.

One morning I decided that I would do my entire toothbrushing routine blindfolded.  From the time I walked into the bathroom until I walked out again, I couldn’t see.  You would be amazed at how difficult it was! It gave me a much clearer idea of what it might be like to be sight-impaired. You could try something like that, or spend a night on the street to see what it would be like to be homeless, or one of thousands of other ways to help you see how other people live.

Change up your routine. Spend a week driving to work by different routes or switch up the order in which you get dressed. Most of all, look at volunteers differently. Imagine how they could help you in new ways if they were a rock star, or an astronaut – or an accountant! We too often consider that volunteers are limited in their skills and abilities because we only see them doing limited things. Play a “what if” game in your mind and see what hidden potential comes out.

If you need a reminder to think differently, wear your watch on the opposite wrist (or carry your phone in the opposite back pocket).  Whenever you go to use it, you will be reminded to look at things differently. To be aware of your patterns and what you may be missing by always following them.

Find ways to change your perspective, especially about people. If you’re more tired at the end of the day than usual, you’ll know that you’re succeeding!

Me?  I’m going to do my entire walk in the opposite direction tomorrow.

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