habits & routines coming alive

Tonight I volunteered at the domestic violence shelter. I’ve been a volunteer with Chicago Cares for over a year now, and am almost to my one-year anniversary with this site. I have gone from weekly volunteer to become a monthly site leader since starting grad school, and recently thought about taking a hiatus because school is supposed to be busier than ever this quarter.

W, one of the volunteers who is highly involved with the organization, emailed me last night to see if I needed any more supplies for our craft. My plan was to make snowmen by gluing cotton balls to construction paper and decorating them with various facial expressions, clothing, and snowflake surroundings. He had everything but the cotton balls on hand, making my life an easy pitstop at Target after class before being on my way.

I had a work meeting at the clinic, then headed to the housing shelter. There were more volunteers than kids by 1, so W and I worked on a sample snowman for the kids to model theirs after. I commented on how involved he is and asked how often he volunteers.

W volunteers every day of the week, and most holidays. He works as a consultant full-time. He said doing it every day has made it a habit, something effortless he does, like eating lunch.

I thought about how I considered giving up my once a month position and pushed that thought fully out of my mind.

We get so caught up in life, and in the distractions of life, that we might miss dedicating time to things that would become really meaningful to ourselves.

Last month, I started doing a quick aerobics video that I did throughout high school. It is 20 minutes and feels good to get up every day and have a “given” to start the morning. Afterward, I make a smoothie. Unconsciously, learning about establishing routines for patients has infiltrated my life. Like W’s volunteering – something so intrinsically rewarding to him – this morning routine has become something that once felt effortful, but has become one of the most valuable, enjoyable parts of the day.

I think as humans, we’re programmed to stay in the same patterns we are used to. We get comfortable, complacent, and doing something else seems unobtainable or drudgerous.  OT focuses on the actions, the step-by-step process of achieving a goal, and trusts the rewards that come with it.

It’s true – sometimes our minds just don’t know what we want. By putting one foot in front of the other to get to another place -a better place – the good feelings are sure to follow.



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