Happy New Year! Say what? Yes, I know it’s not actually the start of a new year, but it’s the start of a new month and a month that is often associated with newness: new school year, new season, new routines, new clothing, new weather, and much more. Yes, I’m also aware this September is different on so many levels, but maybe that just means it’s even more reason to look at it as a fresh start and reason to begin again. It’s worth a try, right? If nothing else, September is just one more month closer to the end of 2020!
“Happiness Project” writer Gretchen Rubin considers September the perfect time to wipe a clean slate and if someone who writes about happiness for a living embraces the idea, so do I. First of all, fall is my favorite season and it just so happens to “fall” in September each year. September 22 if you’re wondering. I love everything about fall: the weather starts cooling off, summer clothing I’ve worn since March can start making its way to the back of the closet to make room for more fallish attire, and I love Thanksgiving and football.
September is also the official “back-to-school” month, give or take a few weeks, making it the ideal month to put routines back into our lives. These might be going to bed earlier and maybe even eating healthier after a summer of snacking. Again, this year is different but there’s still a need for school, which means a need for school supplies. I love school and office supplies! I also love calendars, and September is often the month we take a hard look at calendar dates for the rest of the year. Summer and its somewhat leisureness is gone; time to ramp up the check lists. Again, different this year but to add a smidgen of normalcy into the most non-normal of years, try to consider this September in a more normal way. Just try.
It is said that September is a month, much like January, when people consider career moves, join gyms, and get married. September is now second only to October as the most popular wedding month. It’s the time of year that we make goal setting changes (gotta catch up on those January resolutions you’ve allowed to waiver) and rethink our routines and rituals. Since March, we’ve been hearing the benefits of engaging in a new hobby so if you haven’t already, why not start in September?
As Rubin notes, now more than ever we are all in search of happiness-boosting habits, right? Gloom and doom and “the world is against you” is knocking at your door and screaming from your computer and TV screens 24/7, so why not tell them to GET OUT and get into a new hobby that makes you happy?
A hobby is something you do regularly for your own pleasure. It’s doing something you are passionate about or maybe just interested in. I like to consider hobbies as having things to do rather than having to do things. They are options, not demands. A hobby you enjoy is a great way to release and relieve stress and take your mind off of all the Negative Nancys out there. The idea is, if you fall in love with a hobby, it may just become a habit, which are things we do repeatedly and regularly. To contrast, hobbies we purposely pursue but habits we may not even realize we’re doing. Let’s look at both hobbies and habits. First, hobbies!
So where to start? Well, maybe ask yourself what makes you feel good or makes you happy. What interests you? What do you really like to do when you have any free time? Rubin suggests asking yourself what you did for fun when you were 10 and whether you can duplicate it in some grown-up way now. It’s probably much easier than you think.
Since March, we’ve all been living in somewhat isolation, despair, frustration, worry, and monotony. Well, according to developgoodhabits.com, one of the best ways to break monotony is to discover a hobby you find both interesting and enjoyable. We’ve all had time on our hands and during this time, I for one have discovered the hobby of golf and can honestly say that, for the first time after years of playing the sport, I am really enjoying it. It’s gotten me safely outside without having to wear a mask, it’s introduced to me a squad of women I have fun with, it’s allowed me to talk about and watch golf with my husband (My name is Carla and I’m officially a golf widow) with more enthusiasm, and it’s provided a sense of accomplishment. These are all things hobbies can do for you.
Not only do hobbies give you a meaningful way to pass the time, they often make you more patient, as anytime you learn something new, it’ll take time. Patience is a virtue though right? Now granted, you don’t want to break the bank, go into debt, hurt yourself physically, or take up something at the expense of your family or job, so think about it and think smart. If you’re on a limited budget, travel or designer bag collecting probably wouldn’t be smart choices. Same goes if you’re older and out-of-shape; I wouldn’t recommend horse jumping or gymnastics. Again, think smart.
And always, always remember whatever route you take, it doesn’t have to be something you dive in full throttle forever. Try your hand at different things until you discover where you want to be; even if just temporarily. I personally don’t love to cook, but I love cooking classes so you might say I have a hobby of going to cooking classes but not really cooking much of what I learn in them. And that’s okay!
Whatever you wisely choose, know that the benefits of healthy hobbies are many, including:
- Hobbies give you a sense of purpose. Many of us are doers; we don’t like to sit around and do nothing. Personally, the sitting around doesn’t bother me, it’s the doing nothing. That’s why I learned to cross-stitch many years ago. It gives me something to do while just sitting watching TV or the like.
- Hobbies offer challenges, experiences, and learning opportunities. It’s never too late to learn something new and in fact, experts say you should read and learn something new and worthwhile every day and continue to learn new things throughout life. I think of my mom who for years has refused to learn how to use a a cell phone. My sisters and I, as well as my nieces, have tried and tried and even bought her more than few, but she refuses to embrace any technology. I can’t help but think of all the face times and texted photos of her kids, grand kids, and even great grand son that she’s missed out on. And don’t even get me started on the safety issue of it all. But I digress. For years, my New Year’s Resolution has been to learn something new. I may not have loved each endeavor I chose and might not have continued doing all of them, but I loved learning all of them and had so much fun doing so. You see, with hobbies there’s no pressure to be perfect and dabbling in new ones gets you out of your comfort zone, which is a real challenge for me.
- A hobby can be beneficial in the workplace. I can’t tell you how many deals my husband has made on the golf course and career coaches confirm that having a hobby often improves job performance. A common hobby could endear you to a colleague, boss, or client and hobbies in general help you handle stress more effectively. They also present you with something productive to focus on when you’re off the clock and allow you to have a life outside of work. They also prove passion and drive, which no direct report is going to scough at.
- You could make money through your hobby. Have you heard of Etsy? It’s a site that began as a place for people to sell homemade items but much like Amazon, it’s rocketed into something much bigger and more commercial. It’s proof that those quilts, painted rocks, or cards you have made a hobby of crafting can maybe make you some extra money. Or just joy. A dear friend of mine has started painting rocks and although I’m sure she’s getting much joy out of it, so are those she gifts them to. Trust me, she rocks! You could also go the way of teaching your craft or consulting. A beloved hobby can also be an avenue to give back by way of volunteering, mentoring, entertaining in nursing homes or schools, walking dogs, or cooking at a soup kitchen.
- At the very least, hobbies like walking, tennis, kayaking, swimming, and yoga are good for you physically and they can also be great opportunities for social interaction. But be sure you do what you love to ensure your hobby will remain enjoyable and maybe even become a healthy habit. That’s how and why I discovered yoga many years ago. I kinda fell into it in our old neighborhood but it had me at Namaste. Even in the beginning, I never felt inadequate or like I couldn’t keep up and yet I was sweating, stretching, and balancing in ways I never had. I was also focused and centered and felt so relaxed yet invigorated after every class. I like to say I bend so I don’t break. Find you your yoga so your exercise hobby doesn’t feel like a chore.
- A healthy hobby is also mentally healthy. They keep you from being bored, which is when many turn to alcohol, gambling, drugs, porn, overeating, and other potentially destructive behaviors and habits. By being excited about what you’re doing, you have something to look forward to and stress has been shown to decrease when you’re engaged in something you enjoy. There’s also evidence that healthy hobbies help ward off depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. In one study, 74 percent of participants suffering from anxiety reported knitting calmed them. Other hobbies often suggested for this purpose include listening to music, keeping a gratitude journal, and playing with pets. Maybe that’s why I’m such a cheerful happy self (hah!) as I do all three of those daily!
- The “idle hands are the devil’s workshop” train of thought means hobbies are also good for kids as they tend to keep them out of trouble. School teams, groups, clubs, and other activities not only give participants something to work for and proudly be a part of; they keep them from sitting around and falling into bad habits.
- Your soul is where God dwells and yet we tend to spend more time taking care of our bodies then we do our souls. We need soul care and hobbies can do just that. Things like daily prayer and meditation are hobbies we could all benefit from, and society as a whole could too. People who feel inspired from above and/or grounded to the earth tend to be more calm, peaceful, purposeful, likable, and recharged. Those are my people.
- Hobbies lighten the load. Things are serious out there. We can’t eat out. Our favorite shops are either shut down or boarded up. We have to wear masks. And for goodness sake don’t touch your face! Many a meme is out there stating that our current favorite hobbies are “placing order” and tracking a package. It doesn’t need to be like that though. A hobby you delight in can help you escape from pandemic paranoia and put you back on a more peaceful path.
- At the same time productive and fun hobbies can improve our self-esteem and self-confidence because they make us feel like we’re good at something. I may not be the best golfer or cross-stitcher, but I can feel like I’m pretty good at either on any given day. By both taking on a new pursuit and improving at it, we acquire motivation and a sense of accomplishment. But remember to think out of the box and out of your comfort zone for maximum confidence boosting.
- With improved confidence often comes improved character and a sense of wanting to improve the world around us. You might see things differently if you learn a foreign language and study the countries where it’s spoken. By taking cooking classes on ethnic cuisine, you will most likely gain a new perspective on the culture behind it while being exposed to a diverse group of people, ideas, and opinions. Come to think about it, maybe this is the hobby we should all be doing right now!
- All of this happiness and confidence can also lead to improved relationships and expanded social circles. Like me, you might discover a hobby you and your spouse can do together for many years to come. There so many options for this benefit alone, including music and dance lessons to wine tasting and floral arranging. All of them, with or without a spouse, present fresh ways to meet new people. You already know you share an interest, so why not share a dinner too?
- As we age, so do many parts of us including our memory but by regularly doing purposeful activities that make us focus, we can improve our memory and brain function. Chess, computer classes, sewing, and even crossword puzzles have all proven beneficial in protecting the brain from memory loss due to aging. Plus, by being part of a bridge or book club, you’re staying social and making friendships based around a common interest. Personally, I love to write (shocker!) but as I gradually “retired” from full-time work, I missed the actual pursuit of writing, hence this blog. I know it’s not earth shattering, I don’t have a million followers, and it doesn’t increase my bank account, but I love it and it keeps my brain working and sharp.
In the end, hobbies make you a more interesting person. You have something to share with others and possess knowledge they might find helpful or fascinating. You might even influence someone to take up a hobby themselves. Poof! You’re an influencer!
If anything, I hope I’ve convinced you to take time this month to find a new hobby you can attempt and then take time to engage in that activity. It might be something as relaxing as reading for 30 minutes every day or something creative like photography. Maybe you want to dip your toes in something like water aerobics or something a little more spicy like pickle ball. Just be sure to do it for you; not anyone else. Even if your friends love something doesn’t mean you have to. Remember, if you don’t really love it, it probably won’t be enjoyable or become a habit. Whatever you choose, it just might improve your mental health, sense of identity, stress level, usefulness, and morph into a habit. A good habit.
MAKE IT A HABIT
Changing your habits can change your life, whether it’s to stop smoking or start exercising, having healthy habits make us physically and mentally better off. Even as we peek outside our quarantined homes and wait for the next chapter of Revelation and Armageddon to descend up on us, we must make it a habit to choose wisely. Spiritual Mamma Susie Davis suggests adopting the habit of wonder over worry. As you walk or drive today, take time to wonder over the beautiful flowers you see or the fact that you have a working car instead of worrying about what comes next. Today, that worry can be daunting and debilitating so get in the habit of avoiding it at all costs. I know of what I speak, as I’m really good at worrying. Ask anyone I know. I’m working on it though.
During 2020 many of us have perhaps picked up some bad habits. Pretty sure we’re all guilty of number 2 above, but as Davis suggests, maybe instead of hoping for the good old days focus on the hope of good new days. Numbers 4 and 8 above are also pretty common these days, and I may be good at worrying but I’m equally good at number 9. For a while we were all eating too much bread and panicking too much. Now, after months of day drinking and show binging, it’s time to take stock and keep track of what we’re doing that may be leaning toward the path of bad habit. What are you doing every day and is it good for you?
“Maybe an artist’s discipline, process, and routine – habits if you will – were just ruts with a purpose.”
That, from the fabulous Richard Russo book, “Bridge of Sighs.” Could that be? “Ruts with a purpose?” I kinda love that unique description of habits and can only hope that I continue to pursue and perfect many a purposeful rut.
One way to do so is by “habit stacking.” Sometimes called “pairing,” the idea is to create new habits by attaching them to existing habits. For example, if you want to make it a habit to take your daily vitamins and you already eat breakfast every day, take those vitamins when you eat breakfast. If you’re wanting to pray more and you already read every night before bed, add a prayer book or two to that stack of novels and mysteries. The idea is if you attach a new habit to something you already do, the odds of the new habit becoming a permanent habit are high. Brilliant, right?
The brilliant Japanese have this idea down pat; they even have a fun term for it: “poka-yoke,” which in Japanese loosely means “mistake proofing.” It got its start and stardom in Toyota’s production lines when managers would think ahead and proactively to eliminate both human error and equipment problems. Eliminate the problem before it’s a problem and you have no problem! On the home front, if you have a sweet tooth and are wanting to lose weight, don’t buy cookies or ice cream. If finances are currently tight, plan your commute ahead and probably don’t take toll ways.
Yet another way to look at stacking is to incrementally increase how long you do something each day. Set your bar low and allow for slow growth. If you’re hoping to start the habit of daily walking, start by maybe walking 15 minutes on day one and adding five minutes every day. Being physically active during the day will also pay-off in that you’ll be more tired at night. Bedtime hobbies and habits are also where you might consider making daily interval changes. Do you turn on the TV and/or check your phone or laptop again and again? Change things up by seriously limiting your screen time each night and adjust your nightly bedtime. Start with maybe one hour of screen time each night and a 10 p.m. shut eye. Adjust these times and you’ll soon see improved sleep habits. Ultimately, you might even be able to replace those old screen time habits and replace them with new ones like reading (nothing scary or intense!) or listening to mindful podcasts or music, which can slow your heart rate, decrease brain waves frequency, and help you sleep more soundly.
Sometimes all it takes is a little outside encouragement to incorporate a good habit or quit a bad one. Our daughter was immensely important to my not new but improved habit of walking while she was home early on during this pandemic. She was adamant about walking several times a day and was so instrumental in getting me to do so once-a-day. Reach out to coworkers, family members, neighbors, and the like if you’re in need of a little push. Most likely one of them does too.
So I leave you with the hope that your hobbies will increase and your good habits will improve. Don’t be too hard on yourself though and leave room to lighten up and laugh; especially at yourself. Your goal should be to keep your body and brain moving. We are all habitually stressed and anxious these days, so make it a habit to discover a hobby that makes you happy. It might just become habit forming.