Choosing Real Hobbies Over Digital Distractions

Look how fucking zen this guy looks, that could be you
Photo by Avi Richards on Unsplash

Digital Minimalism encourages you to cut back on low-quality, digital distractions and spend more time doing high-quality analogue things. Once you have succeeded in reducing digital distractions, you will have a lot more spare time. Without a better way to spend your time, you can easily slip back into old habits.

There is a better way.

You start a new hobby or rediscover and old one. The effort of doing more may make you groan. After a hard day’s work it’s tempting to zone out and scroll through your newsfeed or binge-watch the latest Netflix show. You will feel more energised and getting a greater sense of satisfaction from doing something difficult and/or creative. The initial hump of effort is worth the positives.

Why to Choose Hobbies

Change is difficult. Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism has advice is advice on how to survive this new change and I, your humble blogger, have summarised it for you:

1) Choose To Do Hard Things, Rather Than Passive Things

It is much more effort to read a book than to watch TV. Humans have evolved to listen to voices and watch people, so we find those easy. Learning to read requires stealing resources from your brain that used to do other things like pattern recognition of symbols, processing the meaning of words, phrases and grammar and so on.

Effort is rewarding.

A day of binge-watching can leave you feeling like you wasted your day, even if you liked the show. Part of you feels guilty for wasting your time. There’s an emptiness afterwards. Reading a book feels good though. You can look at the pages you read and feel a sense of accomplishment. Your brain is fatigued by the mental effort of having read something, but it is a pleasing kind of tiredness, like you earned it.

The effort felt good.

2) Creation > Consumption

Make Something

Building something with your own hands is satisfying. It gives you a sense of achievement to look at something you built and know you built it. It might not even be that good, but you did it. It’s even the secret to IKEA’s success, most people’s favourite piece of furniture is often something they struggled to build from IKEA, rather than the most expensive item.

Making can be any creative hobby. You could do woodworking, knitting, writing essays, drawing etc.

The key to enjoying the hobby, rather than getting frustrated and giving up, is to focus on the process. Focused creating is meditative, you are only aware of what you’re doing, your other worries don’t cloud your mind for a while.

Don’t think about how good the end result will be. Putting too much pressure on yourself to be good can kill the fun for you. So consider not sharing the results online. You want to do something for yourself.

If later, you get good at the thing, and feel proud and want to share it, then go ahead. Just do it for you at first, not for adoration or Likes.

Fix Stuff

Next time you find damage in your house that you would usually call someone to fix. See if you can do it yourself. There are plenty of ways to learn how to do anything online, just try to avoid getting stuck in YouTube rabbit holes. You want to fix a loose hinge not find out if there are real mermaids.

Once you can fix things, you will get a feeling of confidence that comes from having a skill. You don’t feel so panicked when something goes wrong in your house or you tear your favourite shirt, because you’ve fixed something before and you can do it again. You feel more capable and ready to take on the challenge. You might even save money by not needing to call contractors for each little thing.

3) Get Real

Making Something Real

Coding or doing digital art, whilst creative, don’t give you something you can pick up and touch. There’s something more satisfying about tangible creations, than something you an only see on a screen. Maybe it’s why people still buy real books and vinyl records, even though their digital counterparts are so much more convenient.

An added issue is digital creations can be closer to the distractions you were previously trying to avoid. You are just an open tab away from a YouTube rabbit hole.

Doing Something Real

Playing a sport or getting exercise is good for your physical and mental health, we all know this. A lot of the time it seems like a bother, but being fit and healthy feels good in ways you don’t expect. You have more energy and confidence in your body. You don’t need to become an Olympian, you just need to be moving a bit each day.

Social media won’t give you the same good feelings from socialising, you will have much better experiences in person, which is difficult right now, but outside sports are still allowed.

Getting physically exhausted by doing exercise will feel better as well. It’s not that you will be too tired to do anything else in work or life, but instead you will feel more energised day-to-day than when you just scroll all day. You will feel more tired at night, but it’s a good tired, like you’re ready for bed and to recharge, not tired like you can’t get through another minute of life right now.

How To Choose Hobbies

Now that you’re convinced of the wonders of high-quality leisure time, you may be wondering how to put this advice into action, the following tips should be a good starting point

Make or Fix Something Every Week

Think of something creative you used to do when you were younger but no longer do. Do that. If there was nothing you did when you were younger, think about something you always told yourself you wanted to do but never have done.

If you need materials you don’t have, get the cheapest stuff you can find. You don’t need the pencils Da Vinci used to draw or Hendrix’s guitar. Go cheap and simple, if you over-complicate things at the beginning you will stop yourself before you even start.

If your hobby requires you to setup and put things away, try to make this process as automatic as possible. The more friction there is in your hobbies, the more likely you will put it off.

Look around your house, something is probably not in the best shape. Stick to something safe, don’t go changing wires if you don’t know how. A wonky chair could be a good start or a loose tile. You’re not looking to be a master builder, just to fix something that bothers you.

Make Time For Your New Hobby

Don’t rely on inspiration. You might never do anything.

Set yourself a schedule for when you can do your new hobby and stick to it. You don’t have to plan to the minute, just find an hour a week when you expect to have some free time and stick that in the diary. Then show up and do it.

You will meet some internal resistance at first, but fight through it. It can take a few weeks for a a habit to form, then you won’t have to keep scheduling time, because you will automatically do so. If the habit slips due to a change in schedule, then rinse and repeat.

Join Something

Joining a class or team sport, usually means there will be a schedule, you are obligated to go at certain times. This helps you maintain a routine which makes hobbies easier to stick with, rather than having to set your own schedule or doing it when the mood strikes you.

Doing things with other people is also enjoyable because humans are sociable creatures by nature. If it’s a hobby you would like to do but know you are unreliable at, having a group who relies on you could keep you accountable, so you actually follow through. You can’t quit running half way through a group run, because you would let your team down, or you can’t avoid finishing the book because it will ruin book club. The social pressure can keep you in check.

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